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A Visual Tour of Why Your Audience Is Hurting

US economic trends since the 1980s

Almost every time I get in an Uber, I ask the driver for their story.

I don’t say, “So! What’s your story?”

Usually, I just say, “How long you been drivin’ Uber?” That always leads to the “why”.

Before COVID, the usual “why” was because they were in-between jobs, students, or as a side-gig to supplement their income. Post-COVID, the “why” is most of them are driving UBER to stay above water.

Hector was about to open a catering business, with signed lease space and booked parties, when the lockdown happened.

Joshua, a military vet, lost a great-paying job in the Texas oilfields.

Brenda lost her job as a driver and reader for a blind man whose employer shut down.

Javier, a gentle giant, worked as a bartender and bouncer at a high-end club. His Uber income is half what he used to make.

As marketers, content creators, and compassionate humans, it’s good practice to step away from the desk once in a while and take a mental walk in the “real world” of the people we are here to serve. How is it going for them? How is it going for you?

To begin your walk in their shoes, start with their context. Consider a quick overview of where we’ve been, starting with 2008, arguably the last time we experienced an economic crisis of this scale.

It is no surprise that since March in the US, time spent on social media has increased. This chart from a June post on Statista shows just how much.

It will take years for in-person meetings and business travel to return to pre-COVID-19 levels if it ever does.

Time spent online will likely continue to increase as work from home becomes mainstream. Even so, your target audience doesn’t live in a bubble with only their smartphone or laptop for company.

They live and work with other people and everyone brings a different perspective on the last few years. Let’s check out what’s been happening since 2008.

I’ll share a few visual charts, so that we can quickly absorb the trends. We look at income disparity, purchasing power, student debt, health care costs, rise of tech companies.

The focus is on 2008 to the present, although you will see that some of these trends started to pick up steam as early as the 1980s. Caveat — This is not an exhaustive presentation of every social trend in the last 12 years. (Would you read it if it was?)

It is meant to get you thinking about how these overall trends are affecting the people you are here to serve, their families, and communities.

So that you may quickly picture your audience then and now, here are the ages of people in 2008 and now.

2008 —Now

10 — 22
20 — 32
30 — 42
50 — 62

OK, let's dive in.

Income distribution:

I remember a few years ago thinking that we now have a system where, once you reach a certain level of wealth, you have to try hard NOT to make more money. It’s like a wheel that is hard to climb on, but once you are there, the system is biased (rigged?) to support your growth.

One source notes: “Wealth inequality has exploded in the United States over the past four decades. The share of wealth held by the top 0.1 percent of families is now almost as high as in the late 1920s,”

The big red spike in the chart below is the run-up to 2008. Turns out being super-wealthy has its ups and downs, relatively speaking, and low to middle income is flat-lining.

source: https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/a-guide-to-statistics-on-historical-trends-in-income-inequality

Real purchasing power — this one is the BIG ouchie when you consider it in context to the rest of the slides. We used to hear about the middle-class squeeze. Now it's more like a choke-hold.

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/08/07/for-most-us-workers-real-wages-have-barely-budged-for-decades/

Student debt:

Lookee what happened after 2008.

42 percent of Americans who attended college, and , have incurred debt in order to finance a degree, says the Federal Reserve Board.

source: https://www.credit.com/personal-finance/average-student-loan-debt/

The next two slides are a bit ominous — one response from people looking for a job in 2008 was to go to grad school instead.

Will that be the choice for another generation of 2020 recent graduates who will find themselves in 2022 or 2026, once again job hunting, newly burdened with 50K or more of debt?

source: https://www.marketwatch.com/story/3-ways-the-great-recession-turned-americas-student-loan-problem-into-a-crisis-2018-09-06

Healthcare Costs

This situation is SO absurd it would be funny if it wasn’t so NOT funny.

In the current situation, the more money you make, the more you pay. So, if you do manage to get a raise, or start a business that actually makes money, you get to celebrate by paying higher premiums for yourself or employees. And we aren’t talking a few dollars here and there. This is a huge chunk out of a budget.

Here is one exception to the make-more, pay-more rule: Hospitals and insurance companies. In their case, it seems the more money you make, the more money you make.

Not surprisingly, healthcare expenses are one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the US.

Consider this — the 30% of US adults with student loan debt are among our most educated citizens. They are the same people facing skyrocketing health insurance costs (see below).

At the same time, they may be wanting to start/raise a family, or start a business, or buy a home, or maybe even all at the same time.

Look at the way the increase in premiums for families outpaces the single coverage below. Oh, and those same families are supposed to be saving for retirement and bloated college tuition as well. #AmericanDream #FamilyValues

source: https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/health-insurance-premiums.aspx

So what is working?

By “working” I mean, on a national economy scale, not necessarily a fix for what ails the middle class, above.

One thing that we didn’t have in 2008 is a $4.7T Club, reflecting the tech and consumer goods delivery sectors of the economy that are absorbing some of the economic shock of COVID.

To wit, this also has happened since 2008:

By the way, that is not the best visual. Stacking the trendlines is confusing.

This is a better visual, showing relative performance, notably Apple’s heyday, rough patch, and resurgence:

source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/01/31/apple-amazon-microsoft-and-alphabet-and-the-road-to-1-trillion.html

So what does any of this mean to you?

Quite simply, if you are building an audience and following online, empathy is key to breaking through the noise.

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. What was their experience of 2008 like? How does that impact how they are feeling now?

Tell quick stories to drop hints that let your people know you understand their CONTEXT.

Example for a financial coach or HR consultant:

“So jazzed after my presentation to… (or, having virtual coffee with) so and so — we traded student debt war stories, who else out there is still paying for college?”

or, for B2B

“So jazzed after having virtual coffee with so and so — we talked about ways to help employees feel empowered while juggling health care premiums and still pay down their credit cards. I’ll be sharing more this week live on Zoom, sign up to join us!”

You can expand on these to paint a picture of the transformation you help them with and offer useful content that builds them up.

Not all at once, in every post, but over time.

Thanks for reading. Follow me to stay in touch and check out Impactoverse.com to see what else we are cooking up.

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