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


While this longer-trend executive trend plays out, is there something CMOs right now can do to learn from millennials?

I write a lot about how companies should get shadow boards. In most big companies today, boards mostly consist of 50-60 year old white men. These people are often so disconnected from the world; they’re not diverse and don’t speak to the audience that’s the future of any brand.

Many marketers talk about Mark Zuckerberg as this God yet the 20-something year olds in their organisations are seven floor down with no power. But they’re the current generation, so why not empower them?

Britton speaking at this year's ADMA Global Forum
Britton speaking at this year's ADMA Global Forum


These companies should have a shadow board of younger people who the real board has to answer to. Why aren’t they changing fast enough? Why aren’t the products speaking to younger people? Let them answer to the younger people in the organisation.

Also, brands talk about customer centricity, but that’s really about just understanding you need a direct connection with that end user. In the past they never had to. A lot of big businesses were built on the fact that as long as you got your products sold through big department stores like Walmart or Target, you’d be successful. In this world where traditional retailers start to go away, manufacturers are going to need to better understand their end consumer. If they haven’t started yet, they’re in for a big surprise.

If there’s one massive gap you see right now in the way brands try to winover the millennial generation, what would it be?

Ultimately, every brand is in a battle for attention. And attention is a fleeting thing with this generation because they’re looking at different channels and things at all times. You need to understand these consumers are staring at their phone. When they go to their phone, they’re more often than not trying to escape and be entertained. Every brand moving forward needs to understand in some way that they’re a media and entertainment company and they need to connect to things consumers really care about.

Ask: What does your consumer care about? When they wake up at 6am, where does my brand fit in? That’s the big shift between advertising and pushing my unique selling proposition down the consumer’s throat, to the inverse, which is what does my consumer love, and where they overindex. What are their needs and how can my brand facilitate what they really want to seek out? Without that, brands will become invisible.

Do you think the problem is agencies telling brand owners to do things the old way?

The problem with a lot of agency holding companies is they made a lot of their money by doing two things: Black box media pricing and rebates, and that’s been well documented by the industry bodies; and they sold overprices TV spots. Once those things are removed, which is what’s starting to happen, you all of a sudden seeing profits dropping off dramatically. The agencies were find pitching old-world models to brands because they were hitting their numbers.

At the same time, you have media upstarts like Buzzfeed, Vice, and the martech and adtech companies like Adobe, Salesforce, IBM, Oracle coming in with complex stacks of technology. You also have the big consulting companies coming in to this space too. The ad agencies are realising they don’t have any of these. To be a brand partner, you need to either have audiences or technologies. Agencies have had neither. So they’re losing their influence and that’s going to be a game-changer.

It’s going to take longer for some brands, faster for others. But it will be a massive shift. You think about the consulting companies – they’re trying to drive the stock price up and drive P&L, whereas the agencies have just tried to drive vanity metrics – impressions and things that don’t connect to business metrics whatsoever.

So yes, the agencies have facilitated it, because they haven’t been able to attract the right talent or disrupted their model. And that’s because they promised Wall Street 7 per cent earnings every year. To disrupt, you need to take a step back.

There’s a saying no one ever got fired for buying IBM. Well, no one ever got fired for buying TV – yet. But things are changing.  

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