How the millennials legacy is transforming everything from modern marketing to the economy

Millennials expert Matt Britton catches up with CMO to reveal the lasting legacy of the first generation to be digitally native, and how it changes both brand strategy as well as the way marketing teams operate

Matt Britton
Matt Britton

Millennials have already had a significant impact on culture, society, economics and ways of working. And once they hit the c-suite and gain positions of true executive influence, the whole marketing and advertising model will get a shake up once more.

That’s just one of the many interesting insights millennials expert, Matt Britton, has on the transformational impact the first generation to grow up with the Internet is having on the world.

During this year’s ADMA Global Forum, Britton share what he considers to be the top 10 lasting legacies millennials have given us as consumers and influencers. His list is significant. Millennials, for instance, are staying in cities, changing the very nature of real estate, where corporations base their operations, and what retail spaces look like.

Thanks to rapid adoption of digital services such as Uber and Airbnb, today’s consumers are also buying less stuff. And with the ability to share their thoughts and actions at scale through social media, millennials are placing more emphasis on experiences and status updates than physical symbols of their tastes and preferences such as cars and branded T-shirts, changing the nature of brand relationships.  

Britton’s list has been built off the back of a successful marketing career understanding and interacting with the millennial generation. He was co-founder and CEO of Publicis agency, MRY (Mr Youth) in 2002, and has written several books, including YouthNation, on the subject. During his time with MRY, Britton helped global corporations including Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, Ford Motors, Visa and Google, helping develop strategies and successfully launch products aimed at millennials.

Here, Britton talks to CMO about the lasting legacy millennials have created, and how current marketing leaders can use these insights to improve both their brand strategy and their ability to operate a modern marketing function.

What’s so important about the millennial generation?

The millennials are really the first generation to grow up with the Internet. Their way of looking at the world has caused them to adapt, which is now reverberating to the rest of the population. I talk legacy now as they’re being phased out as the ‘new’ generation of consumers in favour of Gen Z.

A number of labels have been stuck on millennials – they’re more self-obsessed, their digitally more aware, they are driven by a different sense of purpose. What’s your view?

I don’t see them as self-obsessed; I think it plays out more transparently because everyone now sees what people are doing because of access to the Internet. People in the past bought cars, houses, sneakers and watches to portray who they are. Now they take pictures of themselves at concerts or with celebrities – it’s really no different, it’s just manifesting in a different way. But I don’t buy in to them being more narcissistic or lazy. Every generation has go-getters.

The thing that makes millennials different are as a result of technology. Because of that, they look at the word intuitively differently, from careers to pursuing relationships, success and finances.

It used to be the brands that you wore or the car you drove was an expression of yourself; how you gained social currency was through brands. Today, consumers are incorporating themselves into experiences because they know they have the ability to share those experiences. Millennials are pursuing experience over ‘stuff’, so the new status symbol is the status update. Experience is how you build status, become known, and it impacts the jobs they get, relationships they have, and so on.

How does that alter the way brands engage with these consumers?

I don’t think enough brands have changed. You have newer brands that don’t have legacy systems and thinking approaching things in a different way. Look at Away, the new luggage brand. It doesn’t talk about the locks on their suitcases, the brand’s whole positioning is about showcasing experiences and the travel connectivity that its products give consumers. Two women set that up and have already hit US$50 million in sales as a result.

Whereas Samsonite and Tumi never really embraced that, they’re just focused on product design. While that is important, it’s secondary to the experiences products can unlock for consumers. And that’s unlocked by brands by unveiling who they are and the story behind the brand. It needs to be something deeper than product features.

Is it fair then to say millennials want to be engaged more in brand development, rather than having a brand positioned at them?

Consumers care about themselves and how those brands help them to where they want to go. They don’t want to help Coca-Cola figure out the next advertising campaign - I think it’s a misnomer. But if Coca-Cola can help a consumer who is an artist to reach more people, then sure, they’ll be engaged.

One of the millennial legacies you outline that consumers seek gigs rather than permanent jobs. How does this change the way marketing teams need to operate?

First of all, one thing we’re seeing is companies move back into cities instead of the huge suburban enclaves where they had tax benefits. They’re moving back and shrinking workforces. This lets them to fluctuate with the nuances of business, which goes up and down based on seasonality and they can tap into specialists based upon the evolving needs of the organisation.

So jobs then become different. Instead of having your team and trying to work out what best motivates them, you have a smaller team. But you need to then understand how to use those diverse, niche skillsets out there to get your business to where it needs to go. It’s more a plug-and-play approach versus a team mentality. Everyone wins, if you as a young consumer can figure out a niche for yourself.

If you are a great creative for example, you were able to write a great TV spot in the Mad Men era and you’d be able to come up with a social video today. It just means you’re a great creative but are changing your form factor over time. If you’re a coder, you would have been able to code on Web 1.0 and a Javascript website, and now you can build an app or voice-based app today. People who move towards the centre tends to be white noise and nobody hears it.

What impact has the first millennial generation, Gen Y, now having on the upcoming Gen Zs?

That generation will be a much faster version than Gen Y. But it’s not necessarily going to be as huge a divide as we’ve seen in the past.

Right now, the paradox is you have CMOs that don’t represent the millennials still in power. Millennials haven’t filled the c-suite yet. You have gen Xers who did watch TV growing up, so they’re spending 80 per cent of their budget on TV, whereas it’s invisible to younger consumers. Once millennials start filling up the c-suite, I think you’re going to see acceleration of change top-down. Right now, most of the change has been from the sidewalks, not the boardrooms.

And once you have millennials in the c-suite, you’re going to have people intuitively choosing not to spend millions of dollars on a TV ad unless it’s during a live sports event because no one is watching it.

This younger generation has also grown up with the phone as an appendage to their body will just accelerate change of technology faster.

Up next: What current CMOs and marketing directors can learn from the way millennials operate

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