10 Observations from working with Millennials

The dynamics of ‘work’ have been changing for a while now, so much that when I think about writing on the subject, my thinking almost seems outdated! Not surprising, GigaOm’s post from a year ago – How the great generational shift is causing transformation in the very nature of employment – shows as many as six generations active in the workforce these days! Each of them with different world views, attitudes, priorities and approaches to work. But given that I’m trading one demographic number for another in a couple of days, I thought it an appropriate time to share a few observations based on my recent experiences. Since I had written earlier on the challenges faced by my generation in The Future of Work and The Entrepreneur & the Professional, this post focuses on a younger workforce. Millennials, if you are into labels.

The first two points set the context. I mention these two because I think they have a direct link to the worldview, attitudes and behaviours of the emerging workforce towards work, and their life in general. They serve as the backdrop for me to observe the 15+ people I have managed in the last 4-5 years. More

The brand protocol

I have spent a few posts thinking about this concept – the ‘why’ in Scarcity Thinking in Marketing and Feels & Fields in Marketing and some of the ‘what’ in Brand with a world view. Essentially, the idea is that as customer attention becomes increasingly more scarce, brands will have to think beyond ‘fracking’ and the efficiency driven marketing approach (with all the seemingly contextually relevant data they offer) for a sustainable advantage.

I have to confess that it doesn’t seem that way now. In Pipeline to Platform Organisations, Neil Perkin makes the point that this  (pipelines to platforms) is one of the most significant shifts in internet era business economics. And the argument is indeed right, proven by the fact that Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and even Apple to a lesser extent are all great examples of platform companies. In fact, the article he has linked to states that in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands were platform companies. They have been built to scale, which they have achieved to a large extent by building fairly insurmountable ‘moats’, hugely powered by network effects. And there lies my problem because they are now well on their way to becoming platform monopolies (euphemistically called ecosystems) – the new intermediaries on the very web that was supposed to help level the playing field. Arguably, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a fight against them based on efficiency/network effects is either doomed from the start, or becomes unsustainable. More

Brand with a world view

In Feels & Fields in Marketing, I had written about my view that the sustainable advantage in data driven marketing over the long term might be lesser than an approach where the brand is marketed as a worldview – reflected in thought and deed. A couple of nuances I’d like to point out here. One, the reason I feel so is because from the evolution of digital media thus far, the end game of new platforms/technologies arguably seem to be a version of a “cost per” arms race, and that end game is reached rather fast. Two, I don’t strictly see data and story telling as an either/or. It’s just that I don’t see a lot of justice being done to the latter thanks to the focus on the former, and I also see the dumbing down/tempering of messaging to access a larger mass.

However, I’ll admit that putting down ‘brand with a worldview’ into a generic framework is a rather challenging. But I have seen quite a few examples – personal experiences as well as larger campaigns – that highlight various aspects of this approach. The new POTUS has in fact, provided quite some fodder for this. Hardly surprising, since his usage of extreme stances contributed majorly to his victory.  More

Feels & Fields in brand building

information attention

In Scarcity Thinking in Marketing, I’d written about how, in an era of ‘infinite’ consumption choices, attention is arguably the most precious commodity for a brand. Also, as Faris pointed out in his excellent post, it is a zero sum game, and we’re approaching “peak attention”. We’re also well on our way to manipulating (read fracking)  it. State of the art marketing technology (say, programmatic) can sift through a consumer’s data from multiple sources, and use interest, intent and a bunch of other contexts to deliver an ad at the precise point when he/she can act favourably.

Very few brands, however, are close to this level though. Having the data is in itself a huge step, converting that to actionable insights is even huger! Data can be true, but not necessarily accurate. (read) Also, arguably marketing tech is still a wild west with snake oil salesmen. But more importantly, even if we assume that all the brands will finally get there, it then becomes a ‘square one’ driven by who can pay the most. In that respect, I do not see this as a sustainable advantage. Arguably again, at that point in time, new tech might come up with a potential of first mover advantage, but the way I’ve seen the digital marketing narrative evolve, it is probably an optimisation play than anything else. e.g. In the early days of Facebook marketing, much was made about storytelling and organic Likes, but look where we are now! Similarly, something radically different like VR is now being talked of as paradigm shifting storytelling opportunity, but until proven otherwise, I’ll be cynical.  More

Scarcity thinking in marketing

A brand could be defined as a perception in the mind of a consumer, based on his/her/others’ experiences. These experiences could be either of the product/service itself, or its marketing communication. Earlier, in a post in a different context, I had alluded to the framework of choice during consumption. To elaborate, what are the factors that influence a customer’s decision to buy/not buy? The basic 4Ps of the marketing mix cover a lot of ground in this regard. But it does not really acknowledge (even when it is extended to 7Ps) the one thing that is increasingly becoming the most scarce commodity – time.

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The evolution of growth

The decreasing life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies is no secret – from about 75 years half a century ago to 15 years now! Martin Reeves’ TED talk “How to build a business that lasts 100 years” becomes all the more interesting in this context.

On the one hand, there is the day to day pressure of meeting business goals (read metrics) while on the other, there’s really no telling what black swan event in the business’ landscape might happen. As the thinking goes, the business would have to monitor changing consumer needs and ‘disrupt’ itself before others do the job for them.

The Four Horsemen seem to have an ability to balance these two forces quite well. Microsoft is now reviving itself. That would explain why they are now pretty much platform monopolies who increasingly have only each other as competition. Most other businesses focus predominantly chase growth, with efficiency as a key driver and corresponding metrics as score keepers.  More

Decrees of Influence

‘Influence’ as a subject has been popping up on this blog since 2010, the last post sometime in Feb 2014. In about half a dozen posts, I wrote about influence in the context of the landscape and complexities, visibility-credibility framing, the data driven approach and its challenges, ‘micro celebrity’ price tags, brands’ usage of influencers as media, and my talk on influence at #WIN14.

Conceptually, I am all for “influencer marketing”. I know it can work in some contexts because of what we achieved with it in Myntra in 2012-13. But even further back, in 2010, thanks to a discussion on a post by Palsule, I realised that with web platforms, after a certain scale is reached, the culture starts resembling that of mass (media) and the ‘influencers’ as well as ‘influenced’ begin a relationship that’s familiar from a mass media era. (Influence CyclesMore

Information & Interfaces

I’m still stuck on the narrative of consumption – both on the intent and interest front, as I wrote in Intent, Interest & Internet Dominance, as well as on the interfaces through which it will happen, something I started writing on in Consumer- facing AI : Phase One.

In this era of abundant choice, a device I use when fighting battles with myself on personal consumption is the can-want-need framework. ‘Can’ is made increasingly easier now because of convenience, ‘want’ by the choices around, and sticking to ‘need’ is a very difficult task! I read a really good post which has mirrored this in the (consumer) technology space – “How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds…“. More

Intent, Interest & Internet dominance

Facebook’s new move to dominate advertising by expanding its audience network to non users got me thinking about its interest based approach, and in contrast Google’s intent based approach. While both approaches have their place in the scheme of consumption, it reminded me something I posted a while back on a completely different context – choices.

We live in an era of (relative) abundance and are spoilt for choices. Consequently (to generalise) it has become more difficult than ever to stick to conscious choices. Increasingly we consume more because we can (largely influenced by our social network) than because we need. I see this as a parallel to interest & intent. I also think that the more data Facebook collects across its properties about users (and non users) the closer it will get to making intent an even lesser part of our consumption than it is now.  More

Sounds like a brand

An earlier post’s title was reasonably self explanatory -“Convenience & Choices“, but to summarise, I had dwelt on the abundance of choice we have on all fronts these days, and its (inverse) relationship with conscious choice. I’d quoted from a wonderful article on the death of video stores, The enemy of video stores was convenience. The victim of convenience is conscious choice. The post was subjective, and more a consumer/individual perspective, but what does it to the supply side, or specifically, brands?

Would it be fair to say that convenience is an enemy of brands as well? Let me explain. There are ‘brands’ that have been built on the proposition of convenience. Given the internet’s penchant for eliminating middlemen who do not provide its kind of value, and its ability to create convenient interfaces, everything from Google and Amazon downwards is built on the idea of convenience. That’s not what I am talking of. My line of thought is whether convenience (also) leads to a certain kind of commoditisation – it becomes not so much about what I want, but more about how easily I am getting it. So long as the product/service is comparable in terms of price and value proposition, and not necessarily superior, I’d be fine. The premium is on ease and time, and not on the brand/product.  More