Nicolas Sennegon, global managing director of The Economist Group, tells Eleanor Dickinson why marketers must embrace the ‘digitally-savvy’ and ‘passionate’ new generation
‘Lazy, entitled and narcissistic’ are all to often the words bandied around to describe anyone aged between 15 and 35 and unsurprisingly many of them are sick of it. That is what recent research by The Economist found anyway. Grouped together as ‘millennials’ or ‘Generation Y’, those born between 1980 and 2000 are all too often dismissed as hard-to-define and even harder to target by marketers. Seeking to delve into the mindset of this mysterious collective, The research found these stereotypes to be misconceptions and a missed opportunity to tap into the most influential generation yet.
“They curate, they consume and they create,” explains Nicolas Sennegon, global managing director for The Economist Group during a visit to the company’s Dubai office in Media City. “Millennials have now come to the spotlight whereas before they were on the fringe. But the research found that they are very digitally-savvy. They were born with the internet and born with a sophisticated branding environment. And they are very knowledgeable about media. We need to engage them with quality content and not just branding.”
After surveying 90,000 people across the globe, The Economist carried out 128 in-depth interviews with millennials from all over on their reading and internet habits. Some 70 per cent of those interviewed fell into the category of just ‘followers’ – social media-users who are more attuned to consuming and sharing content rather than creating their own. On the other side was a 1 per cent labelled ‘VIP millennials’, of whom Sennegon curiously cited pop megastar Lady Gaga as a prime example. “She is not really curating content but her personal branding is very famous and very popular. So she generates a lot of traction but not a lot of content,” he says. However, it was those in the middle where the real potential was found.
“We call them the ‘Gen-Narrators’ and they represent 29 per cent of those interviewed,” Sennegon explains. “These are the ones who take the content, validate it, twist it, then share it and comment on it. I think these are the ones brands struggle most to target because these are the ones that will truly influence a brand versus another one. As opposed to the followers who will either like or not like. The generators will have a point of view based on fact and information.”
He adds: “They influence the other 70 per cent and are keen on content, not just social media. They are keen on content because they are looking for the truth behind the facts. And they want to engage with a brand which resonates with their aspiration – that is having access to content that will make them highly influential to the rest of their generation. I think for marketers, you need to find the right digital platforms, you need to find the right content environment and you need to be credible and authentic.”
During his three-day visit, it did not escape Sennegon’s notice that Dubai’s smartphone-using younger generation are ‘definitely embracing’ the new technology available. However, he found the marketers to be the ones floundering in the spectrum between traditional advertising and more content-driven approaches. “The core thing is that without an idea, the platforms are not relevant,” he says. “We need to have the expertise in solution-finding, branding beyond advertising and creating content for advertising purposes. And then we need to have experts across all digital platforms that are available. Creativity is key as well; this is how you stand out from the crowd.
“The challenge today is that brands used to win consumer confidence by what they were standing for. Now today, for example my older kid is 14; she does not buy the brand because of the brand. She buys it because of what it resonates to her in terms of its operation. This is the complexity. And if you think about branding industries such as luxuries, they struggle to target this audience because this audience does not just rely on the brand; that was what the previous generation did.”
He adds: “Pure advertising is not something that will attract this audience. If you have the right content and you twist and adapt your content, form a new user experience on that specific platform, then you can be successful. The heart of it is, what is the story I want to share with this audience? Once you have got that, it is about slicing and dicing. Once you have got that story, you just need to adapt it into formats that are very impactful.” And as Sennegon points out, finding something to resonate with this audience will only become more important. By 2017, millennials are predicted to become the most influential buying generation, outdoing their heavy-spending parents.
So if lazy, entitled and narcissistic are now the wrong words to describe Generation Y, what should we be calling them instead? “Entrepreneurs,” says Sennegon. “These 128 individuals who we talked to
feel empowered by their role in sharing. They are active, they are engaged and they are passionate. They are brand-conscious and they are interested in creating. I think this generation is sick of all these wrong attributes to them and we need to look at them differently. If brands are to engage them, we need to understand them better.”