Curating in 2019: The Marketing Power of Fusing Identity and Products

Looking for a new marketing hack? Start curating.

Like me, you might be hearing, or noticing, the word “curated” more and more frequently. Not in the context of museums, but in the context of products and collections of products: curated reading lists, podcast lists, inspirational interviews, and experiences.

Sure, “curating” has been used in this way years before I gave it any thought. It’s the concept behind subscription services like BirchBox and StitchFix. However, once I noticed it for the first time a few months ago — “interviews with entrepreneurs, curated just for you!” — I couldn’t stop noticing the word in an abundance of marketing campaigns.

From wine, to makeup, to books, to vacation suggestions — all curated, for me! How exciting.

That got me thinking about the meaning of the word and why curating content, products, and experiences — and labeling the selections as “curated” — is such an effective marketing technique.

Let’s start with the definition of the word “curate”. Well, one of them anyway:

cu·rate [verb /ˌkyo͝oˈrāt,ˈkyo͝oˌrāt/]

(used with object), cu·rat·ed, cu·rat·ing.

select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition).

-select the performers or performances that will feature in (an arts event or program).

-select, organize, and present (online content, merchandise, information, etc.), typically using professional or expert knowledge.

After considering the meanings of the word, I realized: especially in a time of growing social and cultural tribes, “curating” as a marketing technique is effective for three key reasons:

1. Curating implicitly brings identity ties to what you’re pushing

Jonah Berger said it best in Contagious: Why Things Catch On: “choices signal identity” (35).

Today, a curator shares an idea or illustrates a lifestyle that his or her followers subscribe to, identify with, and try to perpetuate. When this trusted member of a particular tribe curates a list of recommended products or experiences, it validates those things for other members of the tribe (other potential consumers) and eliminates guesswork.

When we identify with (and perhaps even trust) this person before we even see what they’re recommending, purchasing or participating becomes a no-brainer.

2. Curating signals exclusivity

The word “curate” itself suggests a high level of selectivity. Not only does a curator literally select the “best” or most relevant just for you, but a curator possesses expertise in whatever it is they are curating.

This implied level of exclusivity, layered with expertise, makes us consumers feel like insiders. Marketing something as part of a “curated” collection is so powerful because it takes advantage of human emotions to increase desire and interest among a particular audience.

3. Curating capitalizes on social currency

People love to share their recommendations with others. Returning to Jonah Berger’s theory, if I may, people especially love to share their recommendations when it gives off a desired impression of themselves (read: when it makes them look good) (32). This is a result of the “insider” phenomenon.

When your recommendations to other members of your tribe come from an expert curator within that tribe, that recommendation can make you look like the expert. In the face of an opportunity to impress friends and colleagues, you become more likely to share and spread the word about what the curator has recommended. It’s part of the psyche that drives word-of-mouth.

It’s plain to see: curating has tremendous marketing power, especially as we experience the growth of tribes. Looking for a new marketing hack? Start curating.

Written by our former team member, Nicole Venezia