How to Court Millennials

Photo via Buzzfeed

Photo via Buzzfeed


I loved this fun little video making fun of everyone’s strange attempts to understand millennials. And I think what the FastCo editor is getting at here is not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with studying and seeking to understand how to appeal to millennials — the problem lies in creating and perpetuating these weird myths about them:

Remember when you were old enough to understand your parents, and couldn’t figure out why they were talking about you as if you weren’t sitting right there? That’s how Millennials feel about, well, all of you–brands, advertisers, employers, and anyone struggling to understand the younger generation of consumers and workers. They hear all your tips and advice and explanations for why they’re so different, and they don’t think highly of it. Because it’s almost all wrong.

Everyone wants to understand “the millennial” as a stereotype, when clearly every generation is full of all kinds of different people with all kinds of different values. And it’s just bizarre when companies tell us how we’re going to love this product they made especially for us and our special needs, because they totally have us figured out. I mean, imagine you go on a date with a guy and he tells you that he just KNOWS you’re going to like the restaurant he picked because he did a lot of research on environmental science majors and North Carolina and women born under the Libra sign.

Just be cool, baby, be cool.

Content + Commerce

StubHub has just hired an editor-in-chief, joining in on the strategy employed by many companies of offering content in addition to commerce on its website. This is a huge opportunity for the company to draw potential consumers to its site:

The big challenge for StubHub, and anyone looking to marry content with commerce, is developing authenticity and trust with the reader. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of producing advertorials geared more toward selling products and services, rather than true editorial content aimed at delivering intrinsic value of their own. That Freedman seems unfazed by this potential land mine is a reflection of his lengthy career in traditional journalism.

Where StubHub’s editorial might help sell tickets is by creating richer context around upcoming events, he argues. For example, casual fans might know about an upcoming baseball game, but they likely don’t know the details of the pitching matchup, the origins of the long-standing rivalry between the teams, or the fact that it’s the visiting star outfielder’s first pro game in his childhood hometown – all details that Freedman and his team can convey in an unbiased and objective way that just happens to make the event more compelling.

Strategies that engage the customer beyond mere transaction relationships are among the most important things that modern companies can do to stay ahead. It’ll be even better if they ramp up ways for customers to provide feedback and participate in conversations about the musicians and events. I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

This sort of content creation is pretty low-hanging fruit for StubHub, because its customer base is clearly interested in easily identified subject matter: sports and music. For other companies, this can be trickier, but that’s not to say there’s no opportunity there. It just might take a clever approach to make it work.

Google Disrupts Email

Here’s a really nice example of Google being responsive to complaints about the experience of email. They’ve developed a new system called Inbox, which seeks to make email more organized and less of a pain:

But email has once again become too onerous. There’s too much mail and it performs too many functions in our lives. Email is a place for correspondence, for status alerts from social networks and online stores and airlines, and a file system for transferring and storing important documents. For many people it’s also a to-do list and quasi-calendar, the central planner and task manager for your day. And though it is tremendously useful and will never die, email is also, for many people, completely annoying.

So the Gmail team decided to rethink email. “We decided, ‘What if we cleared our minds, started fresh, and built something new to help people get back to what mattered to them?’” said Alex Gawley, Gmail’s product director, in an interview at Google’s headquarters. “What if we did more of the work for them?”

I love the ways that it seeks to create simplicity by eliminating the need for you to open every message. It also aims to make email smarter, helping you by pulling up other information you might need based on the message you receive. I also think it’s designed in such a way that those familiar with social media will intuitively understand, which is a major benefit in getting people to adopt it.

Google has obviously collected and processed a lot of information about what customers perceive to be the weak points of Gmail, and that’s allowed them to disrupt email in a way that will likely keep them on top for a long time coming.

See Where Distraction Might Take You

I get a lot of weird looks when I tell people that Facebook helps me think. But it does. I run up against a problem when I’m working, I slam my head against a wall for a while, and then if I can’t immediately solve it I move on. Sometimes that means that I screw around on Facebook for a while, observing what other people in my network are worried or excited about at the moment, but always with this distant problem held in the back of my mind. I can’t tell you how often my brain does some sort of weird crab-walk from an article one person posted to another issue I’ve been thinking about lately, on and on, until I eventually end up back to the problem I meant to solve — sometimes with more inspiration or perspective than when I started. I’m a web thinker, and that’s exactly what Facebook is. A web.

I’m a firm believer that distraction is extremely important to the creative process. Writers have their best ideas when they’re out for a walk, not when they’re staring at a blinking Word cursor. Likewise, I believe that companies have to nurture employee interests and creative impulses, even if they seem irrelevant. That’s why Google lets its employees spend so much time on tasks outside of their normal job description. That’s also why responsive companies look to hire people with interests and side projects beyond the company itself; they can bring fresh ideas to the table that others can’t offer.

I recently read a great piece on the potential value of company side projects:

“Marketing should be so good that people would gladly pay for it if they were asked. To have customers and fans, you need to create value first,” he explains. “When you create value first, people pay attention.” And side projects–often derided as just distractions–are one great way to do this, Crew has found.

“The psychological benefits of side projects, like improved collaboration and better ideas, have been documented,” Cho writes. “But there’s also a measurable impact from side projects. In the past year and a half since we started Crew, we made four projects that are separate from our Crew domain.” Three of these projects are now the number one, number two, and number five referral source for Crew, and the other has drawn coverage from the likes of VentureBeat and Lifehacker. So who are you calling distracted now?

I’m not gonna say that luck isn’t involved in transforming a side project into something valuable. But you can’t get lucky if don’t put stuff out there.

Virtual Reality And You

World Skin, Maurice Benayoun and Jean-Baptiste Barrière

World Skin, Maurice Benayoun and Jean-Baptiste Barrière


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about virtual reality and how it might change the game for marketing, advertising, and a lot of different businesses. We’re likely to see advertisers jump on virtual reality as sort of the next level of social media, and product placement is likely to be a big thing, too. But more than that, I imagine companies will start creating games and experiences designed around their products. It’ll be a unique opportunity for companies to communicate what their product is about, how it makes a customer feel, and what it offers in terms of lifestyle and experience. Every industry will need to think about how to stay on top of this as it develops.

But it’s also important to recognize that Oculus is a platform, and that users will have infinite opportunities to create on top of that platform. They’ll create their own experiences and games, representing one more way in which the crowd is in control — just like with Facebook or YouTube or practically everything else these days. When thinking about a strategy for virtual reality, it’s going to be important to think about how to empower and engage networks, and how your company can have a hand in that. It’s still so early to know what that might look like, but it’s worth putting some brainpower towards it now.

Here’s a great read on virtual reality for marketing and advertising to get your gears moving.

Why Musk Won’t Work with Dealerships

If you’ve been following the news about how Michigan is trying to block Tesla from selling cars via direct sales in the state, you’re probably wondering what on earth Elon Musk is thinking right about now. He could just cooperate and sell cars through dealerships like everyone else, but come on, it’s Musk – he’s got his reasons.

Tesla has repeatedly done pretty much everything differently than the rest of the auto industry, and I think it’s safe to say that his competitors are biting their nails. They’re probably not totally sure what he’s got up his sleeve, or how his disruption of the auto industry might affect them down the line. But I think it’s safe to assume that he’s out to turn absolutely everything on its head.

Musk is likely interested in direct sales because it will allow Tesla to maintain control over branding and customer experience. But he’s also just realized that the old dealership model just isn’t necessary anymore. It’s a system that was developed when highway infrastructure was less widespread and car ownership was rare. It’s a system that was developed during a time when marketing and advertising worked very differently. Now, companies like Musk’s can easily market and deliver products to even the most rural communities.

The auto industry isn’t the only one that’s likely to experience these sorts of earth-shattering disturbances in the years to come. For example, I’m just waiting for someone to upend the cable and Internet markets, as well as the market for mobile phone providers.

There Are Some Things You Can’t Fake

I came across this rant from Dominic Hiatt, founder of two PR firms, about networking events:

For me, the very idea of networking, of ‘linking up’ or ‘connecting’ with someone else, encapsulates everything that’s wrong about business — actually, humanity — today. Networking is the apotheosis of the inauthentic. In fact, it represents the point at which authenticity ends. The more we network, the less we communicate. Networking is, quite simply, a form of death.

For the French cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard, we live in an age of simulation, where reality has been replaced by ‘copies’ of reality. Nothing reflects this copying process more than the substitution of basic human communication (an eternal given) for networking, something that, for all intents and purposes, merely duplicates it.

I found myself nodding enthusiastically at what he had to say, because I can completely identify with his frustration at the inauthenticity of these sorts of “connections.” I despise having business cards thrown at me before I’ve had the chance to have a genuine conversation with the person. And the best business “connections” I’ve ever made were people with whom I had a lot in common, people with whom I actually enjoyed having lunch, people who knew and cared about other facets of my life — in short, people with whom I had developed a real relationship. Whether I met them on LinkedIn or at a Halloween party is irrelevant. I would love to see more people approach business relationships as humans, rather than brand avatars.

But it also made me think about what other sorts of inauthentic simulations are infused throughout business these days, and how that can eventually come back to hurt the company. Companies fake “purpose” and “corporate values” all the time, and when it’s not authentic, it shows. Corporate talking heads fake that they actually care about the wellbeing of their employees, and that definitely shows.

I think it’s harder to fool people these days — and especially millennials. Better to identify and focus on the people and values you do actually care about, and making that work for you.

Weekend Reading






Venture Capital


A Culture of Lending A Hand, And A Culture of Asking for One

Responsive companies are those that encourage cross-pollination, often by mixing employee workspaces in unusual ways or creating fluid teams of people that you wouldn’t normally find working together. But even when team dynamics are healthy and foster creativity and innovation, individual employees can get stuck on problems. The best way I can think of to address this is to intentionally create an office culture that makes time for each employee to air concerns and access collective brainpower towards solutions.

At previous jobs, though, when I’ve led strategy meetings I’ve often invited colleagues to come prepared with a particular problem or challenge they’d like to hack with the group at large — since I figured this was a much more efficient use of team meetings than a bunch of boring updates. I knew from speaking to some of them individually that they were battling a variety of struggles in their day-to-day work lives, but they were all loathe to speak up when the time came.

Reading this article about fostering a corporate culture of giving made me think about why we’re so reluctant to ask for help. I can’t say I have the answer to that. But here, the author suggests one strategy for overcoming this problem:

Seventy-five to 90 percent of helping starts with a request, but people still hesitate to ask, according to Grant.

He said that one of the best ways to rectify this is to get people to ask for help using a crowdsourcing method called the Reciprocity Ring. The Reciprocity Ring involves a group of people with different backgrounds and expertise. Everyone in the ring is required to ask for something–and this means everyone. 

“When the whole room is making requests, it’s not uncomfortable,” Grant said.

Maybe I’ll give this a shot next time.