NEWS14 March 2018

Younger consumers don't want different things from older ones, says Cool Trends author

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UK – The younger audience doesn't necessarily want different things from the older audience, according to ‘Cool Brands author Joieri Van den Bergh.


Van den Bergh, a professor at Vlerick Business School and author of How Cool Brands Stay Hot, was speaking at a session at Impact 2018 on how the speed of change is affecting multiple generations of customers but how its influence is less age group-centric as one might assume.

He was joined by Begonia Fafian, Coca-Cola’s western Europe knowledge and insights director, Cristina Petcu, research director at Sony Pictures (TV) and Nick Steel, growth strategy and insight director at Nomad Foods (Findus and Birds Eye).

Van den Bergh started by saying that next-gen marketing is "more chemistry than science" and Generation Z was now a harder world, with less optimism and a greater sense of realism.

"It’s a fragile world and the things that we used to think were true are not always true," he said. "It’s the reason why many people are afraid of fake news."

He outlined a number of issues raised by his research, such as a growing proportion of single people across the globe, which had led to Alibaba in China creating Singles Day, a shopping event that earned the group $25bn on one day. The retailer is a prime example of a brand that is capitalising on a societal trend.

Another example of the changing consumer landscape, according to Van den Bergh, was the ‘flatage’ society. "Middle aged men, like me, they tend to feel that they are not growing older anymore," he said. "They're going to the same festivals, buying the same brands and same clothes. On the other end of the demographic scale, young kids are growing up much faster than before."

Sony's Petcu identified with the notion of ‘flatage', agreeing that it is harder to distinguish younger from older viewers of its TV shows. "For example, when we create an online community in the UK, we make sure it’s very representative of the wider spectrum," she said.

Van den Bergh also talked of "generation flex", consumers with agile mindsets who "know how to play the system, switching from one identity to another, playing different roles in society and switching brands".

He then discussed the micro and the macro. The former refers to growing demand for and creation of individualised brands. For instance, Levi’s having in-store tailors who will alter shoppers’ 501s to their requirements, cutting them down into hotpants or whatever the shopper desires. "Products are becoming more hyper-adaptive," he said.

On the other hand, "macro to me is about meaningfulness", Van den Bergh added. "Consumers want the brands and companies to change the world for the better for them."

He also stressed how "the attention economy" meant advertisers must compete for the attention of consumers.

"The customer today is IWWIWWIWI," he said, explaining the acronym stood for "I want what I want when I want it". "From the advertiser side and the company side it means that innovation cycles are becoming shorter."

He cited examples of how brands are cutting development cycles, such as BMW’s use of virtual reality and gaming software to dramatically speed up process of making adaptions to cars.

His final point focused on "influenza", how social influencers such as YouTubers are working with brands.

Coke’s Fafian, noted a similarity rather than fundamental difference between the nature of today’s celebrity culture versus that of decades ago. "When my mum was a child it was about actors," she said, "then sports people. Now it’s about influencers online. I don't see it as different as it was for us. It still adds value to content."

But, Van den Bergh sounded a warning about authenticity: "The minute they feel it’s not real, you'll lose your consumers,” he said.

"The younger audience doesn't necessarily want different things from an older audience. It still makes sense to stick to the DNA and communicate the same strengths of the brand to all generations."

However, Nomad marketer Steel was less keen on digital channels, citing the power of Captain Birdseye as a powerful brand icon steeped in tradition. "Our business has increased a lot in what it spends in social environments, but we still see the facts and figures that TV, in a traditional sense, will drive sales across all age groups," he said, adding that TV actually engaged younger groups more than it did older ones.