Today’s Communicator Must also be a Sociologist


As a marketer and communicator, I’m always looking for trends. I have noticed that my 16 year-old son hasn’t asked me to buy him songs from iTunes in a while now. I know his appetite for music has not subsided and since his allowance has been, should I say, suspended, I know he hasn’t been buying any new tunes lately. Yesterday I asked him where he and his friends are getting their music. His answer surprised me: Youtube. Interestingly, Marcus’ generation is not interested in owning their music. They’re happy to stream it from anywhere they can. That’s a major shift from the millennials. While the marketing implications of how a generation behaves is important, the entire exchange reminded me that as a marketer and communicator I must also be a sociologist.

Communicator as a sociologist

According to Wikipedia sociology is defined as:

The study of society.[1] It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation[2] and critical analysis[3] to develop and refine a body of knowledge about human social activity.

Being able to communicate effectively with any group of people means understanding not only their language, but their value system, motivations and behavior patterns. In America today we have several generations living together that are markedly different from each other: the frugal Builders, the spending Baby Boomers, the anti-establishment Gen Y, the cause-driven Millennials, and now the experiential Digital Natives.

Interestingly in any given Sunday morning, all 5 generational groups are likely to be sitting on a church pew. Much is written about the “language of culture.” I’m not sure that’s a valid statement any longer. I’m inclined to speak of the “languages of culture,” and I’m not speaking of English and Spanish here.

Micro fragmentation in messaging is here to stay. Marketers, communicators, and leaders must be aware of the audience–all of them–at any given time. Much like sociologists, communicators must be aware of their audience dynamics to still be relevant. Keeping up with 5 generational shifts beyond affinity groups is not easy, but must be done. I don’t think we have a choice in this matter. If we’re going to be effective in selling our ideas and products to an ever diversified culture, we must become better students of society.

What’s your take on the communicator as a sociologist?

  • Thank you! I have been trying to say that to our church leaders here but could not put it in words!
    I hope they read yours and put it into practice…

  • May I just say that this is the aspect of "marketing" and "communications" that is really tough (but extremely critical) to justify in an invoice? Thanks for bringing it way more into focus. Perhaps this post will be an addendum to my invoicing process!

    The sociologist persona of the professional communicator is the blood hound of the process. It's the invisible starting line where every conversation begins. This clicked for me back in the early 90s when I picked up my first Faith Popcorn book (now its Gladwell and the list of usual suspects). Hey, and let's admit it: this sociologist grows wiser and more pronounced with age (more clarity & perspective over the cascading years is always a PLUS!) Great post!

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  • Two thoughts on this post:

    First, I have wondered for some time if it is possible to create a message that communicates to everyone. Your insight makes me more doubtful that this can be done. However, I have an inkling that some actions can communicate to everyone (the crucifixion, for example), and action is a form of communication.

    Second, I think the day may be coming when it will be impossible to sell content. Communicators can only sell their audience (through advertising) or themselves (via speaking fees, salary, etc.). Are we returning to the days of free TV–now applied to all media?

  • Steven

    Insightful post. Proverbs says "Make your ear to discern wisdom and incline your heart to understanding". As marketers, we must be communicators… and communication is two-way. You 'listened' to your son and gained wisdom that you could apply in the marketplace. Far better than any contrived focus group. Thanks again.

  • I loved sociology from the first soc class I took in college. The discipline never appeared to be the path I needed to take for my chosen vocations. That changed when I became an interim pastor 10 years ago. I had an excuse for lifting up sociological perspectives on congregational life–and I wasn't going to get fired for it. I've long been a proponent for the relationship between the social sciences and ministry–and though there are still many detractors, at least the conversation is growing. Thank you for continuing the conversation.

  • As the world’s first Marketing Sociologist, you must realize it was Max Weber who started both sociology and marketing – and he was an economist.

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