The inter generational marketing gap is widening. That’s a statement we hear all the time, and, on the surface, it would appear to be self-evident. Boomers are still working and spending, while at the other end of the age scale, morally-focused and vocal Millennials and Centennials have well and truly arrived on the scene – and some would say, are now setting the scene.
But people don’t view themselves in these terms. Why would they? As the old saying goes, age is just a number – certainly, most people don’t define themselves or their motivations by the age bracket they tick on a survey.
So what has happened to our segments? Traditional life stages like student debt, career jobs and big commitments like buying a home or having a family are happening at different times, if at all. Nobody, whatever their ‘number’, identifies as being old or even young, for that matter.
These blended and blurred segments are keeping marketeers and agency folk busy working out how to keep up and connect with people across more than a 50-year age span. That’s a really big gap. A lot happens in half a century. These days, the world can change in a week.
But perhaps we’re missing something fundamental: have we been focussing too much on the ‘who’ and have forgotten all about the ‘why’?
If we listen, the Millennials and Centennials are (very helpfully) vocalising needs that all of us – at any age – can relate to and desire: authenticity, meaning, transparency. It’s a matter of trust. Surely that’s what we all want from the brands we interact with.
Of course, given the choice, people would always rather have real, authentic interactions and exchanges. It’s a universal desire. I know I would, and I haven’t been a teenager since the 1980s.
But this doesn’t mean interactions have to be face-to-face to be personal. The medium for conversation is also ever-changing. Evan Spiegel, chief executive officer of Snap Inc, summed it up when he told the Wall Street Journal: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realise is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”
Digital interactions are becoming less about documenting a ‘best-ever’ version of events, and more about conversation. That has immense value for brands too.
Despite appearances, today’s marketing challenge is less about the age gap, or the speed of technology, but instead about the value gap. The chasm between a brand and its meaning and authenticity. That’s the glue that connects you to your customers. That’s the ‘why’ – or, in other words, your brand purpose.
It’s not a new concept. Simon Sinek spoke about it in his now famous TED Talk and book, Start With Why. Retailers have known about the power of purpose for a while now and are using it to great effect to drive brand and category consideration. Unilever are just one, yet significant example. Purpose makes the value exchange clear: the give and the get is transparent and meaningful.
But having a purpose alone is not enough. It remains meaningless – no more than a statement – unless you activate it. So what does activation mean? Living it every day, through everything you do: your employees; your customer service; your service and product design. In financial services terms: it’s putting your money where your mouth is.
Authentic and transparent, flying the flag for who you are, how you do what you do and importantly why you do it. And financial services is the perfect platform to use this to positive effect.
For example, US based insurance company Lemonade has reversed the traditional insurance model by changing the way they charge customers. They take a flat fee, so their charges and, importantly, profit are totally transparent, giving back any surplus (once claims have been paid) to ‘causes customers care about’. Of course, it’s easier for Lemonade to do being a small, new entrant. But we can all start somewhere.
Reframing how purpose is used to drive product and service development – and still make a profit – how can you lose? Many companies, around 1,500 globally, are now starting to see the impact of purpose on their bottom line. Indeed, reporting on a triple bottom line (social, environmental and financial) is becoming more commonplace. UK businesses can also register as B Corporations, which signals that they are a purpose-driven organisation that deliver a benefit for all stakeholders.
Here’s my final thought: We’re at a unique moment when not just our customer base but also the workforce represents its broadest ever mix too. This is powerful. It offers us new thinking for old problems. Let’s harness this diverse wisdom and insight offered by our multi-generational workforces to help us connect to all customers in the most purposeful way.
So embrace bifurcation, define and deliver your ‘why’ and harness the power of a diverse workplace. Welcome in the voices of Centennials and Millennials. They’re speaking up for what they want, and it’s really not unreasonable. In fact, it might just change all our fortunes.