Every client I meet on my visits to businesses in Middle East, Africa and India is asking me the same question, how do I attract the youth segment to my brand? Young people will be the consumers of the future and we need to engage with them if we are going to survive in the long-term.
Consultants like us are engaged by these companies to create fun and funky looking brands that appeal to this segment and, on the whole, I thought we did a pretty good job, the brands are cool.
That was until a few days ago when I had a shock. I showed a group of young people a selection of what I thought were cool brands and was told abruptly that they were not cool at all. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not some old fuddy-duddy who is living in the wrong decade. I am up with current trends, I know what is ‘hot’ and what is ‘not’. So what’s the reason for by opinion being dismissed so abruptly. Quite simply, I was told, ‘it’s not cool because you like it... and you’re old’
This got me thinking about brands in this region. Take the Toyota brand for example. Toyota make great cars, they work, they are cheap to fix and they are tough - perfect for driving in the desert, through the bush or province - I would drive a Toyota - yet why is it that the Toyota brand is suffering a dramatic loss of business share to Hyundai and Kia (cars that are not as well built or as reliable), quite simply I am reliably told - by a Toyota insider - ‘youth’ don’t want to drive the same cars that their parents drive’. Toyota tried to resolve their issues by launching the ‘86’ a small, sporty car aimed at the youth - it failed.
Many established brands are struggling with trans-generational brand appeal. Simply put, the brands that people of my age like, are not the brands that young people like and this is a big problem for businesses.
Many of the established global power-house brands have grown up with their customers - take HSBC for example - their brand has matured as their customers mature. The same can be said for Facebook, Mercedes and BMW. Unwittingly, they have become unappealing to young people, not because they do not produce fabulous products, give great service etc, but because they are too grown up.
My clients are right, they do have a problem. Young people will not be told what is cool and forced to fit into a cookie-cutter segmentation model like consumers of my generation were.
Everything about the world is different now, everything - from our sense of self, individualism, to the way we consume and communicate. Young people want to discover what is cool for themselves, like hunting for treasure. They want to feel they have found something unique, a new trend, something that was not known until they discovered it. They are turning off brands like Facebook because we, their parents, are using it and they will turn off other established brands for the same reason.
So, how do established brands set themselves up for the future? I believe the first thing one has to do is listen, understand behaviour and then create unique experiences that are adapted to the modern world. We always start with a business strategy, but the real magic occurs when you consider customer journeys. By speaking to young people and engaging with the new world order, Brands will be forced to think differently about how they engage with their customers - a constant sense of evolution, with the realisation that there is no permanency in a world where every young customer is only a click away from your competitors experience and where information is consumed and spat out at light speed.
Toyota tried sponsoring soccer - this did not work. Hyundai are already sponsoring the biggest tournaments in the world, they tried product placement, advertising and all the usual armory of tools at the disposal of marketers. These had a nominal impact.
What do I suggest? Bring in the weirdo, the one who thinks differently, the geek, the surfer, the musician, the historian, the monk, the race car driver. Listen to them and force yourself to think differently.
I often quote Orange, a brand I admire greatly. They did this. In their MiB lab, they would welcome all manner of weirdo to sit with them and give them their perspective on the brand. On one famous occasion, Patrick Harris, from Orange invited Naomi Kline (who wrote the book ‘No Logo’), a vicar, a skateboarder and a stockbroker to sit around the table and debate where the Orange brand should be going - the outcome of conversations like this... so much treasure for the young customer to discover they will never get bored... and guess what? You have won the youth customer.
Big brands need to do more of this... celebrate weird.