Befriending brands: 60 secs look into Youth Trends

Youthwatching ’09 from youthwatching on Vimeo.”>

In 2006 at the Creativity World Forum held in the gorgeous medieval trading town of Ghent in Belgium, I met Maarten Leyts, CEO and founder of the amazing “Trendwolves” company that specializes in researching European youth needs, desires and trends, and publishes an annual report called on the key insights and statistics.  Maarten will be speaking at Youthwatching 09, and on this sit you can see a 60 second clip of the current key insights.  

One of the biggest trends supported by this research is how young people are formally “befriending” brands and adding them like their regular friends to their social networks in Twitter , Facebook and MySpace.  Zappos would have to be an outstanding example of this as represented by the very socially-active CEO, Tony Hsieh who tweets under the profile of @zappos on Twitter. ( I also met Tony at Business Innovation Factory 4 in Providence earlier this year and he works very hard at building a friend brand, and is deserving of these accolades) 

Having grown up in another era where I’d rather be dead than be seen in a branded anything ( and to this day, I am a lone salmon who hates the trends of the masses, enjoying being counter-culture instead), I find this phenomenon very interesting and can see huge business value in it. For one, having people befriend you vs your main competitor would be enormously useful for consumer insights and behaviours, loyalty and so on.

I am really interested to learn more about this subject, particularly to see how financial services companies are benefitting from it.  Many financial services institutions dont actively target the youth market because its supposedly not highly profitable, but I have a hunch its a long-term play and a “capture the hearts and minds” strategy, and when these people accumulate wealth, you will retain them – or will they? 

Would love to hear any perspectives you might have based on real world results as opposed to hunches?  Who in Australia does this well…or does it at all? Who is our equivalent of Youthwatching…or are we simply too small a market?

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3 comments

  1. I find it really interesting that financial service companies do not view the youth market as profitable. To me this is very short term thinking.

    Whilst the 16-21 market may not have many assets that need handling or the need for financial advice they are still formulating opinions about the companies in this arena.

    This becomes particularly important to organisations when you look at the information gathering trends displayed by young people, or Gen-Ys (I personally loath that word). Net-savvy individuals seek their information from peer based resources on a frequent basis.

    A conversation at a dinner party or pub about which bank is good for a loan at the moment, emails between friends for advice on which term deposit to go for, or more publicly Twitter conversations about a particular institution’s level of service ( http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Commbank ) are all common. So if financial companies can promote their brand well amongst the youth (or even better, actually provide good product) then they’ve managed to ensure they’ll be getting referrals for years to come.

    Of course. as with anything to do with the youth market care must be taken. Big brands need to be very careful not to under-estimate the youth. If a brand comes across as insincere or as having an ulterior motive they’ll quickly be punished, most likely through social ostracism. This is the same reaction you mentioned – people don’t want to be viewed as branded, but rather as in the know.

    Brands need to focus not on product flogging or cheap tactics of promoting their brand but rather work on building up positive associations. For instance the Six Beers of Separation by Tooheys Extra Dry is a great example of a product running with a cool idea and being comfortable enough to not over brand it.

    The more momentum that the Six Beers campaign gets the higher the opinion of Extra Dry, because they came up with such a ‘cool’ idea, and everyone knows that it’s cool to know cool people so you want to add them as a friend.

    If companies start to see that there’s more to this social marketing then just slapping together a couple of banner ads or throwing around the words 2.0 then they’re on the right path.

    1. Hi Dane, thanks for your comment and example. Its interesting that many companies want to see “evidence” that social media & “friend” relationships via social networks translate into real profits, but business is not only about facts and stats, its also about belief! By the time the evidence is well-proven, they would have missed the opportunity because that kind of relationship and loyalty takes YEARS to build, and its loyalty that forgives LOTS of errors. That’s why the cult of Apple is so valuable. Even when the facts around their products doesn’t really support the myth. But, you’d rather be in the Apple brand position than the Microsoft brand position, wouldn’t you? Have you read the book called The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb? I quote from him here in an article in Edge’s The Third Culture:

      Statistical and applied probabilistic knowledge is the core of knowledge; statistics is what tells you if something is true, false, or merely anecdotal; it is the “logic of science”; it is the instrument of risk-taking; it is the applied tools of epistemology; you can’t be a modern intellectual and not think probabilistically—but… let’s not be suckers. The problem is much more complicated than it seems to the casual, mechanistic user who picked it up in graduate school. Statistics can fool you.

  2. Couldn’t agree with you more. You can’t always but a return on investment on every aspect of company life. I read a fantastic post a while ago about this very topic – although I can’t for the life of me remember the title of it now.
    I’ll get back to you if it comes to mind.

    I haven’t read ‘The Black Swan’ but I’ll be sure to have a look.

    And whatever do you mean that Apple products don’t live up to the myth 🙂 [written on my MacBook Pro, whilst watching my AppleTV and dialing on my iPhone]

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