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Voxburner’s London Youth Marketing Seminar 2017 may not be the first place three consultants from a product innovation firm would be expected to be found, but after...

…2 days

…12 cups of coffee

…1 Graffiti Life mural

…50 #yms17 tweets, 63 retweets, 144 likes @annie_fc @BenKubler…

What can we learn to help us innovate for the youth demographic?

The youth audience of ‘snowflakes’ (as they are referred to pejoratively) are frequently stigmatised and misrepresented and criticised as being politically disengaged, entitled, lazy and narcissistic. Over the course of the two days, we heard an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary, emphasising their altruism, ambitions, determination and collaborative nature; and an urgency for brands to support this and take a larger role in empowering young people.

1. Millennial vs. Gen Z

Whether technically Millennials or Generation Z; one thing in common was that the key to success is being relevant in your message, and meeting the youth where they are. This was brought to life by Bite the Ballot, who spoke about their success of registering 441,696 people over a week of coordinated activity in 2015. They partnered with carefully chosen brands (e.g. Tinder, Starbucks) and focused on native experiences; such as targeted campaigns encouraging people to use the 3 minutes waiting for their Uber ride to register to vote.

2. The value exchange with brands

The importance of having a message or brand engagement that works both ways was also emphasised during a panel on “Creating the fandom”; it’s important for youth, and especially influencers, to feel there is a value exchange. For example in return for a brand receiving their advocacy, they receive the social currency of being associated with the brand. Linked to this, was a poignant comment from Natalie Todd at Cult LDN who highlighted the majority of youth “would choose to spend money on experiences over products – but this must have social currency”.

3. Brand engagement

Traditional measures of success for a marketing campaign, particularly quantitative reads such as views, likes, shares and retweets don’t necessarily indicate success.  Awareness and reach alone are not meaningful; the true indicators are the subsequent actions taken by consumers born out of engagement with the brand.

4. The rise and rise of the influencer (and micro-influencers)

We heard how influencers, are becoming the new celebrity endorsement, the new PR campaign and the new journalists. Surfacing their stories and content is an effective way for brands to be co-creators, promote authentic content, and enable Gen Z to be able to identify with and see themselves represented in mainstream media. We heard how it’s important to give influencers some freedom and creative license, even though this means losing control of your brand to a certain extent, as Lucy Banks from YouTube said “the best brand campaigns leave a little bit of space for people to colour it in themselves”.

5. Authenticity

As Hugh Thomas from Ugly Drinks aptly quoted a phrase ascribed to Orwell, “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. Gen Z and Millennials have grown up online. As Hannah from The Student Room said, “To connect with young people it needs to be pure, raw truth, peer-to-peer. Share their story, represent them”. There was much talk of how a lot of branded content looks like branded content, smells like branded content, but tastes like advertising; and how the youth can recognise this advertising “BS” for what it is and see through it. Finding the overlap between messages that most resonate with your audience, and messages that are relevant to come from your brand is the key to authenticity, and thus the best chance for success. Here’s the real challenge, as Tamar Riley from Refinery29 articulated: “Can your content be used as a pin badge to add to their online identity?”.

All the techniques and presentations we heard touched on how to get to grips with your audience at the grass roots level: looking past media tropes and past sweeping generalisations to the gritty details of what makes people tick, what drives them, and what turns them off too!

These are the keys to understanding the complexities of consumers; and not just having a superficial understanding. It’s what we value as an important part of our Phase 0 Research for Innovation at CDP, as we truly believe that the more (relevant) granularity you have, and the more you know your audience; the better the experiences, products, and services you can create for them.

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