What Really Makes You Special?


Written by: Matt Taylor, Director of Insights. Originally printed in CNHR magazine, March/April 2021 issue. 

A Little-Known Secret to Value Creation 

It was 1813. The Napoleonic War raged on as Prussia tried to solve a serious problem. The national treasury was too low to fund their war efforts, so the royal family turned to their wealthiest citizens with a request: “Give us your gold and silver jewelry.” 

How do you convince 19th century Prussian elites to part with their prized possessions? You give them something in return…at a far lesser value. Wait, what? 

As strange as it sounds, the royals gave iron jewelry in exchange for gold and silver. And it worked! While it makes no economic sense, a closer look reveals an important truth: value is driven by culture

This replacement jewelry wasn’t merely iron. It was a symbol of patriotism and prestige; branded and stamped with the words, ‘I gave gold for iron’ or ‘For the welfare of our country’. This unusual exchange was successful because it became a form of “currency” to participate (and stand out) in the elite culture. 

We All Participate in Culture 

Prussian super-elites fighting for status is an extreme example. But we’re all a part of culture–human networks built upon shared values, beliefs, passions and behaviours.  

You may participate in a national culture through foods, sports culture by watching ESPN or natural health culture by studying the latest research. If you stop and think about it, you’re engaged in many different cultures. And your level of involvement reflects what you want to gain. 

Every Culture Has Its Currencies (i.e. Value) 

We join cultures that create meaning in our lives, and then we acquire currencies like knowledge, preferences, relationships, styles and objects1 that allow us to access the group, showcase our membership, belong to a community and even grow in status. Currencies, just like iron jewelry, are why sports fans study player stats, weekend warriors buy $10k road bikes and biohackers study the ins and outs of fasting. 

It’s ultimately about access, participation and advancement within a culture. And when it comes to Natural Health, culture is at the heart of our industry. 

With Currency Comes Customers 

Consider this: consumers can improve sleep, strengthen immunity and buy healthier foods almost anywhere these days. That means many choose specialty retailers for something beyond products and services. They come to grow their knowledge, develop their personal tastes and style, connect with cultural peers and leaders, and show the world (and themselves) they belong to the culture of natural health

This creates an opportunity to attract new customers and develop stronger bonds with them. Because when you become a cultural beacon—an authentic access point for natural health AND its key micro cultures in your community—you appeal to those who care most.  

Choose Your Cultures and Currencies 

What makes you special? As a Natural Health Retailer, you’re the heartbeat of a culture, creating meaning (cultural currency) in people’s lives. So, it begs the question: “Which cultures and currencies are right?” 

First, it’s about adding, not subtracting—lest you lose your base. You already serve the macro culture of natural health and that shouldn’t change. The next step is to identify the micro cultures that matter most in your community and find a way to serve them. 

  1. Which micro cultures do you see in your staff, community or customer base? 
  1. How can you show your cultural authenticity? (i.e. Imbue Culture)  
  1. How can you help others access, participate and advance? (i.e. Impart Culture) 

1. Inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s Theory of Capital 

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