There is no cool switch.
I feel like a lot of people are being sold a lot of lemons on this front. I met someone from a deeply unsexy energy company recently. They were trying to do something predictably verbose like ‘drive consumer awareness of and engagement with our brand values’ – or, in simpler terms, they were trying to get people to like them. Their strategy was to ‘engage with millennials on Snapchat’.
This was just a boneheaded attempt to do something masquerading as interesting in the vain hope that this would make them look cool, or edgy or whatever other adjective gets you promoted nowadays.
I told them about the lack of a cool switch. I told them, there is no one thing that you can do that will propel you, or your brand or your organisation onto some listicle about the hippest, coolest or most desirable people/brands in the world. Trying to be cool is like trying to cure a raging hangover. Everyone has their own recipe and none of them really work.
A few months ago, I wrote about the frankly ridiculous notion of ‘millennials’ in the context of some mad, bad and downright awful campaigns that brands and agencies had rolled out in an ill-advised attempt to #engage with a younger audience. Clearly, someone didn’t get the memo…
House of Fraser is a venerable old brand, a household name for many and one which has been just that for over 100 years. It’s not exactly behind the times – in fact, its online channels are already the company’s most profitable. Retailers are in an incredibly competitive environment, so everything that gets them tip of tongue and top of mind is vital when it comes to getting bums on seats, clicks on screen and pounds in the till. Maybe that was the thought process with this.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that reaching a younger audience is crucial. With that said, I find the overwhelming obsession with it slightly baffling when I think about how much money teens and 20somethings have by comparison with say, my no-longer-demographically-desirable thirtysomething friends – or our parents…
The difficulty is that, reaching that younger audience without alienating or pissing off your existing customers can be tricky. In the case of House of Fraser, moving from relatively sedate, but largely on-brand gifs and product shots to what can perhaps best be described as emojarrhea is jarring and comes across as straight-up baffling, poorly conceived and badly executed.
There are those that would counter with the Oscar Wilde quote that there's ‘one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about’. I reckon the only thing worse than being talked about is being talked about beneath a raised eyebrow. You know the type of condescending conversation - the one you have about bald people with combovers.
Those are the conversations that people have about the companies that are frequent flyers on the ‘fellow kids’ subreddit or the Condescending Corporate Brands page. Sure, people are talking about them, but it’s not about how they’re cool, edgy, hip or anything else – it’s how they’re the brand equivalent of Poochie entering Itchy and Scratchy’s world.
There is no network you can join, no emoji you can use, no slang you can sling to make yourself, your brand or your client more attractive to a new audience in one fell swoop. It’s more like rebirth by a thousand cuts. Lots of regular, incremental improvements that make an aggregate impression on your users or customers over time.
Constant iteration and experimentation is what I spent my days talking to companies about. This is the backbone of the success that the tech industry has seen over the last few years. Rebirth by a thousand cuts. Make your in-store experience better. Talk to people on social media sites. Improve your app’s UI or UX. Experiment with startups and interesting tech companies that are doing things that might be of interest to your customer base. Try new things and don’t be afraid to talk about the successes and the failures along the way.
Most importantly, don’t fall into the trap of thinking there’s some simple thing that you can do to connect with ‘the youth’ or ‘yoof’ if you’re particularly lame. There is no cool switch. And yet, I have no doubt we’ll be sniggering at someone else who desperately tried to manufacture one again very soon...
Eamonn Carey is an entrepreneur in residence at Techstars in London and an advisor to MHP Communications, Kiip, Lingvist, Brandwatch and Sorry as a Service