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Want To Connect With Millennials? Chill With The Personalization

Shine, a wellness-focused messaging app for millennials, says the key is to normalize tough experiences: “Others have felt this way, and there’s a solution.”

On the morning of November 9, 2016, Shine sent the following text message to its half-million subscribers: “It’s okay to feel however you feel.”

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Now “well past” that user headcount, according to cofounder Marah Lidey, Shine is deepening its expertise in building meaningful, encouraging, one-on-one relationships with users. And in the process, it’s aiming to reinvent the booming wellness space with an approach geared toward millennials.

Shine sends daily motivational messages, plus GIFs and emojis, to users’ preferred messaging platforms, which means it doesn’t have the option of staying silent on the first day after a potentially alarming national event, like many other brands do. But the key, according to Lidey, who launched Shine with cofounder Naomi Hirabayashi in August 2016, isn’t more customization and personalization.

“The more you personalize” user interactions, Lidey explained at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Monday, the more users think that their own “situation is really specific. That’s not good.”

Shine believes that building “mass intimacy” depends on “normaliz[ing] what people are going through.” [Photo: oh jimmy films]
Instead, Shine takes a “prescription” approach to helping users “check in with themselves” during stressful experiences–from the unusual to the everyday. Lidey compares it to going to the doctor: They check you out and tell you, “You have this thing, other people have had it, and there’s a solution to this.” To build what Hirabayashi calls “mass intimacy,” you’ve got to “normalize what people are going through, and build relationships at scale.”

For example, if one user is suffering from imposter syndrome after starting a new job, one of the best things Shine can do to boost their confidence is reassure them that others have felt the exact same way. Sometimes all that takes is a simple text written in the right tone–which will resonate equally well for hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of users.


Related: Intimacy In The Age Of Everything All At Once

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Tone does matter. As Lidey and Hirabayashi see it, the wellness space has been dominated by ’90s self-help gurus like Oprah Winfrey and Richard Branson, whose grandiose koans can rub millennials the wrong way. Plus, Lidey and Hirabayashi believe, wellness still has a “crunchy” vibe to it–Lidey points to a slide bearing a stock image of a thin young woman in a billowing white dress playing a flute in a forest glade. This idea, she says, that “I have to be on a juice cleanse” to become more mindful or focus on well-being is misguided but still pretty common.

Modernizing this attitude, Hirabayashi explains, means taking a page from songstresses like Adele or Kelly Clarkson, artists whose work is built on a sense of “intimate connection”; their lyrics all basically say, “I know what you’re going through,” even though, Hirabayashi points out, “you sort of know they’re cheating on you by having an intimate connection with other people. We never question that with music, but we always question it with technology.”

So far, Shine’s approach seems to be working, especially among “underrepresented and marginalized voices” where other brands or technologies are concerned, particularly African-American women, says Lidey. Over the past year or so, the platform has consistently seen its highest engagement on days that many of those communities find acutely troubling: the day after the 2016 presidential election, Trump’s inauguration last January, and following recent mass shootings. At the same time, roughly 30% of Shine users are male, and their top concerns include body image and emotional awareness.

Hirabayashi points out that, according to Shine’s market research, millennials spend a quarter of their disposable income on wellness–around twice as much as baby boomers do. And while she says that Shine, which is backed by around $3 million in venture funding, is still in “growth mode” and has yet to add monetizable features, the ultimate goal is to use mobile technology to reengineer wellness for the 21st century–ideally for everyone.

“Our mission is to make it not that innovative,” adds Lidey. “We’re already getting better at talking about” wellness, she says–which doesn’t always mean getting more personal.

About the author

Rich Bellis is Associate Editor of Fast Company's Leadership section.

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