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The Blame Game: Millennial Edition


Tribal Worldwide New York's Steffany Carey says brands need to know the audience, change habits and harness technology innovations

The Blame Game: Millennial Edition

There has been a lot written on the 'destruction' millennials are creating for countless companies and organisations. It’s been argued that their dependency on technology, disregard for authority, and demand for accessibility are disrupting every sector of business. Some experts even claim that the millennial generation is single-handedly causing the extinction of brands and even entire industries. 

But blame is a heavy strategy; it shifts responsibility and it’s not proactive. If you as a brand, business, or agency notice the finger of blame pointing outward, you should try facing it inward instead. That’s how you can start swinging momentum in a positive direction. Yes, the unknown can be risky. But change is part of growth and it’s also an opportunity. In working closely with the chocolate brand 3 Musketeers, on its shift in brand positioning, I’ve done a lot of listening to the conversation and consumer habits of a younger market. This conversation is always on, always changing, and chatter heavy. But when we whittled all the data down, a clear creative strategy arose. For us, creating content that was deeply rooted in the behaviour of millennials and Gen Z was key to starting the conversation and ultimately moving the needle. With authenticity as the core metric, our creative algorithm didn’t emerge from rocket science - it arose from human science. And human behaviour will continue to evolve, no matter what the generation. So we’ll have to continue to take risks, engage, and participate in conversations. And before we wag a finger at an entire generation, let’s reeducate ourselves on just exactly who millennials are these days, including all the stuff that’s going on in their stages of life. 

Millennials are doing most of their 'growing up' now 

The years from 18 to 25 are arguably the most formative of anyone’s life. Your values are shaped, shifted, tested, and turned upside down. There are stages of freedom, fear, false hope, fake friends, and shifts in personal and family responsibility. Young millennials are experiencing the trials and tribulations of true independence for the first time, whereas many older millennials have partners, babies, careers, and the full responsibility of a household. In other words, the needs and priorities of millennials don’t make them that different from past generations. To address this demographics’ growing maturity, shifting focus was an important move for the fashion house Abercrombie & Fitch. A brand that once lined up scantily clad models to greet you at their doors had to grow up. In order to appeal to a more mature audience, as well as budding youths, they had had to be more inclusive and diverse with an authentic look and feel. 

Millennials broadcast the good, the bad, and the ugly 

There’s no question that this generation is vocal about what they like and don’t like. They are smart, driven, confident, and speak their minds. Millennials and the social space emerged around the same time, so as a result they haven’t had a problem telling the world how they feel. They also have a big case of FOMO. A third of Millennials check their phone at least twice an hour and have no problem looking at their device anytime, anywhere. In fact, 45% of Millennials take their phone into the restroom stall with them. Remember the line, “No news is good news?” These days, if you’re not being mentioned, you’re headed towards extinction. 

One result of consumers’ 'always-on' mentality is that negative and hurtful communication such as trolling and ranting have become more public and, perhaps, prominent. Being a digital and social shop, we deal with these issues every day with our clients, most of whom want answers the second they press send. But this is not a millennials-only issue. The internet has paved the way for bad behaviour across multiple generations. We live in a connected world, which makes it easy for people to passively spread aggression. Social channels like Twitter and Facebook are a platform for consumers to voice their displeasures to their friends and fans. They get validated when their network likes, shares, or comments on their posts. 

AI bots have been a great addition for brands in need of direct response. The up-front investment of creating a custom bot far outweighs having to face an angry mob of customers. And although bots aren’t a magic bullet, they’re proof that technology, when harnessed properly, can help drive conversation in a positive direction. For example, take H&R block, which enlisted the help of IBM’s Watson to aid customers with information on subjects including deductions, savings, and details of tax laws. Not many humans can memorise and sort through over 70,000 tax codes in an instant.

So whom do we blame?  

I’ve always been a fan of taking responsibility for actions and reactions, and proactively addressing a situation, so let’s play the no-blame game. Millennials have made it clear that the businesses and categories that aren’t willing to change will frequently meet their own demise. Brands must evolve and adapt in order to compete, let alone win. 

Brands can’t speak from the top down anymore because technology has created an open forum for the world. It’s the actions taken, and the conversations companies choose to lead, take part in, or ignore that will make or break them. So old traditions may have to morph into new ones in order to appeal to a younger market. If there is a behaviour you want to see changed, then figure out a creative solution and try to change it. 

Companies that can’t successfully evolve should go out of business. If you don’t like change and can afford not to change than be okay with the repercussions, or be okay with servicing a smaller and increasingly mature audience. Lowe’s Home Improvement took a tech leap into offering home improvement classes using VR. Not only is the experience step-by-step, but customers are able learn in real time, gaining confidence and having fail-proof fun. This has in turn made customers more confident in their home projects, which will keep them coming back for bigger and higher-costing projects. And the brand itself has invested in its own Innovations Lab so it can continue to be on the innovative side of home improvement.

The brands that successfully evolve understand the importance of knowing their audience, changing habits, and how to harness technology innovations.

I referred to my work with 3 Musketeers earlier. The brand’s recent 'Throw Shine' campaign is an example of a classic brand evolving its content strategy in order to better connect with younger audiences. The campaign is centred around the idea of spreading positivity, a sentiment that people inherently want to embrace both in person and on social media. 3 Musketeers recognised the importance of authenticity with millennial and Gen Z consumers, so the brand creates and publishes content that is relevant to consumers and true to the 3 Musketeers brand. 

Creating content that is authentic and relevant requires a lot of listening and potentially different iterations, as well as being less precious with the production process and going beyond traditional guidelines. In the last two years, we’ve created over 250 pieces of unique creative, all digitally native, and all strategically driven. Not surprisingly, the most notorious have been more purpose driven. At the same time, not all of those 250 pieces have seen great success, but we’ve learned why and made future pieces stronger and more effective. 

So try something new, something you may fail at. If you fail, then try again because maybe the third time will be the charm. But with every shift, listen and learn from the adjustments because it will make the process more valuable. Whatever you create or do, make it useful, make it have value, and most importantly, give it purpose. If you succeed, your message will resonate. If it resonates, you will make that connection. If you make that connection, that message will be shared. And if it’s shared, everyone wins. 

Steffany Carey is Group Creative Director, Tribal Worldwide-New York

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DDB North America, Fri, 27 Oct 2017 09:47:09 GMT