For the past decade or so, brands have been talking about their values, communicating who they are and what they stand for. But, now, the new generation of consumers is looking for more. They want your brand's power — your platform, support, and purpose — turned into action.
According to Viacom Velocity's Power in Progress study, the notion of power has shifted for young demos. Growing up in a time of turmoil, polarization, and the democratization of technology, they're using social media to access brands' platforms and co-create positive change on the issues they're passionate about.
The shift represents an opportunity for brands, which can use this new power exchange to connect with and engage these young, multicultural audiences who are extremely marketing savvy and have grown up building their personal brands. They know the process — it's a transaction. And they are here for it.
Younger generations today are taking advantage of the shrinking of gatekeepers and their sophisticated understanding of how media and social media fuel each other. Now, the crowd can signal-boost underrepresented voices and causes (consider the attention to the crisis in Sudan, the Amazon rainforest fire, and the Youth Climate Strike), as well as cancel those whom they perceive don't align with their values.
Understandably, an increasingly polarized environment gives some brands pause. After all, no brand wants to alienate part of its consumer base and get canceled in the process. The good news is, not all brands need to get on the soapbox, especially if it's not authentic to who they are and the values they represent.
Instead, brands should approach the new generation's understanding of power and partner with them along with shared values and objectives. In addition to standing up for their communities' values, brands can also be the cheerleaders, connectors, and uniters of those they serve. If done genuinely, it's the best way to do well while also doing good. Getty Images and Dove's "Girlgaze" partnership and TV2 Denmark's "All That We Share" campaign are excellent examples.
For young people, power is evolving from something they perceive as benefiting the few into a notion that empowers collectives through inclusion and collaboration. The sooner brands understand this, the sooner they'll be able to galvanize these collective voices that are increasingly and inevitably changing the discourse. Now more than ever, the best way to deal with disruption is to lead it yourself.
The rise of "leader-full" movements, such as the March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter, are examples of the new dynamic. Young people are driven by the collective power of the crowd, which provides a unique toolkit, of sorts, to assert influence and create impact. The more united they are, the stronger they become.
Brands should be aware that the ability of the crowd to come together and change the cultural narrative also means that power can become the "swarm." Said swarm cancels those whom they perceive don't align with their values — Peloton bike's holiday ad is one of the most recent examples.
But there is an opportunity for savvy brands even if they make a misstep. Acknowledging the mistake, apologizing, and taking authentic and demonstrable action to course-correct can put brands back ahead with their consumers. It humanizes them and helps them regain respect.
Fortunately for brands, they can count on ViacomCBS as a partner to help them navigate the new power dynamics creatively and safely, which will help them to scale not only their business, but also their purpose.
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