Ten learnings on how #coolyouthbrands behave

I am well aware that writing a post about ‘cool’ is fraught with danger as it is such a subjective topic and is the topic of annual contemplation amongst cool hunters, psychologists and people way cooler than myself (that’s not that hard by the way :). Firstly, I’m no cool hunter, just an interested observer of youth culture and how brands are trying to stay relevant and meaningful in todays social world.

Having said that, I thought I’d put together some observations of brand behaviours I consider ‘cool’ in the youth marketing space. Here are 10 behaviours  in no particular order that brands I think are cool are displaying.  I’m sure there are others I’ve missed :)

 

  1. BELIEVE in something bigger than yourself, an ideal young people can belong to

Love her or loathe her, pop princess Lady Gaga is cool. She stands for something bigger than herself and has complete conviction in her beliefs, which young people gravitate towards. Her activism comes through in her lyrics/music videos giving her ‘little monsters’ something to belong to.

  1. Leverage MYTHOLOGY and MYSTIQUE in your brand narrative

One of my favourite Aussie brands is custom motorcycle brand Deus Ex Machina. They do a brilliant job of building an interesting, discoverable story around the brands origins. To me, they feel mysterious and never ever over market themselves. For youth brands, less is more in terms of the storytelling.

  1. Be ORIGINAL,  creating tales and crafted cult

It’s obvious, but originality is and always will be a key pillar of cool. A recent campaign by K Swiss really caught my attention. It’s polarising, but that’s what makes it cool.  To launch their Tubes shoe, they totally took the piss out of the corporate side of sport endorsement. They used Kenny Powers and crafted a highly engaging tale that’s generated a cult following in the US. Check it out here

  1. CREATE and REMIX CULTURE

Indie hipster brand, Converse do a great job of creating culture through their co-opting of hip hop music culture.  An oldie, but a goodie.

  1. Enable STIMULATION junkies to capture and share their lives

Make no mistake, Gen Y and Millenials are stimulation junkies. Boys and girls alike. They are hardwired for risk taking behaviour. So brands like Go Pro, have tapped into this behaviour and been the enabler for self expression. In the world of action sports, Go Pro cameras on your helmet are the must have item. They are becoming mainstream but still remain super cool. They are the perfect compliment to the Red Bull culture.

  1. Give youth genuine OWNERSHIP, appealing to the core and potential fans

 I think it’s such bullshit when people say cool brands have to be scarce. Brands like Modern Warfare 3 are perfect examples of a game which is appealing to both hardcore gamer and novice gamer like myself. Check out their recent epic spot here

  1. EMPOWER youth to do more, be more

 Youth movement,  One Young World is an annual summit where the leaders of tomorrow start leading, bring the best and brightest minds together to talk about stuff that really matters.

  1. Play a genuine role in making a SUBCULTURE better

 Many big brands try and co-opt a culture and piggy back on a trend. This is a major no no. Footlocker with their Sneakerpedia social wiki is genuinely making sneaker culture better by helping peeps keep on top of their sneaker game. Check it out here.

  1. AUTHENTICITY in being real and doing stuff, not preaching

It’s also noting, that I don’t believe ‘cool’ is reserved just for the fringe brands for the super early adopters. Thanks to social media ,cool is now diffused to mainstream so much quicker than say five years ago, so the incubation period for ‘cool’ is alot shorter. I also believe that it has and always will be typically the younger creative class that start cultural cool which brands then often co-opt.

  1. Help young people be more GENEROUS to their friends

In the social economy brands that help me do something of value for a friend are the brands are perceived as cool.

 

Would welcome thoughts on other brand behaviours people think cool brands are displaying.

Red Bull Streetart View with Google

An amazing collaboration earlier this year between Google and Red Bull to create the world’s larget street art collection via crowdsourcing. I love this idea not only because it’s an amazing collaboration between two great brands, but because it’s about ‘doing’ something for a community of street artists. It’s another great example of the power of technology and the crowds influence to create cultural influence. It recently won a Cannes Lions in the community/applications category. Well done guys.

The 7P’s of youth marketing

When I went to uni I learnt about the 7P’s of marketing; Product, price, place, promotion, people, process & physical evidence.  The last few years, marketing to youth has changed.  Today, it’s less about marketing ‘to’ youth, and more about marketing ‘with’ youth. Our role as marketers is to initiate and manage the conversations happening in and around brands. It’s about creating behaviour through engagement and influence.

I’ve put together my 7P’s which I believe are important things for youth marketers to consider when developing their brand and communications strategies:

PROVOCATION

Youth today expect brands to have a strong provocative point of view on culture. Marketing in the middle is to be avoided at all costs, as youth detest brands that are vanilla. The old adage of ‘stand for nothing, fall for everything’ is definitely relevant.  Brands like Axe, Burger King, the new Levi’s campaign, Diesel are all brands which have a strong cultural position. You’re either with them or against them and that’s why the create heat and energy.

PARTICIPATION

Clearly, we are well into the age of participation. Every youth marketer needs to think about how they design social experiences which involve youth, treating them as partners in production, rather than a destination point for messages. Whether it’s a ‘Digital Fling’ (a quick fleeting experience or a entertaining content) with the Passive Massive or deeper engagement with Ambassadors, you need to work out how you can involve youth in the brand narrative and add value to their interaction. Designing ideas for participation is all about tapping into the power of social connection.

PLAY

I believe the broader construct of ‘play’ is already heavily influencing brand behaviour. Look at the exponential growth of gaming platforms and now social games. Brands need to think of the interactions they have with youth in terms of a GAME. They need to encourage and create game play at all levels. It’s far more about your brands game, than your brands story. Nike Grid is a great example of this play fuelling discovery.

PORTABILITY

The mobile and tablet are the focus screens for youth. If mobile marketing isn’t part of your comms strategy, you’re missing the beat. Every communication experience you create has to be portable. Whether it be creating content that builds and spreads via mobile or useful utilities which help your daily, life, the portability of an idea is as important as the scale of it.

PURPOSE

Your brands purpose is far more important than your positioning. Youth swarm towards brands or product that help them connect with each other as well as help give their lifestyles greater purpose. Think about your brands fight or crusade, not just how it’s different functionally. Converse’s purpose is all about engaging people who live creatively and rebelliously and everything they do in terms of music culture, urban engagement supports this purpose.

PROPAGATION

If it’s not worth sharing, it’s not worth doing. Brands have to develop propagation strategies and think about designing ideas  which have inherent social interfaces. They need to think about which tribes and fan cultures can be identified to help propagate the idea as well as which platforms are best suited to carry the idea. Remember young people’s social status is defined by what and how often they ‘share’.

MEDIA POSITIVE

Youth brands have to be media positive, not media neutral. Instead of thinking about filling media channels, think about how you can create media yourself, turning products themselves into the marketing. Apple is the king of doing this. Linking back to propagation, think about how you can turn youth into your main media channel to share your message.

PERSONAL

It sounds obvious, but being personal and intimate within the social context is critical. Brands that help you better tell your own brand story win. The Intel ‘Museum of Me’ exhibition is a perfect example of a Facebook engagement idea which taps into people’s need to see their personal story brought to life in pictures, and then share that with the world.

Experimentation is the New Engagement – Speech at AIMIA Gen Y conference

Speech I gave 18months ago (have only now decided to upload it) at AIMIA (Australian Interactive Media Industry Association) conference on Gen Y. I speak about the dimensions of Gen C and how brands need to experiment with popular culture and involve youth in the brand narrative if they want to engage. The examples are a little outdated (apologies) but hopefully there are still some relevant learnings even though this presentation was delivered well over a year ago.

The Art of Flight: Red Bull collaborates with Quiksilver

I’ve just got back from 3 weeks skiing in Squaw Valley and Jackson Hole and had an epic time. I am a die hard skiier, I’d never go to the darkside of snowboarding, but I was impressed with ‘The Art of Flight’ trailer. It’s a collaboration between Red Bull Media and Quiksilver. Just another example of how these brands (esp. RB) are amazing media producers and are maintaining their places as cultural leaders in the snowboarding subculture.

Attention youth brands : The Bigger you get, the Smaller you should act

I’ve got this theory that when it comes to youth brands in particular –  the bigger a brand gets, the smaller it should act. In todays highly networked world where any space between the brand and a person can be considered media, brands need to focus on intimate gestures, over big grandiose statements. Don’t get me wrong, I still very much believe in the power of a big idea, but i think now more than ever brand storytelling is about lots of small stories which ladder up to mean something bigger. I also think acting small allows you to be remixed and edited by youth more easily and we all know if young people are part of the brands story, they’re far more likely to share it.

As marketers we need to think about how we’re CREATING TIME for people to engage with our brands as opposed to buying time and placements which people by in large ignore. Creating ideas people want to spend time with, ideas which fundamentally make their conversations more interesting or deliver genuine utility are the ideas which are winning with youth. Nike ‘The Chance’  and Nike + platforms are perfect example of the brand creating time for people.

 For me personally, brands like Bathing Ape, WESC, Nike 6.0, Red Bull get me because they regularly make intimate gestures towards me and give me something to talk about. So as a youth marketer I’m focusing on intimate gestures over grandiose statements.