This article is by one of our South African colleagues, Saffron Baggallay:
If you are over 30 and battling to understand the mind set of your pre-teen child, or post-teen employees, then I strongly suggest you check yourself in to your local cinema for a couple of hours and watch ‘Never Say Never’ – the documentary style film that provides details about Justin’s rise to fame.
The film is cleverly produced. It is structured around the ten-day countdown to the first time Justin Bieber played at Madison Square Garden in New York on August 31 2010; so through out the movie you know you are heading towards a climatic end, which creates suspense. Interdispersed with this excitement and tension one is afforded insights into Justin’s ‘ordinary’ life. His childhood, his family, his friends and his rise to fame are cleverly delivered through interviews and voyeuristic accounts of his daily life and rituals, which is why you end up liking him so much. He comes across as a playful, well brought up, an everyday, musically talented and excited kid. There really is nothing pretentious about him. His grand-mother makes him clean his room, he hugs his grand-father excitedly when he arrives at a concert wearing Justin’s favourite T-shirt; and he’s delighted when his friends from small-town Canada arrive in New York to watch him perform. This is why, by the time you see him on stage at ‘MSG’ as Justin calls it, alongside Usher, Boyz 2 Men and Miley Cyrus it’s Justin you love and Justin you know will (and who you want to) steel the show.
But here’s what we (older) folk can learn from Justin’s story:
Millennial kids talk and write in acronyms, even though they wouldn’t know what an acronym is, necessarily
Millennial kids are kind, loving and generous of heart. It has become tradition at Justin’s concerts now to randomly pick a girl from the audience and bring her up on stage for Justin to serenade whilst he sings his hit song “One Less Lonely Girl”. A moment like this can change a girl’s life and certainly this is something she will never forget.
Talk about connection, about understanding that the way you create a loyal following is by being human, humble, ordinary and willing to engage with your fans, not as a super-star on a pedestal but just another guy.
Check out one of the versions of this song on YouTube
This video encapsulates the Millennial advertising mindset too, which is to tell a story, using a narrative and character, the blurring of the real person, the character persona and the non-reality of super-stardom seen so often in popular culture today.
Particularly for those of you who are wondering how to keep the innately not-loyal Generation X and Y connected to your brand, Justin provides a vital insight. One of the reasons why Justin has enjoyed unprecedented success so quickly is because his fans feel like they discovered him and they have contributed to his rise to super-stardom. How? On YouTube and Twitter Justin gave his fans a voice, he interacts with them, he connects with them, the lets them know what he’s up to, he tells them he’s sorry he let them down by postponing a concert because he’s not feeling well. He’s human, exposed, real, imperfect, just like them; and their response (and its important to note how Millennial kids love to give feedback and interact) is to love and support him even more.Transparency of information is imperative for this generation.
Social media and social networking sites are not a nice to have, an optional extra or merely a platform for casual chat amongst teens. They are profoundly reshaping people’s lives. Ask Justin (and you can on Twitter). In 1 year and three days a kid from a town of 32 000 in Canada, who was brought up a teenage single Mom, went from putting a home-made video on You.Tube so his Aunt could see him sing, to selling out the biggest and greatest performance venue in the world in 22 minutes. He was 16. Historically Madison Square Gardens has been reserved for the likes of the Rolling Stones, U2 and Michael Jackson after they have been around a while and after their third album has gone Platinum, so what was different for Justin? Social media. It is fundamentally shifting the way we communicate, how quickly we communicate and with whom we are able to communicate. Millennial kids connect with their world and with one another on-line more than they do via TV. Think about that when you are exploring advertising options in the future.
But don’t think it was easy or that it just happened over night. Malcolm Gladwell talks about having to put 10 000 hours in to something before you get really good at it. Justin has been singing and playing music all his life. He went on a tour of America it seems, connecting with ordinary people, tweeting and posting videos on You.tube for a long while before he hit the big time. Millennial kids can be extraordinarily committed, hard-working and loyal to things they believe in. But they generally have to ‘buy-in’ before they become loyal. That’s why they love asking ‘why?’ and that’s why we have to answer them with something other than ‘because I said so…’ They are busy kids, with a lot to change, so they have to be discerning about where they are going to put their focus.
Justin is younger or the same age as most of his fans. Millennial kids are completely comfortable with having heroes, icons and super stars just like them. The idea of ‘when I am older I can…’ is a foreign concept. They can be anything now, hierarchy, social convention and codes of behaviour don’t have the same meaning for them. They are not being disrespectful when they don’t automatically treat you with reverence, they just don’t see any reason to respect you until you earn their respect. But if you understand that you have to earn their respect, you will have their respect forever. Here’s a tip on how to earn their respect: don’t treat them like children or patronize them, be humble, real, human and listen to their views. They can actually be pretty wise for their young years.
They are an emotionally courageous generation. They have no problem expressing their thoughts, opinions and emotions. I know it is hard, because we were taught differently, but try and allow them their feedback, without indulging them. Don’t reprimand them for something they didn’t do when they weren’t given an instruction to do it. They already feel overwhelmed by the workplace they have just entered in to.
And remember, they are young and have a lot to learn. If you can connect with them, they will be so open to learning it. Just as Usher was the music Mentor Justin needed, your Millennial kids need mentors too.