The brand manager’s guide to Millennial 20/20

‘Bringing together world-leading consumer brands and retailers to shape and realise the future of commerce.’

From the off, Millennial 20/20 gave itself some very big boots to fill. Having returned from the first of the 2017 summits in New York, we’re happy to report the event delivered on its promises – offering a rich showcase of food, fashion, tech and retail insight into everything ‘millennial’.

Rare directors James, Andrew and Ninu were all in attendance, hosting our own panel on brand-building alongside Zach Swiss (Heineken’s Director of Strategy) and Francesco Tortora (Gillette’s Global Brand Director).

But we weren’t just at the event as hosts; we were there to soak up knowledge and insight from the leading lights of brand and retail innovation, too. Here are our key takeaways from the event.

Lesson 1. Embrace the Great Rewrite

We’re all innovators now. That’s part and parcel of being a viable business.

On the Digital Stage on day 1, tech figurehead Leonard Brody delivered his ‘state of the nation’ for the world of digital. For Brody, innovation died in 2008 – having reached its quickest pace in 6,000 years. Today, innovation is a constant and expected norm across all industries. Brody calls this ‘The Great Rewrite’ – where old rules in business no longer apply. Organisations of all types should beware the fate of Blockbuster – a multimillion dollar business that wilfully ignored the changes ongoing around it and suffered the ultimate fate.

Brody’s perspective echoed our own discussion on the Solutions Stage. Businesses cannot afford to sit back and wait for tomorrow to happen. Instead, they must seek to predict what’s coming next. Disruption should be embraced as a source of growth – not feared.

Lesson 2. Millennials value value

Millennials seek brands with a mission and a backbone, says Peter McGuinness, CMO of Greek yoghurt leader Chobani.

For McGuinness, distinct and sincere brand values are key to businesses seeking relevance and growth in modern markets. Why? Because millennials put brand purpose on a par with product or service benefits.

Chobani is its own best case study; an FMCG brand that puts authenticity and ethical production at the core of its positioning. In turn, the business has exceeded its growth targets and redefined the yoghurt category in the US. Crucially, they have done so without compromising the values at the root of their success. McGuinness’ insight on this point was clear and compelling – something all FMCG brands should look to emulate on a real level.

Lesson 3. Convenience will kill the supermarket

Jackson Jeyanayagam and Chieh Huang’s profile of their US startup Boxed was a stark lesson in realism and brave business.

Boxed offers two-day delivery of bulk FMCG goods – ‘Costco for the millennial generation.’ E-commerce means time-poor modern consumers have little incentive to visit supermarkets when they can go online and buy directly with the convenience of home delivery. The lesson for retailers: either adapt to consumers’ expectations of frictionless shopping, or offer a physical retail experience that makes it worth them visiting you in person. The UK and US grocery sectors are already saturated and heavily competitive. Online alternatives like Boxed could deal a deathblow to the supermarket as we know it.

Lesson 4. For the future, go East

While its manufacturing prowess is well understood, China’s embrace of mobile technology is less appreciated, despite far outpacing that of the US and Europe.

Jonathan Smith of Hotpot Digital provided a timely introduction to WeChat, the monolithic network which dominates Chinese life and business, but has so far failed to penetrate Western markets. Used for banking, gifting, ticketing, diary management, shopping, photo-editing, communication and virtually every other aspect of digital life, the app provides a template for the truly mobile-integrated society we’re seeing developing here in the West.

Today, WeChat has more than 800 million users and jostles with other multi-function apps including Weibo and QQ Music. Understanding how businesses ‘plug into’ and take advantage of these platforms is instructional for American and European businesses looking to crack China, or predict how mobile technology may develop in the West.

Lesson 5. Beware the digital dual identity

Chinese society is so digitally-integrated that individuals effectively have dual identities – their ‘real’ identity and their online one.

Typically, an individual will be more confident, trusting and ready to impart personal information online. This duality offers a real opportunity for brands, as it mirrors consumers’ desires and fears. Businesses that understand the difference between each identity can personalise their retail experience to either. Moreover, market researchers must understand how social media identities operate – in some cases concealing consumers’ honest ideas and feelings. How do our digital avatars reflect our actual buying preferences?

Lesson 6. Kill the Mothership

Top throwaway line of the summit went to Leonard Brody. Leading a discussion on innovation within corporate businesses, Brody highlighted the success of established businesses with the courage to spin out startup firms which test and grow a related digital proposition. When successful, these startups typically cannibalised their corporate founding company, ‘killing the mothership’.

Kodak pioneered many aspects of digital camera technology but failed to capitalise on their innovation for fear it would destroy their business, which it did anyway. Apple, meanwhile, released the iPhone fully confident it would eat into their iPod sales – then leading the personal stereo market. The bet paid off, big time.

Lesson 7. Millennialism is a mindset

Our final takeaway goes right to the heart of the ‘millennial’ concept itself – something we’ve discussed at length here in the Rare studio (and here, on our blog). In a rancorous rant, Chobani’s Peter McGuinness railed against the idea that ‘millennials’ are defined by their age, being too broad a categorisation to be useful to businesses.

Instead, millennials live in diverse locations, eat and drink all types of product and are a fully heterogeneous bunch, identifiable by their technology-enabled mindset, which priorities values over economy, experiences over material good. At times, I’m a millennial; you’re a millennial; we’re all millennials – and the sooner brands wake up to our changed expectations and impulses, the better.

The Rare Design team will be getting down and dirty to discuss brand-building in the post-truth era at the next Millennial 20/20 summit in London, from 3rd–4th May. Join us at our session, and keep your eyes peeled for our top insights from that event – and if you’re heading to the show yourself, be sure to say hello.

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