The Millennial Bug 28 September 2017

For the next generation, the secret to engagement is doing… not just saying.

Is something bugging you about millennials? You know, that famously hard-to-get-to and much written about cohort. As Generation Y, the generation born between roughly 1980 and 1996, begins to discover its grown-up spending power – and therefore its marketability – acres of column inches are now being given over to the challenges of engaging with them, converting them, and sustaining a meaningful dialogue with them. Some old skool marketeers in more traditional sectors, operating beyond the hallowed ground of high street youth marketing, live in fear of these digital natives who can barely remember the joy of cassette tapes, typewriters and polaroids.

It’s not all bad news. The secret ‘to getting down with the kids’ is to dial-up your authenticity.

Brands and employers – in the same millennial boat

The generation gap is here and it is real. From financial services brands to charities, there’s a genuine need to get to know and embrace Gen Y, their views and their values, and to discern whether what they say they want is actually what they need. Employer brands too, face a challenge – and not just in new-fangled ways of working (and workplace perks) that the millennial generation demands. Monolithic, top-down communication, so often the modus operandi of old-fashioned internal communications, seems dangerously dated to this demographic. After all Gen Y much prefer to ride the company-subsidised bike, but not wear the company tie.

Generation collaboration

Let’s start with values and behaviours. You’ll already find clues in how this generation behaves across the workplace. These digital natives, set free by the tech which has been a decades-long learning curve for the rest of us, thrive on collaboration and teamwork. Hello peers, goodbye prima donnas. With greater collaboration comes enhanced reliance on social / peer networks, fewer hierarchical structures, greater flexibility and more (and better) dialogue. For brands, this means more constant and empathic communication, and a shift from what we might call ‘telling and selling’ to ‘sharing and doing’: in other words, living out your values in a way that’s authentic, not invented.

From purpose comes authenticity

Here’s a set of questions. What are you for? Where do you come from? Why were you created? Why do you make life better? Where do you fit into the bigger picture? What, if any, is your concern for your community? These are questions you need to answer convincingly, not as a Hollywood ‘back story’. To us at Living, building brand authenticity requires a clear articulation of your role and purpose: what you exist to do. For millennials, excess fakery is out – and brand trust and provenance are in. So if you have a story that’s relevant and resonates, tell it. Similarly, your brand values should be imbued with meaning, with tangible, ‘real world’ credibility that avoids the business buzzwords of old. 

Building messages to build connections

In the era of the ‘new informality’, tonality is all. Building brand authenticity means abandoning bombast and hubris. Instead, choose empathy, openness and honest, plain speaking dialogue. When shaping your approach to messaging, it helps to avoid saying anything that you can’t back up - you’ll get found out by a new army of citizen journalists. Things can get very messy very quickly. Empowered by ‘always on’ channels, in which young consumers can complain in the public domain of Twitter, there’s no hiding from your mistakes and mis-steps. In short, when you mess up, fess up.

Do as I do, not do as I say

Ten years on from the financial crisis that shaped the Gen Y world, actions speak louder than words. The generation that has seen brand after brand disappear from the high street is all too aware of everyday economic pressure – and the way in which their prospects now seem hemmed-in. So they can see straight through marketing puffery and flimflam, where over-promising risks damaging your reputation. So keep it real. Swap lingo for straight talking. Lead by example. Show your human side. Ditch your tablets of stone and rediscover conversation. Get social. And above all, show what you do.

How we can help

Here at Living, we use advanced consumer insights to deliver messages that will resonate with a new generation. Working across channels, we drive business performance with strategic thinking, brand creation and cut-through campaigns – creating effective communications that get tangible results.

To find out how please contact Greg Hobden in London, Aliena Lai in Hong Kong, or Kate Shaw in New York.