As a Millennial, being the target of marketing campaigns can feel a lot like being one of the popular kids at school, with brands clamoring to "rub shoulders" with my peers and me. Although it's flattering to be a priority in the eyes of marketers, this comes with drawbacks: At times, these attempts to forge a connection come across as disingenuous -- as if the brands are forcing their way into my squad, so to say -- and ultimately hurt my perception of them. Take into consideration the fact that I'm a Millennial woman and the disconnect increases tenfold, with brands that overanalyze their approach or trivialize their content to catch my attention, thinking that simply incorporating Millennial pink will do the trick. Recently, however, I came across a shining light in the tunnel of Millennial-focused content: The Big Life: Embrace the Mess, Work Your Side Hustle, Find a Monumental Relationship, and Become the Badass Babe You Were Meant to Be by Ann Shoket (pictured above).
A guide for young, ambitious women, The Big Life is chock-full of advice and calls to action derived from young women of varying careers, ethnicities and lifestyles who were guests at Shoket's Badass Babes Dinners. For the first time ever, I heard an echo of the dinner conversations I frequently have with my friends. I devoured the book and made plans to take advantage of Shoket's guide for readers to host their own dinners and keep up to date with her newsletter.
When I learned about an opportunity to interview Shoket, I jumped at the chance to learn just how she came to create such a refreshingly accurate depiction of Millennial women.
She explained to me that her dinners revealed to her what truly goes on in our minds and that it "all boiled down to five problems that [the guests] wanted to solve." They are, she continued, "How do I find a career that feels like a passion? How do I find a partner that honors my ambition? How do I get respect from my bosses? Will I have to take my foot off the gas of my career when I have a family? Will all this struggle be worth it?"
A Voice of Authority
It's no surprise that Shoket was able to capture my attention and glean these insights. The former Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen has a track record of being ahead of the curve, starting with co-founding an online magazine in 1996 -- an impressive feat for its time, as indicated by a New York Times write-up -- then helped launch CosmoGIRL!, the first-ever publication to launch with an accompanying website. (She's also no stranger to MediaVillage, having spoken at last summer's annual 1stFive Summer Intern Experience, Powered By Turner, even then evangelizing the value in dinner discussions as a networking tool.)
Shoket's tenure at Seventeen further refined her skills and insights surrounding young women, allowing her to see firsthand how the booming popularity of social media would shape both audiences' needs and her fellow editors' jobs. "Magazine editors used to be very comfortable in setting the agenda," she recalled, explaining that they used to dictate what messages were delivered by their respective publications. "Then the huge rise of social media happened and it [became], 'We'll let you in on the conversation. You can use your social media to talk about the things that we're telling you in magazines.' Then we realized the conversation needed to be led by our audience, and that was a huge shift. Now here we are on the other side, and the audience is hungry for that connection again."
The Big Life expertly creates that connection through anecdotes derived from the Badass Babes Dinners, the author's reflections on her own career and sidebar spotlights on successful young women who persevered through uncertainty. It not only tries to help answer our questions but it empowers us, revealing our unique characteristics: We get our satisfaction from success, not relationships, though we do struggle with finding the balance between our lofty ambitions and traditional ideas of when to start our own families. We get overwhelmed by pressure to "put up this high-five, Instagram-y, gold star image on social media and then live it in real life," as Shoket noted. Still, we're casting rules to the side and forging our own paths to complete the grandiose passion projects that consume us. In doing so, we're setting the foundation for conversations about equality, careers and the work-life balance.
Marketing to the New Generation of Women
By showing the true thoughts and desires of Millennial women, The Big Life offers insights for people who market to us. Due to our increasing pride in our individuality, for example, brands should emphasize the personal over the communal, recognizing our diversity. "I love Gabi Fresh as a brand," Shoket offers as an example, commending the plus-sized fashion blogger who is featured in the book for encouraging conversations about body positivity. To better reach those of us who keep up with fashion and beauty, Shoket points to "success secrets" of empowerment and cause, demonstrated by Refinery29's 67% Percent Project or BeautyCon, which is promoting the idea of beauty with a message. "Their tagline 'You don't need lipstick. Lipstick needs you' -- how smart is that?" Shoket remarks.
Shoket told me that she admires Rent the Runway, too, for expanding beyond dressing clients for special occasions to including workwear and maternity wear, taking shoppers' entire lives into account.
But what truly lends to the success of The Big Life is Shoket's willingness to step back and listen to young women, and this is the most major takeaway for marketers. There's a disconnect between us and those who direct messages toward us because our unique qualities are perceived as flaws instead of being viewed for their foresight. This happens in the workplace, too: Our bosses may think of us as entitled by wanting to work when and where we want, for example, but in actuality it's because we know what working conditions would allow us to be the most effective. Our honest, transparent conversations are viewed as "TMI," but we just want to put everything on the table for our own best interests and for the companies where we work.
When marketers listen to Millennial women more than they speak to them, the genuine connections that we crave can be achieved through understanding and appreciation.
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