Thoughtful Human is dispensing with saccharine Hallmark holiday messaging with cards that reflect life’s struggles and unvarnished moments, including ones about cancer, addiction, depression and grief.
And you won’t just find them tucked away in some edgy independent boutique. With messages like, “Keep your head up, or don’t. Whatever feels right,” they’re tapping a mainstream audience on and in Whole Foods’ grocery store aisles.
Thoughtful Human aims to fill the vacuum of emotional intelligence that underscores the U.S. greeting card market, dominated by giants like Hallmark and American Greetings, founder Ali O’Grady told CO—.
For these legacy companies, cards are a “seasonal formality for an elderly market, grandparents that send birthday and holiday cards that just say, “love, Grandpa.”
“What I see in the market now are a lot of one-off sentiments telling you how it’s going to be or how to feel, and trying to put a nice little bow on things that, in reality, might not get better soon — or ever.” Indeed, “not everyone is living these sugary sweet love lives and parent-child relationships,” she says.
Standard greeting card fare rings particularly tone deaf to Millennials, Thoughtful Human’s target audience, who crave authenticity, she says. Marketers take note: Generation Y has displaced Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest buying group, so for any business today, attention must be paid.
How This Greeting Card Startup Landed Target and Whole Foods by Tackling Cancer, Family Dysfunction and Grief
by Barbara Thau | CO by U.S. Chamber of commerce | February 25, 2019
Thoughtful Human ‘cardpreneur’ Ali O’Grady is taking on market giants like Hallmark with ‘authentic’ sentiments and ‘radical empathy.’
“What I see in the market now are a lot of one-off sentiments telling you how it’s going to be or how to feel, and trying to put a nice little bow on things that, in reality, might not get better soon — or ever.”
By contrast, O’ Grady, who writes all the copy in Thoughtful Human’s eco-friendly cards, which are printed on seed paper and plantable, doesn’t want “to tell people how they’re going to feel or how it’s going to be — I don’t want to prescribe feelings,” she said.
Instead, with card series designed to be sent to one person over time, “I want to tell stories that say, ‘How are you?’ ‘How can I help?’ and ‘Do you want to talk?’ in different ways that are comforting, to get a dialogue going and offer continued support.”
Another big differentiator: “We don’t touch on holidays pretty much at all — your life is the occasion.”
In a “direct, raw and darkly funny voice that is very Millennial-focused,” according to O’Grady, Thoughtful Human’s cards speak to the messy nature of the human condition, from strained relationships to loss and longing.
A birthday card intended for one half of a bruised friendship reads, “It's been a little while and a little rough, but like, I'm still really glad you were born…” Another offers up, “Something really sad happened on this day and we don't really talk about it a lot anymore, but I remember and I'm still really sorry.”
Thoughtful Human’s very business model is a nod to the uncomfortable reality that the burden of suffering is ongoing, even if we live in a pull-up-your-bootstraps-and-move-on culture. O’Grady rejects what she describes as the one-off sentiment that the card business is built on and wants shoppers to do the same.
With topics including addiction, grief and depression to new motherhood and long-distance relationships, the startup’s core product is a five-pack, assorted card series meant to offer continued support throughout tough circumstances and relationships.
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