In 2015, Nobel Prize-winning economists Robert Shiller and George Akerlof published a book with a chilling theory: We are all pawns in a market that thrives on manipulation and deception, filled with sellers that exploit our psychological weakness and gullibility for profit.
Whether or not you side with Shiller and Akerlof in viewing this trend as a fault of the free market economy, the economic reality still holds true. Over the past half-century, we have created a business environment where brands profit from taking advantage of the uninformed and easily swayed. Marketing and advertising have been tools to shift the market in their favor, and because of the deception, both have fallen victim to bad rhetorical reputations.
However, the tides are turning. As the millennial generation comes into real power (their aggregate annual income is expected to surpass $4 trillion by 2030), it has become increasingly necessary for businesses to not only understand this generation’s motivations but to actually act upon them.
Much of the literature around Gens Y and Z focuses already on catering to the whims of a generation empowered by technology that is wrought with distrust. What’s often overlooked, though, is just how clear this generation has made their demands and how open they are to marketing that aligns with those stated principles.
Technology is not your silver bullet
Millennials aren’t paying for products or services anymore. They are paying for trust and transparency, two things that are very hard to fake or manufacture.
Advancements in mar tech and ad tech have provided brands with quick-start on-ramps to understanding and reaching their customer better than ever before, but it would be a mistake to assume that you can use this information and new toolset to outsmart millennials. The temptation to base your marketing on the tired cliché of knowing your customer better than they know themselves is a dangerous game to play these days.
Millennials are increasingly less interested in the “I want to be her” advertising of the housewife era and are more interested in what the brand itself has to say about its impact on the world. Only in connection with an honest effort to say more and stand for more do these technologies allow for you to tap into this new generation and market.
Where deception stops, good brands begin
If you consider the trends and reports, three things stand out for brands to act on now, or otherwise they risk never tapping into this economically powerful generation.
Firstly, the ability to hide behind opaque labels or marketing is gone. Create and manage content that is focused on informing and educating as opposed to just selling. If you don’t think this kind of content is worth the time, consider Label Insight’s 2017 Shopper Trends Study, which showed that 76 percent of shoppers turn to the internet to find information they can’t find on the label.
For all the potential increases in touchpoints, the digital world means that you actually have much less control over the customer journey today. The best thing you can do is make sure that customers can find you when they are browsing online and that they like what they find. Where the power of SEO, data and analytics come in is knowing where they are going to find the information so that you know how to spread your resources.
Secondly, realize that your best marketer probably isn’t on staff. One of the hardest lessons in moving away from the deception economy and into this new era of transparency is that you can’t fake your way through a sale with buttered-up information and a promise of shiny-new goods. According to a 2012 study, millennials are 44 percent more likely to trust expert stranger sources than advertisements and are 247 percent more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites. In fact, according to Deloitte, only around one in 10 consumers find product manufacturers or service providers to be their most trusted source.
With social media, brands have the ability to both harness and mitigate this kind of authentic content in a way that makes marketing and advertising more of a matter of pointing customers in the right direction.
Third, your biggest value prop might not be your product. When you consider that 61 percent of millennials are worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference, you realize that there is an immense opportunity to capitalize on this desire both for-profit and for good.
Understanding what your customer cares about means opening channels across platforms to listen, engage and react. Don’t be afraid to take a stance, but also don’t forget that when you do so, it needs to become a two-way conversation.
Set yourself up for a successful future
While the ability to know and then deceive has served as a lucrative hack for advertising and marketing, it’s no longer a sustainable path forward to reach the millennial generation. And when you consider that the purchasing power of millennials is estimated to be $170 billion per year, now is not the time to cut corners.
Gen Z is likewise following this transparency trend, relying heavily on their social networks and search engines to impact buying decisions and increasingly looking to a company’s honesty and values as key to their purchasing decisions.
Technology has given brands both the blessing and curse of better insight into their customers, but ad tech is only as good as the message you are promoting in the world. Focus first on what you bring to the table and build a brand with integrity that will withstand the test of time.