X Marks the Spot: Understanding the New Found Power of Generation X

Always eager for the next big thing, media and marketing has become obsessed with the youths. We’re endlessly fascinated with trendsetting millennials, and gen-z, even allowing their influence to retroactively shape the consumer habits of older generations, heaven forbid we don’t appear “on fleek” or whatever they’re saying on TikTok these days. But if advertisers are looking for buried demographic treasure, it’d be wise to say “ok boomer” to the teens and twenty somethings and recognize the often overlooked Generation X. 

Born between 1965 and 1981, Gen-X’ers have been called many names, none too flattering. After all, Beck broke into the scene proclaiming “I’m a loser baby” and Nirvana’s biggest record was called _Nevermind_.  However wise marketers would be advised to do quite the opposite when considering Gen-X. 

Although once derided as slackers, Generation X has come of age. Though numbering only 66 million to Baby Boomers’ 75 million, Gen-X are now entering their best earning years, raking in an average $54,400 annually compared to struggling Millennials pulling in only $34,430. Although representing only 25% of the population, they control an outsized 31% of U.S. income. 

Their influence extends beyond their pocketbook too. With more than 56 million Americans now living in multi-generational homes, Generation X are increasingly taking care of not only their twenty and thirty-something children, but also their aging boomer parents. 

Sometimes described as the Sandwich Generation, Gen-X are quite literally positioned as a bridge between the old and the young, helming households that cater to both. Having entered the work force before the advent of the internet, the first generation to use email professionally couldn’t benefit from the luxury of tools like Slack and Basecamp. As a result, their interoffice personal and communications skills are naturally honed. This makes Gen-X ideal mentors to upcoming generations, and now as they ascended into the C-suite, taking the lead on corporate planning, Gen-X wield significant influence on industry. In fact, 55% of start-up founders are themselves members of Gen-X. 

While not digitally native like Millennials and Gen-Z, Gen-X are adept consumers of digital media, spending on average seven hours a week on social media. Less inclined to social promotion, 81% maintain Facebook accounts and nearly six million have Snapchat, but look to these platforms to stay connected to friends and their kids. But don’t discount traditional media either, as these nostalgic platforms still draw considerable attention from a generation that remembers the advent of the Atari. 

When reaching Gen-X, it’s important to avoid the obvious pitfalls. Unlike younger generations, Gen-X tend not to think of themselves as special, with only about 41% even self-identifying as Gen-X at all. The first work hard play hard generation responds to experiential offerings, but is quick to sniff out inauthenticity. The Cola Wars of the 90’s saw both Coke and Pepsi strike out, the former with their intentionally self-deprecating offering OK Cola, an obvious ploy, and the latter with the short lived and shallow Generation Next campaign. 

Generation X built a lot of the workflows millennials refined, relying on DIY ethics to get to where they are. With so much on their plates, they respond best to a succinct sales pitch sell that gets to the point and clearly outlines tangible product benefits and results. Eighty percent believe work-life balance is important and 48% fantasize about having a day off. Although they outspend all other generations in housing, clothing, dining, and entertainment, more than half of Gen-X’ers (54 percent) report feeling frustrated that advertisers treat them as an afterthought. With the most disposable income of any demographic, ignore them at your own risk. 


Leja Kress Joins Tim Richardson on Your Basket Is Empty Podcast

Leja Kress - Your Basket Is Empty - Tim Richardson
In this episode Leja and Tim share their passion for 80s new wave and post-punk music. Tim sat down with her to learn how the band she formed with her husband and twin sister led to the creation of the agency, what they’ve learned in 20 years of operation, how to maintain relevance, building culture, and who would be in her ideal line up for a show at CBGBs, circa 1985.

The Sustainability of Sustainability

What was once called a corporate fad and maligned as greenwashing, the practice of developing and maintaining an ecologically sound business model has proven an enduring concern for more and more brands. One might even say green is the new black, but in recent years, sustainability is clearly more than just a trendy flash in the pan. 

It’s a sobering statistic, but by 2050 it’s predicted that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. In fact, every day 28,000 tons of single-use plastics are being disposed of in our waterways. These plastics are consumed by fish, which are in turn consumed by us. While destroying natural ecosystems is bad enough, our wastefulness is literally poisoning the food chain.  

As Washington drags its feet regarding anything even close to legitimate climate change action, brands are stepping up, acknowledging the role of production in our ever more wasteful consumption. Absent regulation, brands are enacting real change throughout the entire supply chain.

Take for example Loop, a big-box retailer operating on an entirely digital straight-to-consumer model. Like a green Amazon, Loop offers various common brands including Clorox and Hagen Das in eco-friendly packaging. They’ve even removed the cardboard box from the equation, opting for a reusable shipping container users re-populate with spent receptacles to be sent back and refilled for re-delivery. 

Other brands have also taken it upon themselves to eradicate single-use plastics from their processes. Accounting for just over 40% of total plastic usage, only 14% of packaging is recycled. With an eye on reversing this trend, Unilever owned Dove has announced a move to 100% recycled plastic packaging by the end of 2020. The initiative stands to reduce the use of virgin plastics by more than 20,500 tons per year. Brands like Lush and By Human Kind have made significant moves to cut down on packaging as well, the former focusing on eliminating packaging altogether through solid state products and the latter developing recycled and recyclable paper packaging to help the environment. 

For the products that can’t be recycled, Lush also offers a return-for-rewards system allowing fans to return five spent containers to any store in return for a free face mask, thus turning an ecologically minded recycling program into a brand building opportunity. 

Airing from 2006-2013, Tina Fey’s prescient NBC comedy 30 Rock gleefully lampooned many of the most shallow aspects of the media/corporate agenda, and greenwashing was not excluded. Played by Friends alum David Shwimmer, the character of Greenzo, NBC’s Green Mascot, embodied a shallow corporate effort to appear ecologically minded without enacting any policy changes. 

Brought to life as something of a values based golem lacking any real substance, Greenzo was a revealing portrayal of a clumsy and clueless corporate activism clearly more focused on a cash-in. 

But as the climate crisis carries on, and as woke Twitter continues to call out lackluster, or otherwise ineffectively placating brand efforts, we’re truly seeing brands take the lead in a reusable revolution. As customers demand action and vote with their pocketbooks, wise brands are responding with more than cursory solutions. The message is clear, Greenzo go home, consumers want real change. 

How Sweden Unlimited is Limiting Its Plastic

Taking a cue from the CPG and cosmetics industries, Sweden Unlimited has initiated our own eco-friendly practices. While our product is virtual our and doesn’t produce any physical waste, office isn’t. And after running some numbers, we realized we were consuming over 5,000 plastic bottles a year! For us, this was unacceptable. In searching for a solution, we discovered Bevi, a wonderful service that produces smart water coolers offering still or sparkling water in a variety of healthy flavors. In making this move to reusable water containers, we’re thrilled to be able to provide for the health of our employees and guests, while also promoting the health of our planet. At Sweden Unlimited, the only thing we’re limiting is our carbon impact.



Running Your E-Commerce Business in the Age of the Pandemic

With physical stores closed and much of our population at home indefinitely, digital is, for many, the gold channel available to business owners as a consistent revenue source.

Outside of implications to overall business, with clear impacts on physical channels, supply chain, fulfillment/logistics, there will also be many implications that vary by industry to the digital business as well. The expected sales cycle is gone and unknowns abound. The best and right response is unclear and the new normal is to be determined. However, and as Kevin Roose wrote in his piece for the NYTimes:

But if there is a silver lining in this crisis, it may be that the virus is forcing us to use the internet as it was always meant to be used — to connect with one another, share information and resources, and come up with collective solutions to urgent problems. It’s the healthy, humane version of digital culture we usually see only in schmaltzy TV commercials, where everyone is constantly using a smartphone to visit far-flung grandparents and read bedtime stories to kids

The Coronavirus Crisis Is Showing Us How to Live Online – Kevin Roose for the New York Times

First and foremost, the emphasis on customer service must extend beyond just clients and customer relationships to encompass a more humanistic approach as a whole. With that being said, thinking through a few key areas as it relates to how we partner and things that we should discuss as a team is key to moving through next steps, with success and strategy.

Lead With Empathy

In times of crisis, marketing shifts from transactional to a mastery of creative and messaging. In all that you do, look less at being consumer-centric, and more to being human.

  • How do your policies line up with your brand pillars?
  • Where do we pause, where do we keep moving?
  • How do we creatively generate content within this new reality?
  • How do we pivot the content calendar?


Strengthen Your Community

While customer acquisition may be non-existent for the time being, your current customer base is pivotal. Loyalty can be earned or broken in these times. This is the time for brand marketing, over product/transactions.

  • What are the brand pillars that we can lean into in this time?
  • How do we humanize our community, bring in personal touches?
  • Are there web features and offerings that should be prioritized to build loyalty and engagement?
  • What are the appropriate messages related to our brand versus extra noise?

Use This Time to Learn

While conversion rates will temporarily slip, and feature launches and tests may fall flat within this non-normal, how do we use time to analyze, reflect, and strategize for future scenarios.

  • What can we do to gather more information about the customer?
  • How can we start to build predictions about future behaviors?
  • What are the untapped opportunities within the digital experience?
  • What has not been working that needs to go?
  • How can we evaluate and understand stickiness on the website, especially mobile, as visits will lean even more away from desktop?

At Sweden, we are also rethinking how we manage and service our clients to be an even more strategic partner in this time and provide clearer communication and transparency around our work and results. More to come in the coming weeks, and more communication, on how we will be your partner through this challenging time, and beyond.

WFH – All By Myself Playlist

Isolation, isolation, isolation, isolation, isolation.

A great playlist for a self-quarantine-work-from-home status. Take a melancholy stroll through a self-reflective journey of sound. Sorry for the Green Day song. But even the worst bands can have a moment of inspiration.

Creating Content That Reflects Your Brand

by Richard Agerbeek, Chief Creative Officer

When people think about design, they almost always think about the visual. But brands, like people, also have a personality and a story to tell. They also have relationships.  And, as with people, the quality of those relationships depends on how dependable, likable and trustworthy they are–how much they are willing to give rather than simply what they want to get or sell.

In the digital space, these messages are conveyed through editorial that is designed to engage clients where they are and to reinforce a brand’s unique identity so as to establish and nurture a healthy long-term relationship that benefits all involved.

Define your audience.

If you work with a brand today, you are already aware that customers are not only people who buy your goods or services—they are your champions and your advocates. Thanks to social media we often call them “followers” but they’re more than that. They are the reason that any brand exists.

So when we say brands need to be better storytellers, what we’re really saying is that brands need to show their dependability, likeability, and trustworthiness over time in order to be desirable. We call it taking an editorial approach to brand communication, and it’s a key ingredient in some of the most successful brand strategies.

At a time when everyone is continuously staying connected through our mobile and stationary devices, people are also reading, consuming, and sharing the content they connect with more than ever before. So, part of this process is determining who your audience is, which new audiences you want to reach, and designing an editorial plan that speaks to them effectively.

Brands are in the mind of the consumer.

You have control over the messaging you send out, but it’s more difficult to influence what consumers actually feel about your brand. That’s because while products exist in the real world, brands exist in the mind of the consumer.

There are many factors that help create a brand.  But at the end of the day, what really influences how people think of your brand is when they use your product or service. i.e., staying in a W Hotel, watching a NOWNESS video, or wearing a Lou & Grey sweater. Fortunately, that feeling can be influenced by the content your brands produces, the context in which it is presented and the lifestyle or story it conveys.

This is especially true for fashion where you are not just selling sweaters; you are selling the lifestyle around the sweater. Likewise, for luxury, you are selling a product and how it makes you feel because it’s not luxury unless it makes you feel luxurious.

Your content must reflect that.

Have something to say.

Successful editorial design draws in readers and engages their hearts and minds. The desired outcome should be that the reader wants to spread the word, not simply buy something.

That’s not to say that brands shouldn’t introduce e-commerce into content such as a fashion editorial that lets users tap to learn more about each product and then find out where or how to purchase — but it has to be in a user-centric way. The reason is as practical as it is philosophical: Brands that only use communication to peddle their wares will exhaust the attention spans and goodwill of their audiences and ultimately fail. Conversely, content that entertains and informs guides brand aficionados on an engaging journey that ideally ends in a sale.

Meet your readers where they are.

In the ideal scenario, content strategy—the plan for publishing across digital platforms over time—precedes design. As publications have done for years, brands need to determine their voice, what sorts of content they want to produce, who they want to reach, what those readers’ needs are and how to develop an editorial calendar that reflects all of that.

They also have to consider where their readers are when they are accessing their information. The growth of mobile has forever changed reader behaviors. And now that more websites are taking a responsive design approach, the organization of information, copywriting, and image assets must consider the mobile user first, while also factoring in the desktop user’s more robust content consumption expectations and how that content will render when shared on Twitter or Facebook.

Don’t be a stranger.

Publishing on a reliable schedule and in an authentic voice is essential to building trust and loyalty. Smart brand publishers already know that social media is always on, and that meeting their customers where they are shows that they’re listening and not just broadcasting an agenda. Publishing frequency depends greatly on resources and ability to create original, meaningful content on an ongoing basis. Whether once a day or once weekly, what matters is consistency. A reader that subscribes to Vogue doesn’t want to wonder when the next issue is coming, nor does she want to have to wait four weeks to be informed about what’s happening in the world of fashion. The more brands communicate on a steady basis, the more likely they are to build a following for their content.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Not every brand should launch a blog filled with long-form articles. Maybe a Tumblr or Pinterest approach is better, or perhaps video conveys your brand’s philosophy more appropriately. Just like people, brands have a unique personality that needs to be conveyed through the type and tone of content, frequency of publishing and engagement platform. By embracing and celebrating that uniqueness through considered editorial design, brands can create and nurture ongoing relationships with their clients that survive longer than a single transaction.

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