Spotlight on Trader Joes: hip, cool and off-beat

Poring over the Q2 data of our CultureQ research, I of course found countless insights about those big-name brands I expected to dominate the discussions—blue chip brands like Apple, Ford, and Nike, and social media giants like Facebook and Twitter. But I was fairly surprised to see that Trader Joe’s was mentioned nearly as much as the expected set (albeit most often by trend setters and early adopters), and greatly intrigued by the enthusiastic clamoring of our participants for this quirky chain of grocery stores. According to our data, Trader Joes’, or “TJ’s” as its loyal customers call it, has cultivated an eclectic, cult-like following of Millennials. It seems they love everything about TJ’s from its products to its employees to its kitschy store design, and their intimate connection with the brand is captured in their CultureQ musings. The first Trader Joes opened in 1967, the first trademark Hawaiian shirts were donned by employees in 1969, and since then, the store has expanded into a small grocery store empire of over 350 stores in 30 states. And all the while, Trader Joe’s has retained its quirky vibe and “neighbourhood feel despite being a chain,” as one CultureQ participant reflects. Despite its hundreds of locations, it somehow it still feels local and original, which adds to its appeal. It still promotes itself as “Your Neighborhood Grocery Store,” and its stores are tucked away in intriguing locations, such as a beautiful, old architectural-gem-of-a-bank in Brooklyn that another participant labelled a “palace of food.” Trader Joe’s is cool, but in an off-beat way. It seems that their coolness is a product of...
The Creative Capital for Hipsters

The Creative Capital for Hipsters

Choosing where you live determines a number of important things: whether or not you need a car, if you will live in a house or an apartment, and in it’s own way the types of industries you can work in.  What we don’t usually consider is that sometimes the decision of where to live was made for us on a more subconscious level. Research has been done recently on this by psychologists at Cambridge and the University of Texas. One thing that pops up when you speak to Millennials deciding on where to live is where are the creatives, those who are often associated with being open and embracing new experiences, moving. These are the people who are going out and effecting change in the world as entrepreneurs, business leaders, and social enterprisers. The notable hot spots for creatives today are San Francisco, New York, Austin, Nashville, and Denver (in terms of being open to experience). One place that is surprisingly left off the map, though, is a small city in the smallest state, Providence. I don’t think that it is coincidence that this New England city shares its name with human destiny. In fact that is how Providence got its name in 1636, from Roger Williams as he was a religious exile from the Puritan Massachusets Bay Colony. Since Williams’ time, the city has grown organically and seen much change. Just look at the various monikers that have developed, “The Beehive of Industry,” ” The Rennaisance City,” and now “The Creative Capital.” It should not come as a surprise that Providence attracts a creative and intellectual population; Brown...
Gen Y’s new working plan: Branding & Compromise

Gen Y’s new working plan: Branding & Compromise

We generally think of brands within the context of our everyday lives; what we should wear, what car we should drive, where we should eat. It’s that endless permeation that ultimately makes up our identity. Two neighbors may wake up and drive to the same office complex, but many of us would be very surprised if the Patagonia-wearing, Prius-driving lover of Chopped shared the same occupation as the Dickies wearing, GMC driving fan of Outback Steakhouse. The correlation between who we are, and what brands we are is inevitable, as is their influence on us. Despite being a young male who enjoys wearing backwards hats, I had never watched the show Entourage http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0387199/ in full. Figuring that it’s probably a good idea to have at least 10 obscure Vinny Chase/Ari Gold references in my back pocket at all times (I ultimately want to do something in entertainment), I have recently taken to watching the series from the pilot episode. Technically, I’m catching up on a cultural phenomenon; one which has often been described as a worry-free outtake on how young people perceived narratives of success pre-crash, and one whose positive reception was arguably responsible for the development of its now-defunct East Coast cousin, How To Make It In America http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1299365/. It’s interesting comparing these two shows for a number of reasons. Both were on HBO, both were developed by the same producer core (Marky Mark!), and both seemingly appealed to the same set of cocky-yet-somehow-justified male demographic trying to balance the fast-paced action movie/romantic comedy that is young people trying to be somebody in the world. While I’m of...

Millennials: a collective identity

Watching Mad Men’s Peggy smoking a spliff  while bashing out copy on her typewriter, I found myself reflecting on the 1960’s and the rebellion that defined the cohort that came of age during that era. As 70 million post-war Baby Boomers became teenagers and young adults in the 1960’s and 70’s, they demanded revolutionary thinking to change the fabric of American cultural life. It seems today’s young adults and older teens, or the Millennials as we’ve come to refer to the population born between 1980 and 1995, share some of the same spirit that defined their Older Baby Boomer parents at the same age. Millennials also want to right the wrongs of society, value progress and desire social reform. However one attitudinal difference distinguishes their behavior from that of their Older Baby Boomer parents and therefore how they are shaping the cultural narrative and what they expect from brands. Young adults in the 1960’s were more comfortable standing out, being the sole anarchist. Today’s young reformers’ identify is defined by the collective. Being part of a cultural movement or meaningful community addresses Millennial’s needs for productivity, control and security, and importantly validates their beliefs and opinions. Think of the student movements in London http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8240181/Student-protests-key-dates-for-2011.html or Chile http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8240181/Student-protests-key-dates-for-2011.html for example that sat alongside the Arab Spring in 2011 as examples of Millennial protest.  Striking when compared to visions of Baby Boomer objectors at Kent State or the sole protestor preaching in Parliament Square. Today’s students are arguing for reduction of fees – what might be thought of as better access to education - as compared to their Boomer parents in...

Arc’teryx Girl

Since the beginning of time (my time) I’ve been a skier. Any winter that did not involve skiing is pre-memory for me.  So, I’ve pretty much seen it all – in ski gear that is. Leather ski boots, to plastic rear entry, to my new Lange ‘slippers’ with Sure Foot liners. And while I once bragged about the length and stiffness of my skis, today it’s all about shape and girth. Then there’re the clothes, from my hand-me-down matching orange jacket and pants to my blue stretch pants with padded knees (so cool) to my back-country one-piece and now everything Gore-Tex. Yes, I’ve done my share to keep the ski industry afloat. And while I’ve been a part of this microcosm of consumerism for (ahem) 39 years, I was recently moved by how brand prolific it is. Recently while in Whistler (my mountain of choice), as if coming out of a dream, I suddenly noticed, how surrounded I was by brands. Brand names and labels covered me and my fellow ski buddies from head to toe. So I decided to count… brands that is. In a gondola lift of 4 people no less than 28 brand names were visible to me. Here goes. Helmets: Giro, Bern, Smith, POC. Goggles:  Smith, Oakley, Bolle, Carrera. Neck Warmer: REI. Jackets: Helly Hansen, Arc’teryx, Descente, Columbia. Ski cam: Sony. Gloves: Dakine, Marmot, Outdoor Research, Black Diamond. Pants: North Face, Burton, Hard Wear. Boots: Tecnica, Lange, Burton, Rossignol. Poles: Leki, Scott, Dynastar. Oh and throw in a few ‘Gore-Tex’ labels on top. Yes, there were only four of us in that gondola… and no,...

Dynamic Culture: who has time to make music just for the sake of making noise?

“What truly has value is what’s differentiated. And sadly these days, just having a college degree doesn’t exactly differentiate you.” The quote above, extracted from our CultureQ study, offers an interesting take on achievement. Achievement defined by the “get good grades so you can go to a great college so you can get the job of your dreams” narrative that has often dominated contemporary ideas success. While there certainly are many positive results from living in a society that values merit-based, track-oriented accomplishments, it’s safe to say sunny days are not always the norm. Much of our research with Millennials has demonstrated that, even despite the current economic climate, Gen Y has an optimistic outlook on its long-term future, especially older Gen Yers. That, when all the dust clears, they will have accomplished what they set out to conquer. In other words, we think we can do anything. We have the idea that our individual merits, or lack-thereof, are worthy enough to carry us through whatever obstacles come our way. Many Gen Xers, Boomers and even those from the post WWI generation interpret this as an unfounded sense of entitlement, or sometimes even narcissism. I believe, however, that it may actually be something else that defines this; something much deeper, more nefarious, and pretty darn eye-opening. We think we can accomplish our goals in the long term, but with the current economic crisis, we’ve seen a lot of our siblings, friends, classmates, etc. fall quite short of their grand life schemas. In other words, by and large, we are a generation unfulfilled. And, with a psychological preponderance towards an...
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