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Where have all the heroes gone?

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We all used to have heroes. We had their pictures on our bedroom walls. They were astronauts, explorers, sports-stars, politicians, freedom-fighters, rock stars, movie stars. They were amazing people and we rightly elevated them.

Lyndon Roper, Intermarketing

These were people who transformed our lives and inspired us, people who gave us a moral code. They had convictions. You knew what they stood for because they stood for something. They helped change the way we thought and the way we acted. They made things seem possible. And they gave us hope. Hope that things would be better. That things could change.

But who are the heroes of today? Are there any? Are they another anchor that has lost its meaning and authority? We still need something or someone to fulfil the role - to be the agents of change.

Step up the millennials. Today’s 20 and 30 somethings are socially-conscious activists and advocates. They want to share their passion, energy, knowledge and experience to drive genuine change. They have a hunger and determination to change society. Look at how they have contributed to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Saunders.

Millennials don’t need heroes, because they are a hero generation.

For marketers, millennials are difficult to reach and engage through their fragmentation, diversity and corporate skepticism. They’re quick to run from brands, corporations and organisations that aren’t genuine or relatable.

They want brands which share their values, which give them a platform to make a difference, such as TOMS ‘One for One’ campaign, or sharing economy brands like Freecycle and Share My Doggy. And here’s the opportunity for marketers. In a world where traditional institutions are crumbling, brands can fill the gap with their own citizenship and social purpose agendas. Affiliation with a cause is more important to this generation than to any previous; it’s not about what you sell, but why you sell it.

And how you sell it too. As digital natives, millennials naturally expect a stage on which their voice can be heard, and are programmed to have access to choice. They are also inventive and enjoy sharing ideas, often realised through crowd funding platforms. Marketers must learn to harness and invest in this creativity, facilitating a co-creation relationship with millennials to help define the brand itself. Brands have the platforms and data to really get to know audiences. Tailored brand communications can build genuine and meaningful relationships. The rapper and musician Drake’s album release ‘Views’ was accompanied by a humorous ‘meme’ generator which allowed fans to personalise the album cover by uploading their own background and dropping Drake’s figure into it. Fairly superficial fun it may be, but the experience allowed fans to share something with Drake. No doubt the exposure and social sharing it generated contributed to the 1.04M unit sales in the first week.

Millennials are also the experience generation. In a recent survey from Eventbrite, 72% say they intend to increase their spending on experiences rather than physical items in the next year. Millennials are finding their identity through experiences and live events. These are experiences that create indelible memories, occasions that can be shared, experiences that create the FOMO factor. Brands can achieve greater traction with millennials by helping to create these moments. Offering powerful and more immersive brand experiences that talk to fewer people more deeply can also drive a social influencers strategy.

Brands now have a huge opportunity to also drive genuine change. For many it will require a different mindset and a different culture. Playing a new role as a global citizen. Actively working with millennials to forge a better future. Millennials are already the hero generation; by working with them, helping to fulfil their aspirations and shape a better world, brands can become heroes too.

Lyndon Roper is strategy director at Intermarketing Agency.