How to engage the new generation

Last week saw brands from telecommunications to FMCG gather at the Voxburner Youth Marketing Strategy Conference to deliberate the weird and wonderful world of young people’s lives, loves and hates. And how to market to them, of course. Here’s our top three takeaways for brands.

1. Be Useful

Opening on Day Two, Jack Wallington of the Student Room told us, “Be useful. Useful always works.” But what does useful mean to a 16-24 year old? More than just an easy-opening beer bottle or a cigarette holder. These Millennials, Gen Y, or whatever you want to call them, are not the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking partygoers of yesteryear. According to Next Big Thing’s William Higham and Voxburner’s Simon Eder, they are “serious-minded” and “motivated to do well”. They have ambitions and they are determined to achieve them.

And how can brands be useful to these almost oxymoronic serious-youths? They need to join the chorus of parents, mentors and teachers and provide guidance. Young people crave advice and coaching to help them navigate their increasingly complex world. NGOs like Volunteer It Yourself (VIY) and service brands like Barclays’ Life Skills are stepping up to the plate but there are few FMCG brands that are taking advantage of this opportunity to show the next generation that they’re on their wavelength.

So, how is your brand giving young people those much-needed skills? Are you easing their growing pains? Are you giving them the confidence to achieve their dreams? Are you putting the right role models out there?

2. Stand for Something
Young people aren’t just ambitious. They want to achieve their dreams but they also want to leave the earth a little bit better than they found it. Voxburner told us, “Rebelliousness is out. Altruism is in.” And this is reflected in how they want brands to behave. Thinkhouse’s Youth Lab told us that brands should “Champion a cause, do good and make the world a better place.”

It’s a difficult step for brands because standing for something necessarily means standing against something. But, as Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios outlined in a recent article for the Guardian, brands need to be “pro-social”, they need to “look outward to take a stand on key moral issues.” This is what 27 companies that own brands from GAP to Apple to Oreos did on the issue of gay marriage and they were championed for championing.

For young people, brands can’t just be friendly or witty or sustainable anymore. They need to take a stand for something, against something. Brands need to start movements, support causes, inspire young people to do something, do good, do better. Are you doing it?

3. Listen

Want to know how to be useful and what to stand for? Just listen. “People love to be asked what they want.” Carrie Longton, the Co-Founder of Mumsnet told us; not a new news but especially relevant to 16-24 year olds. It seems that those who are seen are not only not heard but also dictated to. It’s brands who are telling young people what they should do, how they should act, what they should buy. But they need to start asking young people. Because brands that engage with young people are already eating the big fish.

Pic.: giffgaff logo
Pic.: giffgaff logo

Giffgaff is a prime example. “The mobile network run by you” lets its members, “giffgaffers”, earn money by selling sim cards and helping new giffgaffers. giffgaffers also have the opportunity to shape product offerings and create their own marketing material. And because they listen and engage, their products suit their customers: young people.  And those customers listen to and engage with the brand in return. And all this results in an incredible overall satisfaction rate of 91%.

Not every brand can have the innovative business model that giffgaff has. But they can ask where they can improve, what they could make for their next product and use what young people thinks important, cool or funny as their next source of inspiration. So, get out there and talk to those young things—they won’t bite!

About the Author

Evie Echo_01

Evie Monnington-Taylor is the Brand Strategist at Echo. She is constantly on the hunt for new experiences and knowledge. She speaks seven languages, has visited 39 countries and has lived in four.

As Echo’s premier strategist, she works with some of the world’s leading brands as she searches for the cultural patterns that underpin our lives.