20 May 2019

Shape Up or Lose Out on the Next Generation

In yesterday’s session, CSU20 Brand Meaning and Valuation in the Age of Millennial Consumerism, panelists made it clear that brands must adapt their game plans to appeal to millennials and their successors, Gen Z.

“There are increasing global societal expectations on brands and companies. People are looking behind the brands to understand the companies,” said Carol Gstalder, Senior Solutions Consultant at HEART+MIND STRATEGIES, LLC (USA). “It’s not just in terms of do I want to buy your products and services, but what kind of community member are you and what kind of employer.”

She added that many organizations and brands are becoming more transparent in their activities.

The definition of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has evolved over the years, moving from a time when companies would put some money toward causes when times were good, to CSR becoming a “business imperative,” according to Ms. Gstalder.

Marc Lieberstein, Partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP (USA), and panel moderator, added: “[Younger consumers are] reading the label to see if it makes them feel good and connected to the brand. It’s a whole different level to what we used to do.” In previous generations, he said, consumers “weren’t thinking underneath the label.”

Keeping Your Promises

Building a relationship with younger consumers is about more than paying lip service to the concept of CSR.

“It could be dangerous for brands if they’re not honest in their CSR. Once that’s out and you’re burnt, then ciao,” said Andrea Gerosa, Founder and Chief Thinker at ThinkYoung AISBL (Switzerland).

He explained that although millennials and Gen Z are sometimes assumed to not be political, this is simply untrue.

“They get out on the street. In Europe, Greta [Thornburg, the Swedish schoolgirl who is now the figurehead of the worldwide school strike for climate movement] was able to get two million teenagers on the street within three months,” he said.

It’s clear that millennials really do value authenticity and truthfulness in brands. Quoting statistics from Nielsen’s (USA) “The Sustainability Imperative” report, Ms. Gstalder noted that two-thirds of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. With Millennials and Gen Z, this increases to three out of four. There’s a “willingness to pay more for a promise of sustainability,” she said.

Going Viral

Millennials were the first generation born in an era when almost every household had a personal computer, making them digital natives adept at using social media, according to Mr. Gerosa. This forces brands to move away from traditional approaches.

David Haas, Managing Director at Stout Risius Ross (USA), a self-described Baby Boomer, said that while “the traditional old-fashioned way of measuring your performance in the marketplace was pushing your message out there, doing some advertising, and seeing what happened with your sales dollar,” these days brands have access to almost immediate feedback in terms of messaging activities, and can use this data to enhance engagement with consumers and measure brand performance.

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