Let me set the scene.
EXT. OUTSIDE CORTHELL MUSIC HALL, GORHAM, MAINE
I was on the phone with my father, having just completed a performance to the entirety of my musical school at the University of Southern Maine (in case you’re wondering the song selection was the beautiful Morceau Symphonique for Trombone and Piano by Alexandre Guilmant. Let this article also serve as a confession that I play trombone. Moving on…)
I admitted to him that although this performance meant the successful end of my sophomore fall semester, I wasn’t sure if a career in Music Education was right for me. I … dramatic pause… deep breath… wanted to transfer schools and pursue a career in marketing.
I braced myself for his angry response: What about all the private lessons, school tours around the country, long drives just for an audition, beautiful (expensive) new instrument, and years invested in a degree teaching musical theory?
In hindsight, I should have known my father would respond how he did. With a chuckle (yes, a chuckle), he shared some aspirational but damn inspirational career advice.
“Go for it. Find what you love, and find a way to make a living out of it.”
In other words, be authentically you. Then go get paid for it.
He warmly assured me that I would make a great marketer. That I could, and I quote, “talk a dog off a meat wagon.” (Hey, takes one to know one, Dad.)
Fast forward a few months and I was back home in Boston getting a crash course in marketing, social media, gender theory, hipster fashion and clove cigarettes at Emerson College.
Millennials and Marketing
I’m very fortunate not only for my very supportive parents and comfortable, middle-class suburban upbringing, but to have been born of a generation following Generation X (born after the post-World War II baby boon).
The exact definition of a millennial varies, but I’m prone to go with that of Time Magazine, which dates us as born between 1980-2000. I fall towards the older end of the spectrum but happily accept “digital native” as a characteristic.
There is a lot of bad press given to the millennial generation, and some for good reason. We’re called the trophy generation, given hardware just to participate. We’re known as narcissistic and distracted, unable to connect with our peers due to the availability of digital friendships and the public narratives of our adventures, cataloged and published forever in photos and status updates.
And while I’m sure there are plenty in my generation brought up to be narcissistic, egotistical, overly naïve individuals, I’m also quite confident that these traits abound in other generations.
Relative to marketing, a recent article in Advertising Age claims that millennials havethe highest branding IQ of any generation. The same author believes we’ve been acting as a CSMO (chief self-marketing officer) for years, promoting our own brands, without concern for buzzwords like “content” or “journey,” because to us, these tactics are just what people do. Our social communities are engaged and strong, and we have the (over) confidence to ask for a seat at the table.
A good set of characteristics for any marketer, if you ask me.
But there is one value that embodies my generation that was left out of that AdAge piece, one that supports a new perspective of marketing, branding, and shapes how we affect these strategies in the future:
We’re obsessed with it. We as a generation look right through fluff, buzzwords and lazy marketing (as many consumers do.) But my generation in particular hates it. Like good cultural rebels we react to brands attempting to tell us who we are with virulent detestation.
Read this excellent Forbes article for a more in-depth look at the importance of authenticity to millennials, and the shaping of our cultural business identity from the rise of the Organizational Man in the 1950’s to today’s millennial idealism full of energy, hope, and the true “self.”
I believe that to be a B2B company catered for the 21st century buyer, we have to re-invigorate authenticity into our brands.
We can start today by publishing content and materials in a language that doesn’t make the intended reader want to grab the nearest stapler and poke their eyes out. (Sorry for that visual.) Plenty has been written about how. Start with Ann Handley’s13 Writing Rules, for example.
Brands can create authenticity by spending more time, and yes, more money, to understand who their buyers are, and letting it inform everything from product to marketing to sales to service. By talking to buyers as the human beings that they are.
As a millennial, and as a marketer, I hope to embody this reality, to bridge the gap between a buyer and a business with some humanity.
I’ve recently started an entrepreneurial journey with the brilliant Apparao Karri, who I worked with at B2B data services firm NetProspex. We’ve co-founded an organization called Cintell (short for Customer Intelligence) devoted to putting thecustomer back at the center of marketing, sales, product, and every function of an organization.
Because isn’t that how it’s meant to be in the first place?
Whether or not you think it’s time for a Millennial CMO, here I am. Living my father’s advice of doing things authentically my way, and yes, getting paid for it. And like a good millennial, I'll be sharing the journey. Stay tuned, and buckle up!