The CMO Challenge: Flexibility And Adaptability

by , Sep 30, 2011, 9:10 AM
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Brands are built over time and, with past generations, a brand could invest in building its equity with the right audience and then adjust messaging as the audience progressed through their life stages. That's not the case if your brand is relying on Millennials for its future.

For Millennials, the coming-of-age process isn't as defined or linear as it has been with past generations. They are not as closely bound by expectations related to going to school, starting work, getting married, and raising families, which makes their lives a constant work in progress and much less predictable.

It also means that while past generations represented a fairly cohesive cohort, Millennials are much more fragmented. The result is that brands need to be extremely flexible to adapt to the changing paradigms of this generation.

Characterizing Millennials as one big group misses the opportunity to address the full spectrum of who they are. And, yet, many marketers and researchers alike ("The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change") ascribe universal values and dimensions to this generation. Millennials are typically characterized as optimistic, altruistic people who are confident, connected, post-materialistic, and open to change. If only it were that easy.

A global monitor study by The Futures Company found that while Millennials have some consistency in the characteristics described above, they are a fragmented group refracted by technology and their expression of identity, the same social/technology factors that differentiate them from other generations. Both "expression of identity" and the "role of technology" in their lives stood out as good dimensions for a useful segmentation:

  • "Expression of identity" was defined by how people self-express and their relationship to material "things." One extreme is "accumulation" in which Millennials feel it's important to have the latest and best things, and they find self-expression through brands. In contrast, the other extreme is "meaning" in which the study found Millennials who are defined by their beliefs, self-express through action and feel it's important to "be" things.
  • The "role of technology" ranged from "performance tool" to "creative facilitator." As a "performance tool," technology is seen to enable someone to perform at his or her best. These Millennials like the functional use of technology and see it as helping them to get ahead. As a "creative facilitator," technology is seen as expressive and useful for creating, sharing, and opening connections.

Using these two dimensions, Futures identified four segments of Millennials and the corresponding marketing modes they would naturally gravitate toward:

  • Satellites are optimistic about the future and tech mad. They know how to use technology to improve their performance, and for that reason, like having the latest and best. Marketing that emphasizes performance and the maximum functional end benefit would naturally appeal to this group.
  • Spirits are the poster children for what we think of as Gen Y. They are open, connected and socially conscious, and they look for meaning in the things they purchase. This group naturally gravitates toward products and marketing that are conscientious¬¬ -- emphasizing creativity and collectiveness.
  • Striders are also spoiled by technology, expecting it wherever it's relevant. They are defined by their possessions (despite the economic downturn), and they greet the next must-have item enthusiastically. Striders naturally gravitate toward identity marketing that is aspirational and leading edge. They love early releases and sneak peaks.
  • Steppers have been treading carefully. They are price conscious and very considered in purchasing. They reject materialism and love when technology improves durability and saves them from wasting money on something that won't last. They respond well to supportive marketing that focuses on reducing risk and adding value to everyday life.

For a brand, the question becomes how to utilize these segmentations. A large brand would ideally find products and marketing approaches to address each. Consider brands like Toyota or Nike. Nike+ would be attractive to a Satellite because it utilizes the latest technology to connect devices and improve performance. In contrast, because it adds meaning to the shoe and raises awareness for a cancer charity, the Livestrong line would better appeal to a Spirit. Likewise, Toyota could align the efficiency and durability of the Corolla with Steppers and the performance technology of the Matrix with Striders.

Smaller brands may find it more efficient to target the segments that have the strongest connection with their brand values. For example, a brand like Method would appeal to both Striders and Spirits. Spirits would love the conscientious technology. They'd take great personal satisfaction in putting Method on their counter, knowing they'd bought something good for themselves and the planet. Whereas Striders could appreciate Method's aspirational qualities and design leadership, but they would still expect performance -- the impact the liquid has on their body and how the cool packaging enhances their experience with it.

Regardless of how you align your brand today, change is the only thing that's certain. You only have to watch the "Did You Know" YouTube video to recognize that the speed of change today is much more rapid than in previous generations. In the face of such change, Millennials will continue to be versatile in their approaches to life, with their identities always in a state of transition. And brands need to be responsive and malleable to adjust to the fluidity of a Millennial's world.

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