Why 'Brand Positive' is becoming a Hygiene Factor for young people

Tom's Shoes 141 model has become the benchmark of 'brand positive' for young consumers

Tom's Shoes 141 model has become the benchmark of 'brand positive' for young consumers

Attending the Youth Marketing Strategy conference at the Roundhouse in London as a panel host, I was struck by how far the conversation around ‘brand positive’ – business as a force for good in society, or what we call ‘Purpose’ – has moved on even in the last few months.

Twelve months ago it seemed that we were still making the case for brands to be positive enablers of societal change, proving businesses cases and pointing to interesting case studies.

But at YMS2016, the argument was clearly already made and won. And it was Gen Y and now Gen Z consumers that were making it.

It is quite startling how much young people expect and demand businesses to behave in a purposeful, values-oriented way.  Tom’s Shoes, Google and Patagonia were cited as brands that had used Purpose to engage better with younger consumers.

But as much as these trailblazers are doing incredible things to differentiate their brand, the apathy for brands that have no clear social purpose is evident

Over 50% of young people aspire to be an entrepreneur as opposed to working for a big company, according Channel 4’s tribes research – a damning indictment on the attractiveness of large, traditional corporations.

The fact is, Purpose is quickly becoming a hygiene factor – something that, alongside price, product quality and service, you are expected to do brilliantly to convince consumers to part with their money. 

If your brand has no strategy for how to engage with the world positively, then prepare to be left behind.

What’s more, Purpose also creates incredible loyalty. I hosted a panel with an amazing cast* of talent on it. Ben Kendall from like Airbnb and Helen Tupper from Virgin Red both explained that having a clear sense of brand purpose, and a strong values-oriented culture has created incredibly loyal customers that have become strong advocates. People even talk about ‘being a bit Virgin’ – an incredible achievement for a business which has so many facets and faces.

Of course, like any ‘hot trends’ there are and will be many well-meaning but ultimately misguided attempts by large corporates to jump on the ‘doing good’ bandwagon. Sadly, another characteristic of Gen Y and Gen Z consumers is their incredible bullshit radar. Try to appear something you are not and they will spot it a mile off and run even farther.

The watchword for the day was Authenticity. Brands need to properly understand their sphere of influence and see how their product can make a genuine difference to people.

Nearing the end of our panel debate, questions were invited from the audience. A girl in her early 20s shot up her hand and directed a question at one of the panellists;  ‘What are you doing to give back into the community you operate in’.

Just read that again: ‘What are you doing’.

Not ‘Are you going to’, or ‘Do you think you should’, but ‘What are you doing’.

Her language said it all. Young people want business to operate purposefully, authentically and create value for everyone. For Gen Y and Gen Z, brands that do this well will be celebrated.

Those that don’t will be irrelevant.


*My thanks to Gary Keery from Cereal Killer Café, Ben Kendall from Airbnb, Laura Mair from Movember, Helen Tupper from Virgin Red and Andy Middleton from TYF Group for a fascinating panel discussion.

Find out more about Youth Marketing Strategy here: http://www.voxburner.com/yms-london/