Unraveling The 2023 Fast Company Innovation Festival
From Digital Realities to Inclusive Beauty: Key Takeaways from the Industry-Shaping Event
Estimated Read Time: 6 Minutes
The Fast Company Innovation Festival is the epicenter where cutting-edge ideas and groundbreaking insights converge. Amidst the vibrant energy of New York during the 2023 event, we had the privilege of hearing from countless makers, leaders, and doers from around the world. Their boundless creativity and forward-thinking perspectives left us inspired and enlightened. In the following article, we invite you to delve into the key insights and takeaways that emerged from this industry-shaping gathering.
The Culture of Gen Z (& Alpha too)
In this dynamic era, Gen Z and Alpha are redefining the cultural landscape, often leaving us perplexed by their seemingly unpredictable preferences. Apps like TikTok and BeReal show a glimpse into the enigmatic workings of their minds—what makes one video more viral than the next is often a “just because” scenario. Beneath the digital veneer, however, there is a profound convergence of online life and the moral pressure that these individuals experience every day, a movement largely uncharted by previous generations.
Sparks & Honey convened a panel of Cultural and Community Intelligence leaders from Meta, ViralMoment, and Trendwolves to discuss Gen Z’s digital lives, and uncovered more than just a digital view into these generations.
Sense of Existentialism
Gen Z and Alphas are more grounded in real connection and yearn for shared community experiences compared to other generations. In these communities, knowledge is exchanged and members can both encourage and shame one another, giving rise to distinct sub-cultures of belonging. These sub-cultures, born of shared human experiences, often develop macro patterns and reveal valuable insights that brands can harness to shape their strategy.
We speak with clients all the time about how the consumer experience isn’t digital or physical—it’s intertwined. No more is that the case than with Gen Z and Alpha. Reality, for them, is all around. Real or virtual, it doesn’t matter, their experiences with both are woven together seamlessly. Today, the concept of privacy has shifted— private conversations are overheard and then repeated for public consumption, suggesting that that privacy is an illusion. Online platforms like Roblox, Fortnite, and YouTube have become as much their reality as attending a high school football game or going shopping. In this ever-expansive reality, we need to create new experiences that combine physical and digital for them to explore and connect with others.
New Social Metrics
As attendees and speakers discussed the rapidly evolving social intelligence landscape, a hot topic that emerged was on the new ways to dissect data metrics. Video and AI, for example, have transformed the way we perceive and receive content. Adjusting to track Video Data with an eye on Fandom has become crucial for predicting trends. What did the last 10 most viral TikToks have in common and how can that help uncover what’s coming next? By analyzing Gen Z and Alpha video content, brands and retailers can develop themes and hone their content strategy to drive truly meaningful engagement.
Create with Consumers, Not for Them
Many brands discussed how they are shifting processes to better involve consumers. Whether a brand is creating a new campaign, game, or retail store, there’s increasing demand for initial creative development and ideation to occur in collaboration with consumers as opposed to seeking validation towards the end of the process. (WD’s Strategy team applauds loudly.) Actively gaining insight into what consumers care about and the challenges they face, and then working from there to discover how individual brands can improve their daily lives, will help brands to evolve at the same pace as the ever-changing cultural landscape.
Service of Style
A visit to the M.M. LaFleur’s Showroom gave a behind-the-scenes look at the process of Power Casual outfitting through personalized service. When guests book their appointment, they are invited to fill out a survey to help direct their personal shopper. Going beyond asking for sizing, the survey aims to understand if there are significant personal events and business needs that require outfitting.. A stylist will greet the guest on arrival and share the items they pulled to support their guest’s goals and lifestyle. Finding out what guests care about, including areas of insecurity and confidence, allow the stylist to better support the shopper. This high-touch service experience, built on empathy and understanding, serves as a model for brands seeking to connect with each customer on a deeper level.
Always Tuned In
We heard over and over throughout the Innovation Festival that building a direct dialogue with your consumers is necessary to maintain relevance and stay in their good graces. Brands need to be nimble and resilient to receive and quickly respond to consumer feedback and cultural moments.
For example, E.l.f Beauty CMO & President, Korr Marchisotto, shared stories about reissuing beloved Jelly Pop Primer because its watermelon scent drove guests into a tizzy when it was no longer available and the marketing buzz gained from shifting the brand name across all platforms to Ears. Lips. Face. after a Jeopardy question was incorrectly answered. These moments demonstrate the power of having fun with an audience, providing joy to customers, and developing love and loyalty for a brand that otherwise could have lost shoppers if ignored.
Patagonia CEO, Ryan Gellert, commented that we need to think about the role of business differently. He reminded the audience that sharing company values is important and that those who take a stand need to move forward with consistency or else there is a lack of credibility. Gen Z consumers, in particular, place greater importance on brand values that encompass diversity and inclusivity—69% of Gen Z consumers said that brands that represent diversity are more authentic.
Discussions on how brands are driving and demanding more inclusive and diverse experiences were on full display throughout the Innovation Festival.
Glossier has taken steps to become a resource for everyone, emphasizing their goal to enhance natural beauty. It’s partnership with the WNBA underscores its commitment to inclusivity. Since women in the WNDA are not often in the same conversation as beauty, this partnership paints a picture of the many facets of these athlete’s lives—and they are beautiful. As the WNBA’s first beauty sponsor, Glossier celebrates the strength and beauty of these athletes on and off the court, offering a new perspective on inclusive beauty.
Women In Sport
In the past, women’s sports came off as a philanthropic endeavor with double standards in decision making, but athletes and fans alike are speaking out and pushing for equality. Though visibility of women’s sports still only accounts for 3-5% of the content available, people are starting to recognize that women’s sports are at the beginning of the growth cycle. The burgeoning visibility of women’s sports promises a transformative shift in performance based businesses.
Read: Women in Sport
As the Fast Company Innovation Festival unfolded, it became clear that Gen Z and Alpha are redefining culture, technology, and inclusivity. Similarly, emphasizing consumer needs and creating equitable spaces were at top of mind. The opportunities for brands to engage and connect with dynamic demographics and build brand loyalty are limitless. By embracing their values, collaborating, and crafting experiences that resonate with their realities, brands can thrive in this ever-evolving landscape.
In the quest for innovation and relevance, the FastCo Innovation Festival serves as a beacon, illuminating the path forwards for brands seeking to flourish in the customer experience landscape.