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The Newsletter | Edition 097
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

As a Japanese American I’m very aware of how important individuality is in Western culture. Americans find value in uniqueness, hail bold leaders, and nurture a strong sense of self in ourselves and our children. Our brands are the same way. In fact, many of our great brands embody and fuel our sense of individuality, from Harley Davidson and Diesel, to Bob Dylan and Bruce Wayne. These brands were built on lone-wolf personalities, or in brand terms, they represent The Outlaw archetype.

In many ways, our youth seem to take Western individuality to a whole new level. Gen Z can’t be put in a box with others; instead, they seem to be proud to stand alone, each a unique combination of seemingly contradictory perspectives. They are religious liberals, status-seeking conservationists, and global thinkers with local interests. The Breakfast Club is over––this generation will not be stereotyped.

But what happens when a whole generation is unwilling to be defined by their commonalities?

You could speculate it results in a loneliness epidemic. After all, childhood loneliness ranks higher in this generation than any past generation on record. A number of other surrounding factors seem to be stacking up toward the potential of extreme lone wolfdom: social media influences, generations marrying later, and less religious affiliation in youth. In addition, many have experienced profound loss in the pandemic, which can create even further isolation.

However, if we look closely Gen Z has a superpower in finding connection and overcoming the differences that separate us. In fact, the many seemingly disparate ideologies in this group, may actually be the thing drawing them together. Defined as the “fluid generation,” they have constantly changing identities that allow them to see a greater multitude of perspectives and therefore connect with more ideas and ideologies than past generations.

In a study on the influence of Gen Z, McKinsey found that “52% of Gen Zers think it is natural for every individual to belong to different groups (compared with 45% of the people in other generations), and Gen Zers have no problem with moving between groups.” In addition, they “tend to believe that change must come from dialogue,” and are more willing to engage with differing perspectives in order to resolve issues than past generations. These findings demonstrate a different way of relating with others and an aptitude for more, and more flexible, connections. While Gen Z may be extreme individualists, they are individualists who embrace often overlooked commonalities.

You could even say this generation pushes against stereotypes in order to make Untyped Connections.

Why am I so keen on this now?

Coming out of the pandemic we all just wanted to go out and see real people, in person, together. It was an undeniable shared experience. But it wasn’t entirely the “second roaring twenties” many expected. We came out slowly. There were hesitancies and mixed feelings. At SYLVAIN, we had our first all-company on-site, bringing together the entire team from across continents, in January this year. While it was lively and exciting, there was also a lot of talk of how overwhelming it was, and we were conscious to build in alone and in-between time for folks to take breaks and recharge. We weren’t alone in this either. At the time there was tons of talk about how to resocialize.

Counter to that roaring twenties prediction, a different way of socializing and connecting is bubbling up. A more thoughtful way. One that includes more digging, more sharing, more conversation, and more serendipity. If I’m honest, I had been waiting for Discord’s numbers to plummet after the pandemic, but it seems the ability to connect in like-minded, user-defined, and self-selected conversations is going strong. From another perspective, more sessionable and alternative alcoholic drinks like Body Vodka and Bonbuz continue to launch, indicating that people aren’t always just looking to get smashed, but instead to connect in low-key social settings where deeper conversation is more accessible. Even the incredibly positive reception of Threads as a fresh-start place to hear each others’ voices has added to this idea that coming out of the isolation of the pandemic, we’re resetting the way we socialize and connect.

We’re a bit different now, and there’s a different kind of connection happening. It seems we have more room and more patience for finding those unexpected connections––ones that we define on our own terms rather than being stereotyped into.

The pull toward Untyped Connections is clear in Gen Z, and is becoming more visible in broader culture. Untyped Connections are often made over less obvious commonalities and take a bit of effort to uncover. They can connect people who are further afield and less obviously similar. And we could speculate that for all this extra effort, they may result in stronger bonds and broadened perspectives. In our current and difficult times these connections may be key to bringing us together and creating familiarity between us as a society.

So we ask, how might brands shift focus during this time, from The Outlaw to The Sage, The Jester, The Lover, or The Everyman? If we are experiencing a loneliness epidemic, how can brands help the world past it? How can we pull even the most disparate groups together to create common grounds for even the most unexpected of us? And how do we do it in a new and untyped way?

I don’t have all the answers, but here are some starter thoughts…

  1. Ritualize your offering. Turn your offering into a ritual by creating a common cadence. In their return to weekly releases, HBO created a common ritual for viewers that didn’t just create conversation but turned the last season of Succession into one of the biggest pop culture topics of the year. How could you create new rituals by considering the cadence of your offerings?
  2. Connect disparate properties. The Marvel Universe and The Super Mario Bros are two franchises with exciting potential because they’re connecting each individual asset with the rest of their ecosystem in a way that not only fuels their franchises but that connects consumers across them. The range of plots in the Marvel Universe span deeply psychological and profound, to fun everyday laugh candy. They’re bringing all kinds of perspectives together. And you don’t have to participate in every individual character or release to connect over the franchise. How could you connect your properties in order to create common grounds for consumers?
  3. Find universality in your unique character. It's easy to think that Nike, Disney, and Apple were always big and iconic, but when we look more closely it's clear that these brands began with specific audiences and expanded from there. Nike started by targeting those with grit, Disney targeted those who wonder, Apple targeted industrious creativity. But what they’ve done so well is to make their targeted insight relatable to a much broader audience, turning something fueled by niche passion into an idea accessible and enjoyable for many, in many different ways. As a result, they are now brands that a much broader community can connect over. How could you identify your targeted idea, and then find its broader applicability?

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