Regular readers know I’m a father of two young daughters. You’ll also know how much I’m dreading the inevitable moment when they become teenagers. Boys, curfews, angst, allowances et al.
Saturday night, just as I was shuddering at the thought of teenage daughters, I found myself thinking about all the incredibly positive attitudes teenagers have. It struck me how, as marketers, we’ve long put so-called mature brands like Coca-Cola, IBM and Procter on a pedestal because of their longevity, discipline, rigor.
Joyful idealism: Nothing is quite so challenging as the political awakenings of a young adult and their righteous indignation at all that is wrong with the world. Oh vey. For astute brands, it is that idealism that provides an incredible platform for real change and a distinct voice. Ben & Jerry’s has never been shy of using an idealism platform as their launch of Apple-y Ever After in support of gay marriage highlights. Just the latest in a history of politically-inspired (and wonderfully tasty) proclamations about their values.
Cliques and Tribes: Few environments are more clique-y than a high school playground. Bieber Haters. Lady GagGa Wannabes. All these mini tribes circling, posturing and diss-ing each other. But those same tribes provide powerfully tight communities with enormous potential. Potential that brands like Harley-Davidson has turned into these incredibly loyal brand advocacy groups. Their HOGS (Harley Owners Groups) communities have the type of die-hard loyalties any brand managers would kill to have.
Up the establishment: Nothing highlights how staid your worldview is like a discussion about hemline length and hair colours. Similarly, disrupting that staid worldview of mature brands is what many upstarts delight in. I lose count of the category-disruptions that online retailer Zappos delights in. Free shipping, free 365 Returns, 24/7 Customer Service, basing their Customer Service in Las Vegas versus Mumbai. Any one of those would be incredible let alone the combination. Why weren’t mature brands like Foot Locker, SportsChek or JD Sports able to emulate this? Why was it the upstart who lead the disruption?
Energetic Experimentation: Teenagers are serial experimenters searching to define their own distinct personality and culture. Behind a dizzying array of discarded fads lies an energy and desire to push boundaries which is something many brands could learn from. Virgin personifies this attitude for me. Unwilling to be defined by category, this brand effortlessly experiments with trains, banking, weddings, international and space travel and music, all with equal energy and enthusiasm.
Shock value: Piercings, tattoos, unsavoury boyfriends all classic teenage territory. Whether it is a cry for attention or desire to be the center of the spotlight, the shock tactics definitely get them undivided attention. Few brands can carry it off with the aplomb of Benetton. Time and again, the fashion brand uses shock value to catapult itself on to the front page. Personally I’m not sure the wisdom of an Italian brand annoying the Vatican just as I’m not sure the benefit of shocking your parents while asking for an increase in your allowance.
Rather than always looking to the staid and mature brands in your category, consider the messy, tangled, experimentive teenagers in the group. Chances are they’re the ones forging new and different ways to be the leaders of tomorrow. Whatever you do, just don’t try to ground them.
Two disclaimers need to accompany this post.
1) Close readers will notice similarities between this post and Adam Morgan’s excellent thinking on Challenger Brands. This is deliberate as I remain a firm fan of Challenger Brand thinking.
2) M & S – if you’re reading this, you can ignore everything Dad has said about teenagers being given more latitude to experiment and play. I was speaking about all other teenagers.