Why is a culture growing when sales are declining?

To resolve this question, we need to revisit the basics.

What is consumer culture?

Consumer culture is simply the meanings that we, as people, create around the "things" in our lives.

These meanings can be conceptualized as the universe of topics that surrounds a particular "thing" in culture.

So, when you run a search on our Predictive Anthropology Platform, the algorithm analyzes the meanings surrounding your search term, and then calculates its maturity by determining two important aspects:

  1. How mature are the topics that surround the search term? This is determined by comparing the search term's topic universe to the macro universe of billions of topics that sit in our vector database.
  2. How stable are the topics that surround a search term (for this reason, this calculation requires at least a one-year time frame for analysis)?

What does growth mean in the culture of a product category mean?

If a search term is growing, that means the topics surrounding the search term are becoming more stable. In other words, there is less month-over-month change among the topics of discussion that arise in conversations about the search term.

Culturally, a growing universe is converging on cultural consensus: people are starting to agree about what the search term means, and they’re using it in a consistent way in direct and indirect conversations.

Why is the culture growing while sales aren’t?

Often, the culture around a topic may be growing (even rapidly) while sales are dropping.

This situation highlights the need for cultural analysis!

Cultural growth does not mean product category growth: culture can be converging on a set of meanings about a product category being too expensive, ineffective, unfashionable, dangerous, or a number of other concepts that are likely to reduce sales potential.

A cultural analysis might tell us what meanings are leading consumer sentiments, revealing barriers to adoption that must be overcome. If sentiments are converging around barriers, then those barriers present a greater threat - but they’re still open to disruptive innovation.

Take the example of a product category like chemical cleaners, supposing that they’ve experienced stagnant sales.


We see here that the culture is anticipated to grow over 25% in the next 2-3 years, while moving toward the cusp of the zone of innovation.

If sales numbers aren’t mirroring this 25% growth, we should take a quick look at the macroculture’s topic universe to figure out why.


We see here that the culture of chemical cleaners is growing to include concerns about waste, landfill contamination, exposure to toxins, and even concerns about how the chemical cleaners interact with the plastic containers that house them.

In other words, the culture is growing around a set of ideas that are critical of chemical cleaners, not supportive.

So, what should I do to tackle these concerns?

Short Term

  • Build a stronger awareness of the product's features and competitive benefits over the competitors (e.g., natural cleaners). In this case, consumers also seem to understand that chemical cleaners are better at dealing with stains: highlight that.
  • Address concerns arising from misinformation: educate consumers where they’re wrong through campaigns and packaging.
  • Suggest handling methods that allay their concerns (e.g., wearing clothes to avoid contact with chemical cleaners).

Medium-to-long Term

1. Explore a different cultural space (e.g., natural cleaners)

2. Address concerns that are secondary to the product, such as the composition of packaging

3. Tie into a more niche culture where the benefits of your product are likely to be important (e.g., cleaning non-household environments).