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Think BR: Consistency is the key to engaging the next generation

Young people need to be approached with the same level of understanding and respect as any other audience, writes Matthew Hook, chief strategy officer, Carat.

Matthew Hook, chief strategy officer, Carat

Matthew Hook, chief strategy officer, Carat

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Any conversation around marketing to young people tends to begin with a discussion about technology. Brands often obsess with the thankless task of winning in new channels to secure the hearts of the next generation. And in this they primarily focus on the internet and on mobile.

However, one definition of technology is ‘something invented after you were born, but before you reached thirty’. That means that both the commercial internet and the consumer mobile phone are technologies only to those aged 35 and over, and it is mainly in this generation that you see a fetishist enthusiasm about the power of the internet and the desirability of the chrome-finished Mac Book.

The next generation of course takes all of this for granted in the way that we did hot water in the home; channel-centric thinking that assumes love of technology has missed the mark before it has even taken aim. We are the tech generation, whilst they are the convergent generation, effortlessly navigating connectivity to make their lives as easy, full and controllable as possible.

The essential dynamic isn’t passion for any specific platform, but the ability to instantly leap between platforms and draw conclusions from the sum of the parts. So when brand focus on novelty (of platforms, technologies or activities) they may in a sense be missing the main point. To succeed with a convergent generation, the key attribute is consistency.

This is of course easier said than done. Particularly for large brands with multiple target constituencies the temptation is to segment platforms and activations towards discrete audiences.

But targeting is one thing, schizophrenic behaviour is another. You have to assume that your audience will happily skip between e-commerce, experiential presence, Facebook group and long-form film - and not necessarily in that order.

Increasingly the exciting marketing opportunities come from the overlaps between platforms, not from the constituent parts. For example one of the key elements of Nivea’s award-winning collaboration was its ability to translate content directly into commerce, which is increasingly an expectation for the next generation.

Consistency between borders is also increasingly important. This is true for all age groups, as Twitter, Facebook, Amazon and Google connects peer groups across international boundaries, and as physical travel continues to deliver a major element of the young adult lifestage. Ideas and brands that flow and adapt across geographies are more powerful than ever.

Brands also need to be able to demonstrate consistency from community to community. Again it is tempting to impose the definitions of the past generation on the present, and to consider young people as essentially tribal in the style of punks and Goths.

This is an increasingly anachronistic assumption, and brands that change their behaviour according to the passion point of the moment do so at their peril, whereas consistent brands reap the benefits.

My own agency’s work with Adidas is committed to consistency, whether the brand is involved in elite football or grassroots extreme sports, with the same ethos and mechanics reinforcing the brand’s equity.

And it is this last example that represents perhaps the most challenging form of consistency, which is consistency overtime.

Adidas has recently enjoyed a fantastic Olympics with the youth of London - but this success wasn’t all about 2012, but founded on long-term commitment and unwavering belief.

It may be tempting to characterise young people as impulsive and short-termist, but they can also have long memories, particularly for inconsistent and disappointing behaviour. Brands that really want to build strong relationships need to be consistent over time.

There’s no panacea - young people should be approached with the same level of understanding as any other audience and the same respect for the uniqueness of each business situation. But acting consistently between platforms, geographies, passions is a good place to start.

Matthew Hook, chief strategy officer, Carat


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