Beyond the Binary: Trending Toward Genderless

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

He/him. She/her. They/them. Singular pronouns. The way we talk about gender is fundamentally changing, with the concept of fluidity and non-binary gender identifiers becoming commonplace. It should come as no surprise that as public conversations surrounding matters affecting the transgender community are growing, so too is the conversation around the idea of a gender spectrum.

It reflects a larger change in how gender is depicted and discussed. A commitment to inclusivity, driven by Millennials and Gen-Z, has deeply impacted the political and cultural landscapes. Activists have helped bring attention to the discrimination they face, as with access to bathrooms that align with their gender. Television programs and films are more frequently including transgender characters, in turn opening up roles for transgender actors.

Similarly, visibility of non-cisgender identities is impacting how brands are communicating with audiences. Last year, Coca-Cola made headlines with its “Wonder of Us” Super Bowl commercial, in which it included the gender-neutral “them” pronoun along with “him” and “her.” It was a small moment, but represents how brands are addressing changing gender norms.

This shift is not exclusively because of changing attitudes toward gender politics, either. According to a recent study, 74 percent of women said they prefer gender-neutral messages, rather than those geared specifically toward women.[1] It’s happening across age groups, too—especially in the toy aisle. Barbie, long known for outdated and unrealistic gender norms, has started showing boys playing with Barbies in its commercials. Stores have heeded the call as well, with Target re-labeling the toy aisle simply “Kids” rather than “Boys” and “Girls.” While toy packaging still seems intended to overtly appeal to one gender over the other through color, it’s a step toward granting children the space to explore what they like, rather than telling them what they should like, based on gender.

Beyond inclusive messaging, product categories that once existed in gender-specific buckets have been embraced by people for whom they were not initially intended, prompting savvy brands to create actively ungendered versions of said products. Consider Fluide, a company that offers “makeup for everyone.” Its social media feeds are filled with people across the gender spectrum wearing bold lipsticks, nail polishes and eye shadows. Similarly, Zara created a clothing line called “Ungendered” with unisex items like jeans, sweatshirts and shorts. While communicating an inclusive image is a start for brands, actively creating gender-neutral products is a snapshot of the potential for a gender-fluid future.

As this cultural shift continues to grow, it’s important to be aware of the sensitive nature of the conversation. People with non-binary gender identities are fighting just to be recognized, so when handled with care, expanding a brand’s conversation to include them can be a way to show support. For brands inclined to address social changes happening in society, respect is always the best path forward.

[1] https://www.odwyerpr.com/story/public/6894/2016-05-12/study-women-prefer-gender-neutral-marketing-messages.html

Silver is the New Blonde

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

For decades, Americans were told to preserve their youth, because to age was to become irrelevant. Once a person grew out of the coveted 18–49 demographic, they were relegated to a space to be considered only when absolutely necessary. In fact, in a 2005 survey, nearly two-thirds of companies indicated that they had no plans to target consumers over the age of 50 in their product development, marketing or advertising.[1] But a lot has changed since then. The entire process of aging is being redefined by healthier lifestyles and longer lifespans. Aging adults are active participants in culture, refusing to sit on the sidelines. More than ever, brands have no choice but to consider mature consumers not just as a niche audience, but as a core part of their strategy.

At its core, the decision to appeal to an older crowd stems from undeniable numbers. The segment is already large—nearly one billion people over the age of 60—and it’s growing. By the middle of the 21st century, this age group will outnumber those under 15.[2] Add the fact that people over 50 currently comprise 35% of the U.S. population but contribute 43% of the national gross domestic product.[3] Is it becoming clear that brands are selling themselves short by not considering this segment?

In 2019, inclusivity is the name of the game, particularly for brands that are focused on appearance, like fashion and beauty, representing a major reversal for industries that previously framed aging as a negative. To that point, more people over 50 have been featured in high-profile advertisements in recent years. Helen Mirren starred in a L’Oreal commercial. Joan Didion fronted a Céline ad campaign. Instagram-influencer/grandma Lyn Slater became the face of clothing brand Mango.

As with all messaging, connecting with the 50-plus crowd requires a carefully considered sincerity and authenticity, showing this segment that brands consider them people and understand their needs. Slater told W Magazine, “I would rather pressure MAC Cosmetics to think of me as a consumer, than help promote a separate over-50 makeup brand.” This cuts to the heart of the silver revolution: shifting away from a mindset where older age groups are excluded, to one where they aren’t just included, but celebrated. Brands would do well to reject ageism—or any other deterrent of inclusivity—and embrace this segment. We could take a cue from L’Oreal, which did it with panache when they deemed “Silver Chic” the hair color of 2019.

[1] https://www.aarp.org/money/budgeting-saving/info-2014/advertising-to-baby-boomers.html

[2] https://msb.georgetown.edu/newsroom/news/rise-of-silver-economy

[3] https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/economics/info-2015/longevity-economy-economic-growth-new-opportunities.html

Keeping Up in the On-Demand Economy

Man Writing I Want It Now

Public transit running on delay? Request an Uber or Lyft for immediate transportation. A party gone dry? Tap a button and have alcohol rush-delivered. Forget a necessary ingredient at the grocery store? Order it through Postmates and get it in time for the next step of your recipe.

By catering to the needs of consumers in what feels like an instant, the on-demand economy has shortened consumer attention spans, rendering the need for patience in the marketplace nearly obsolete. Perhaps the most visible example is Amazon Prime Now, which offers 2-hour delivery on over 25,000 products spanning 25 product categories, from household essentials to electronics to pet supplies. The service eliminates the need to leave the room, without sacrificing immediacy or efficiency.

Traditional retailers can’t compete with the convenience and speed of immediate delivery, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for them to succeed. Since brands likely can’t be faster or more convenient than top performers in the space, they should compete where their on-demand counterparts can’t—by creating that which can’t be replicated digitally. This is an opportunity to give consumers a compelling reason to come to them, something that offsets the “inconvenience” of in-person shopping.

Innovative grocers have taken this to heart. With delivery services like Peapod and Instacart eating into profits, they have started to expand shoppers’ expectations of what a grocery trip can entail. Rather than just purchasing food for the week ahead, consumers can now grab a drink, test out new foods and be entertained. Providing samples for customers may not be a novel approach, but Trader Joe’s makes them an integral element of the shopping experience—checkout lines frequently snake through the maze of store aisles, and shoppers know to expect a sample station along the way. Not just the chance to try something new, it’s also a way to lessen the burden of waiting in line. Whole Foods takes it a step farther, with stores now including restaurants and bars within. The bar at a Brooklyn location hosts weekly trivia nights, reflecting an attempt to create a community for shoppers.

These experiences can be complimentary or require purchase, so long as they demonstrate concern and appreciation for consumers. Cosmetics store Sephora allows shoppers to try on any product prior to purchase. Home goods retailer Sur La Table offers cooking classes that not only provide the chance to test out their cookware, but also impart new recipes and skills. The opportunity to take a product for a test drive is something that online retailers can’t provide as easily. It’s the “touch and feel” effect, and it’s lost when a purchase is made fully online.

At its heart, creating an experience is just a way to provide excellent customer service. Consumers are willing to slow down when it feels worth it, and by putting their interests at the forefront, savvy brands are able to connect with them in a meaningful way. Carving out their own niche will help traditional retailers succeed in the evolving on-demand culture, building loyalty and affinity in the landscape in which they operate.

Ditching the Digital

Ditching the Digital

As cultural anthropologists, TTC studies emerging behavioral patterns and their social implications, setting aside several days annually to exclusively focus on one trend. Recently, we wrote about the growing omnipresence of the digital detox, in which people purposely separate from electronic devices. Finding vast implications for our personal and professional lives, we departed for a dude ranch in the mountains of Mexico to observe how it might impact us.

Our weekend detox demanded the conscious uncoupling of human and device, and by extension, of human and social, professional and familial circles. The toughest part of that, for some of us, was simply giving ourselves permission to do so.

“The challenge was in allowing myself to be unavailable,” said Pamela Thomas, president of The Thomas Collective. “The advantages to being present and disconnected are clear, but can become hindrances if you don’t give yourself the space to be unreachable.” The concept behind the digital detox relies on an individual’s recognition that a purposeful break is even necessary, given their increased reliance on their devices.

For most of us, a digital detox was easier said than done. Smart phones are so much more than telephones. One of the most frequently used capabilities is the camera, which has allowed the world to document their lives on social media.

“I’m a photography lover, so I did use my phone on airplane mode to take photos,” admitted Deanna Brigandi, account coordinator. “But that made me think, ‘Who am I taking these photos for?’ Do I take photos to look back on later in life, or do I take them knowing I will eventually post them to social media? I think it’s a little bit of both.”

Brigandi’s quandary was shared by all on the trip. Does the focus on documenting an experience take away from the experience itself? The compulsion to take a photo seems to be in part driven by the desire to preserve a moment, as Brigandi mentioned. But studies actually show that when people take photos, their memories of those moments will fade more than those who did not.1 So then, by refraining from taking photos, we are actually making stronger memories.

Nearly everyone in the group articulated a level of discomfort when first separating from their devices, but some eventually found that taking a step away from their social orbits wasn’t necessarily a negative.

“It was a challenge to break out of the routines associated with my device, but once I actually did it, I was surprised by how much easier it was to be out of contact with people than I expected,” said Doug Burger, senior account coordinator. Smart phones have led us to assume a default setting of interconnection, but once that option is no longer available, we’re reminded that constant contact simply isn’t necessary.

Our takeaway in the brief time we spent away? A deeper understanding of how strong our relationships had become to our devices. Self-insight is always the first step in breaking a habit, and the next is deciding to change. But we live in a world that expects immediate responses, and demands—in both work and play—availability and participation. Until we are ready to limit professional and social participation, the digital detox will just be a reminder of that.

1 https://qz.com/1295131/research-shows-taking-photos-decreases-the-ability-to-remember-lived-experience

What’s in a Word?

What's in a Word

Language is powerful.

Not only is it the medium through which we express thoughts, but it can also foreshadow cultural shifts. The words people choose and the order in which they use them reflect the cultural moment, providing insight into their desires and motivators. It would be foolish to assume that successful brands don’t have a finger to the pulse of how their audience communicates. But an equally important question to ask is: Why are they communicating that way? Why are certain words used and others avoided? The “why” of language can predict future behavior and is a valuable tool for those looking to gain a greater understanding of a segment of the population.

Considering language is akin to analyzing choice. People choose to use words that are culturally and topically appropriate, and avoid those that are not. An obvious example is profanity. Since it does not adhere to the norms of most public interactions, it is common to avoid using profanity in situations where it may be considered culturally or socially unacceptable. But language is constantly evolving, so words considered appropriate today could be taboo tomorrow.

Take “anti-aging.” Once a term used to describe an entire genre of skincare products, it is now thought to perpetuate ageist thinking. Beauty brand Neutrogena proudly aligned itself with this change by declaring, “We’re not anti-aging, we’re anti-wrinkles.” Allure magazine banned the word from its pages. In its place are descriptors like “age perfect” and “renewal.” Neither the products nor the conversation have changed—just the positioning.

Like subtle changes in language, the dialogue surrounding a brand’s category or products can shift with culture. Take Kleenex’s need to rebrand their “man-sized” tissues as “extra large” due to complaints of sexism. Weight Watchers, whose very name had become problematic, changed its name to simply “WW” to better align with the cultural shift towards body positivity. Rebranding is drastic, but changing the language consumers use to refer to a brand has the power to change how they think, feel and (optimally) act.

As always, brands should proceed with authenticity when adjusting their usage of language. Trends come and go, especially in regards to how people speak, and brands should be thoughtful in their communication, not impulsive. Slang words and phrases seemingly become ubiquitous overnight, but that doesn’t mean brands should start advertising how “lit” their products are. In fact, 69% of consumers consider brand use of slang language annoying.[1]

It’s impossible to overstate the power of language. The way people speak informs how they think and act. Brands must continue to adhere to the old adage “think before you speak.” But to ensure the most culturally intelligent communications strategy, perhaps the counsel is to listen before you act.

[1] https://sproutsocial.com/insights/data/q2-2017/

Empowering the Fempreneur

A Young Business Girl Uses Megaphone

Once upon a time, the descriptor “bossy” was akin to slander for many women, but those days are long gone. This is the era of the fempreneuer. The girl boss. The boss lady. In the last two decades, there has been a 114 percent increase in the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. alone.[1] And it’s not just one generation: Women of all ages are forging their own paths in the business world, from Baby Boomers to Millennials. While motivations differ on a granular level, business-minded women are pursuing their own paths for two overarching reasons: necessity and autonomy.

“Necessity entrepreneurship” is the driving force for many women starting their own businesses, according to the National Women’s Business Council.[2] It’s the idea that, for any number of reasons, women are not seeing the positions they want in the labor force, so they’re creating opportunities for themselves. Factors such as income inequality, the glass ceiling and lack of flexibility in dealing with work and family care are potent enough for the fempreneuer to carve out her own career.

Another motivator? Autonomy. Women are starting businesses to achieve the lifestyle they want. More than ever, these #dontquityourdaydream-ers are turning their passions into their careers, with side hustles becoming full-fledged businesses. The digital sphere, and especially social media, have provided ample opportunity to capitalize on niche interests. Personal trainer–turned fitness magnate Kayla Itsines began her career as a personal trainer at a gym. Rather than limit her client base to members of the gym, Itsines took her workouts to Instagram. Her tips and transformation stories racked up a following of over 10 million people, creating a fitness empire that includes best-selling books, stadium tours and an app that topped the fitness charts in 2016.[3]

These female entrepreneurs live in a world where their start-ups receive half the funding of their male counterparts, while producing over twice the revenue.[4] This structure has created new ways to build a business, such as seeking funding from female-managed investment firms, like Golden Seeds, which focus on women-led businesses. Social media has also proven to be a potent tool for women that saw it not only as a way to showcase their offerings, but a platform to build their personal brand.

The increase of female-owned businesses has resulted in another realm of growth: an industry that aims to help women succeed in the entrepreneurial space. In many cases, it’s the result of a “women-helping-other-women” ethos. Those who have succeeded in their business endeavors seek to impart knowledge to women looking to launch their own brand. Create & Cultivate, founded by Jaclyn Johnson, an under-30 female entrepreneurial success story, is a series of conferences that connect like-minded women and provide workshops and networking sessions related to starting a business. Girlboss, founded by Sophia Amoruso, a woman who also found success in the entrepreneurial space at an early age, is a multifaceted platform that provides women with career and financial resources, in addition to hosting events that bring would-be fempreneurs together.

All indicators signal that this female entrepreneurial movement will not slow down. We believe that women will continue to innovate and create new opportunities for themselves. This enterprising attitude is something that brands should consider: Women are ambitious, smart and unwilling to settle. To succeed with this segment, it is crucial to demonstrate an understanding of its motivations, and support the trails women are blazing.

[1] https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/number-of-women-owned-businesses-growing-2-5-times-faster-than-national-average-1007300927
[2] https://s3.amazonaws.com/nwbc-prod.sba.fun/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/09084854/NWBC-Report_Necessity-as-a-Driver-of-Women%E2%80%99s-Entrepreneurship-Her-Stories.pdf
[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2017/04/10/forbes-top-influencers-inside-the-rise-of-kayla-itsines-the-internets-workout-queen/#79cfe098673f
[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/annapowers/2018/07/31/women-founded-start-ups-receive-less-funding-but-produce-double-the-revenue-a-study-finds/#66568ae964e4

Gluten-Free: Sounds Good to Me

shutterstock_142037104

Offering far more than just a gluten-free pasta option, New York restaurant Senza Gluten has dedicated its entire menu to fine gluten-free dining. Pizza, pasta, flatbreads, sandwiches and desserts—you name it. Not in your area? Try Find Me GF, an app that identifies gluten-free businesses near you.

With 18 million Americans diagnosed as gluten sensitive and one in every 133 Americans with some form of celiac disease, this is more than a trendy dietary preference. Whether due to modern trends in wheat hybridization, increased reporting, greater attention paid to nutritional issues in general, or light shed on the issue by celebrities, wheat gluten sensitivity is a hot-button topic.

Think this is limited to mom-and-pop shops? Industry giant Archer Daniels Midland has responded by gaining a controlling interest in smaller businesses such as Harvest Innovations, an industry leader in minimally-processed, gluten-free nutritional alternatives. With facilities in places like Indianola, Iowa and Deshler, Ohio, this trend is more than an urban exception; it directly affects the nutritional—and financial—health of our nation’s heartland.

Consumers have responded with profitable demonstrations of brand loyalty and a willingness to pay a little extra for good food that’s healthy, sustainable, and locally-sourced. The challenge for brand managers today—for all industries—is to discover how their product fits into a growing consumer landscape composed of niche needs.

 

How Do Your Customers Get Their Web? Browser? App? OTA?

marketing_virtual_realityAs the web gets larger and larger, its access points get smaller and smaller. Soon they may even be invisible.

Browser-access is antiquated

Going fast are the days of using a desktop web browser for online commerce. Recent Nielsen data clearly shows that the trend for mobile Internet access favors mobile platforms (iOS, Android, etc.) by 90%[1]. Traditional desktop layouts are over-complicated for smaller touch-screens, draining battery life, clogging download speeds, and wasting valuable bytes of data downloads via a cellular connections. The first correction was the platform-adaptive web design – a simple solution for those who require only a basic Internet presence. But for greater consumer interaction, let’s look at the app.

The App is the current state of online access

User-friendly apps (applications) are ‘micro programs’ that streamline layout, options, and access directly to a specific commercial or industrial entity. Retail business apps offer QRC and barcode scanning options, insurance apps offer online claim forms with pop-up selections rather than character-entered data, content and media providers like Netflix or The New York Times offer episode lists, articles, and subscription information directly to the consumer with no distribution middle-man. Voice command systems like Siri and Google Now bypass the keyboard entirely, so that the consumer doesn’t have to scroll through a list of options – the mobile device does that for you far more efficiently.

The future is OTA

Following through with this kind of innovation, we see online access being built directly into the product itself. Just as apps make online access faster, easier, and more direct, Over The Air (OTA) information systems will challenge the way brands interact with their followers and customers. Amazon’s Echo exists as a stand-alone wireless household information station, feeding families everything from recipes to product prices without even going to a separate device. Tesla Motors is equipping its cars with online functionality to update and upgrade the software performance in its vehicles. Does the idea of your car getting a software update while it sits in your garage at night sound like science fiction? Think again – it’s already here.[2]

What this means for client/consumer interaction

A landing page will be a thing of the past. A scrolling list of options will seem quaint. Modern aggressive marketing means predicting the needs and interests of the client, bypassing slow and costly access to fulfilling them, and offering direct pipelines to do so, in some cases without even having to ask. The ideal Internet is invisible, seamless, self-sufficient – leaving your customers and clients free to focus on all the exciting products and services your company has to offer.

[1] http://www.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/
[2] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-01-25/those-pesky-software-updates-now-coming-to-a-car-near-you

 

Does Your Brand Have an Opinion?

Does your brand have a voice?
Does your brand have a voice?

Less than three weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court ruled five to four that all Americans, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, have the right to marry. Immediately, brands joined the public in voicing their support for the vote through their social media feeds, illustrating that—once forbidden territory—marketers are stepping forward and publicly taking a stand on issues previously thought “too political.”

Consumer Connections Through Cause 

With the rise of social media marketing, companies are attempting to be more human, hoping to relate to their consumers as they connect with them. Brands are creating roles as friends and peers, instead of large corporations with communication becoming more individualized and localized. These “personal“ connections are subsequently leading them to pipe up on issues that are relevant to their consumers: in this case products from JELL-O to Cheerios and Target to Uber, posted photos incorporating the rainbow flag into their products, receiving generally positive feedback from their social communities.

The Constant Search for Relevancy

Consumer-driven social media is dictated by the people. Constant updates are made to Facebook based on fan feedback and new apps are popping up to fill voids in the social sphere, which will only grow. And as those budgets increase, companies must be ready to add a relevant opinion to the conversation on issues that don’t directly involve their products and that extend beyond what is happening in the headlines.

It is important for brand owners to start planning now and thinking beyond the basic values of their marketing identity. By developing guidelines for their social and political stances, they will set up more opportunities to engage and ensure that they can join the conversation quickly and connect further with their fan base.

Netflix-Inspired Travel

There are few things as wonderful as spending an evening on the couch catching up on your favorite show. But what if you could place yourself in the setting of your most beloved protagonist? Welcome to TV tourism. Think about it, New Mexico never held as much attraction as it did after Breaking Bad, and surely you’re dying to spot Sherlock Holmes in the window of some mysterious London building. Karen Clarkson, vice president North America at the tourism authority VisitBritain, said “American visitors are known to visit specific locations related to entertainment and literary heritage.” Now the question is, when is the next flight to King’s Landing? [more]