Written by John Graham
I have visions of standing in front of a room full of executives at one of the largest retail companies in the world with a picture of Kanye West on the presentation screens behind me. The vision always goes the same way in my head. I ask the audience by show of hands how many know who this person is on screen. Naturally, the majority of the room has a hand in the air. Then I ask how many know the name of his last album? The hands go down in unison. Then the next image appears on the screen which is a picture of the Air Yeezy’s. I ask the question can anyone tell me what company makes these shoes. Immediately, hands go up and I in turn call on the most eager person to state the obvious. “Nike!” an exuberant leader exclaims. Then I ask who can tell me the name of the sneakers designer and by the way 1 pair sold for over $90,000 on Ebay. The hands remain comfortably placed on the tables or folded across their chests. Crickets! Then the vision ends and the reality begins.
This exercise is not an attempt to quiz the leadership team on their knowledge of pop culture. It’s designed to highlight the difference between being aware of the new market culture versus being in-tune with it. The difference between the two is the difference between historic success and future viability for a retail company. Secondly, it’s meant to show how the new market consumer views older companies who have yet to tailor their approaches to connect with them directly. Yeah, they may have heard of your company but have no idea who you really are and what you have to offer. As you read, try to figure out which side of the fence your company resides on. You may be shocked to find that your companies future could be in jeopardy…
If you work for a company that has yet to develop a millennial marketing strategy raise your hand. You just raised your hand didn’t you? If you’ve sat through weekly recaps of why the same cyclical promotions are failing to meet sales objectives raise your hand. I know, I know, I’m speaking to you again aren’t I? Lastly, raise your hand if you’ve witnessed the puzzled looks on the leaderships faces when they’re asked “What does the customer really want?” There it is! I can end this piece right here (but I won’t) because that is the question that teams of analysts who are commissioned to tell you why something that already happened didn’t work simply can’t tell you. Historical trends are no indicator of future success. If that’s a disclaimer good enough for the investment banking industry to tell it’s clients why would the retail industry base their future promotions on historical results?
The larger point is that we have an emerging generation of consumers who are immune to old world thinking when it comes to marketing and retail consumption. Additionally they have defined the way that they like to be spoken to and the platforms they like to be reached on. For established income generations who are either at the peak of their buying years or the more senior members of the consumer base who are now tightening the purse strings, the facts are evident that they have chosen to engage with brands in new ways and expect more than the status quo.
Now, there are companies that have been industry leaders for years in their respective markets and are actively looking to connect with the next generation of consumers. To them I tip my hat and applaud you! These companies have more in common with Kanye than they’d ever know. Both are hugely successful at what they do. They both have established international brands that people have come to expect excellence from. Now they both find themselves looking to get into a market that they have no credibility in and are struggling to be taken seriously. To them I say #Yeezus saves.
While I’m not advocating that any CEO’s go on 30 minute rants or as Kanye calls them “Streams of Consciousness”, I do suggest a very simple and cost effective move that could be considered revolutionary by some. Find out what the consumer wants by looking within the walls of your own companies. Chances are you have been hiring more and more millennials in the last few years to do lower wage jobs. Yet you’ve ignored them as a direct inlet to the future of your companies revenue promises because of their assumed lack of discretionary income and fleeting brand loyalty. Well let me tell you first hand that you are ignoring the future consumers of your products and more importantly the future leaders of your organizations. Put together a forum for the under 36 year old employees to give their honest feedback about products and services. Allow linear and vertical collaboration between senior leaders and millennial employees to exchange ideas and dialogue. These are just a few examples but I’d love to hear more from via Twitter.
The final point I’ll make is simply this: What got you here won’t take you there. To expect the new consumer to fall in line simply because their grandmother loves your brand is an assumption I would not bet the farm on. Don’t just seek to learn the culture to exploit the sales opportunities. Embrace the culture holistically as it already exists within your company’s borders. Be willing to engage the consumer representatives you employ to tailor your message to the demographics you wish to engage and watch what happens. You’ll experience a blissful marriage between culture and relevance that would rival the success of Kanye and Kim combined… Maybe!