The Millennials are coming. Does this change everything ?

Last week at the “Be the Brand” conference, the conference debate was about whether “Brands can be trusted to take a larger role in Society?” I was speaking about my book with other speakers including host Tim Bleszynski from The Alternative, Nick Howard from Edelman, and Bob Thust from Deloitte.

The conference organisers believe that a brand must create a “tribal”  movement amongst its followers.  Bleszynski advocates a new consumer led democracy which makes earning trust an imperative asset for a brand.  We heard from Edelman that the top metric for trust is companies that listen to customer feedback and treat their employees well (and not like this).  I’ve mentioned before in my blog that the Edelman Trust survey shows that the opinions of “someone like me” and “regular employees” have more credibility than CEOs or analysts to the respondents.

Thust, director of corporate responsibility at Deloitte, also talked about employees, but perhaps, it being Deloitte, not “regular” ones.  He recounted his recent survey amongst Millennials, the emerging generation of business leaders at Deloitte, which suggested that a drive for profits wasn’t enough to motivate them.  The survey said that the purpose of business for them was societal benefit – or “changing the world”.  This reflected Bleszysnski’s introduction to the morning which talked of Capitalism 2.0 – a drive not just for shareholder value but for value for the community overall.

The millennials – or Generation Y as they used to be called – were born from the 1980s onwards and are largely the children of the baby boomers.  This in itself is arguably problematic as if there was ever a generation that won’t give up power and status and get old it is the boomers. The millennials are however set to inherit the earth, to run businesses, to drive media habits and tastes, and to lead governments.  There is some argument about what they are thinking.  Thust argues that they’re a more thoughtful and considered lot than the margin driven, profit chasing business leaders of the earlier generation.  His millennials will sacrifice money for inclusivity and sustainability.  Newsweek however painted a very different picture in a feature earlier this summer arguing that “Boomer America never had it so good.  As a result today’s young Americans have never had it so bad”.  Less a compassionate generation than a generation who are “without hope”.

The millennials are coming to a position of power near you.  Will they promote enlightened capitalism or a spirit of desperation with no dreams of improvement ?  Quite different prospects, with very different implications for brands, advertising propositions, pricing structures and media.  I think I know what we’d all hope for, but optimism isn’t always the strongest basis for business growth.




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