Connecting with a connected generation

Connecting with a connected generation
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Recently, I’ve been talking to a classic household brand. Like many heritage brands they have an ageing audience and need new ideas to connect with young adults, who unlike their parents were born in to a connected world.

This got me thinking that traditionally Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) brands have followed a relatively simple formula of buying reach to achieve mental availability, so you’ll shortcut those brief moments in the supermarket isles and place that brand of washing powder, deodorant, or tea bags in your basket. In the broadcast age this was quite a simple affair; having grown up at a time when there were only four TV channels in the UK I can still remember the Daz Doorstep Challenge over twenty years later.

However, this mental availability appears much harder to achieve when you are trying to reach an audience of young adults who were born connected, with a plethora of media channels and platforms to choose from. Household brands have always needed to reach new generations as they come of age, however there are some seismic shifts brands need to consider when trying to reach this connected generation, if they want to be welcomed when they do.

Earned attention vs. Bought attention

Audiences used to be ‘bought’ — eyeballs, TVRs, impressions…whatever metric you use, brands were essentially buying an audience. However, as media platforms and devices have proliferated, people don’t have to see advertising if they don’t want to. Think about the cord-cutters opting for Netflix subscriptions and on-demand services over traditional TV where they are exposed to no advertising, the rise of ad blockers means you don’t have to see advertising online either.

So it follows that if it’s easier for audiences to ignore advertising all together brands need to be smarter to earn their attention, perhaps by being more entertaining or valuable, demonstrating that paying attention is worth their time. With an audience that can switch off so easily any relationship you build is constantly being reappraised, for example if a brand asks for data without some value being offered in return people will question why, and if that data is continually used in a way that doesn’t feel relevant to the moment, any audience you’ve built up will be quick to unsubscribe.

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Earning attention also means earning trust, which is complex and variable depending on the brand. Many CPG brands have made mistakes in the past which live long in the memory, and attitudes are passed down from previous generations to young adults when they are forming their preferences. Brands need to reflect the values of a more socially aware generation. It’s not enough to pay lip service to CSR initiatives — brands must demonstrate the living of social responsible values as core to their purpose, if they are to be believed.

Creating culture vs. Copying culture

Usefulness is a great pull towards a product but few brands can realistically claim their marketing is genuinely useful. For everyone else brands simply need to be smarter to get our attention, being more entertaining in their approach, developing content people want to see, or creating a reason for people to engage with the brand.

However, this audience were born savvy and are sceptical towards brands claiming to be ‘cool’ in order to sell them something. When people see that ‘content’ is coming from a brand they are naturally sceptical, hence if this isn’t rooted in an idea that genuinely contributes to culture rather copying it you’re just another brand trying (and failing) to look cool.

Any cultural trend that marketers wish to leverage needs to connect with the brand in a credible way. If the brand can adopt a tangible role in a cultural movement, bring something fresh to that conversation, and somehow leave room for the audience to mould how these moments are remembered, only then might you have a fighting chance of cutting through.

Ephemeral vs. Wall paper

This is probably best summed up by the spread and pervasiveness of memes; their fleeting nature is key to their appeal, yet they live in the memory for much longer. Just as I can still remember the Daz Door Step Challenge, I will probably remember the Harlem Shake for some time yet and that was one month back in 2013 — yes, that was five years ago already…

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This isn’t to suggest brands should be simply copying memes — quite the opposite if you are merely copying culture, but there’s a lot to learn from this movement towards ephemeral content. The idea of ephemeral media was the USP that fueled the growth of Snapchat and forced Instagram to adopt Stories.

It is well documented that this generation are much savvier than the ones coming of age in the noughties — the Facebook guinea pigs who are easily surprised, if not uncomfortable when they look back at things they might have posted only a few years ago. This audience are much more considered. Rather than leaving a digital footprint, they are curating a persona — making sure the fleeting moments remain exactly that, whist only leaving the best version of themselves available for people to see after the moment.

Closing thoughts

Just as a brand thinks they’ve ‘cracked social’ the audience have moved on and are acting differently, the rules of the game are constantly changing when it comes to reaching this audience.

So, it’s not just content that’s ephemeral — it’s everything. This is quite a shift for marketers who are used to big ideas that underpin the next three years of creative work. I’m not advocating that needs to change or necessarily should, however we are seeing a need to be more nimble and responsive to how ideas are received by the audience, and how these ideas are distributed needs to respond to the speed that platforms are evolving.

When you combine this with a perspective on issues that are truly connected to the brand, and identify a tangible role for the brand to fulfil in culture, these will act as the building blocks for how brands are remembered by this audience in the future.

Original article published here


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