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What Millennials’ Passion For Soft Disruption Means For Brands

Millennials posted by Insight 0

What Millennials' Passion For Soft Disruption Means For Brands

The standard rap against Millennials is that they’re distracted, have short attention spans, can’t let a minute go by without looking at their phones. But what seems like distraction is actually deep engagement. Millennials are basically beta testing the products of the world, even if they haven’t been asked to. Nothing is ever finished or perfect in their eyes, and they won’t take a passive stance knowing that’s the case.

Millennials aren’t out to blow up the status quo; they just want to make things better—call it soft disruption. Whether that means making things fairer, more convenient, or more transparent depends on the situation.

Repeated conversations about Millennials’ needs for customization speaks to the soft disruptive sensibilities of this generation. Here are the three best ways for brands to engage with Millennials.

1) Solicit Input

Millennials are influenced by the technological landscape they inhabit. It's a hackable and malleable landscape that a generation weaned on a continuous stream of new technology loves shaping.

Many of today's most successful innovations rise from the people, through open data, hackathons, and unsolicited ideas. In the old model, companies created products. If consumers wanted specific improvements, companies might find out about them through customer feedback—or customer returns. But there’s a way to prevent that last step from happening, which saves everyone time and money.

Brands, it turns out, can learn a lot from the people who are or could be using their products. Rather than imposing a product on consumers, companies would do well to ask customers directly what they want. For example, Glossier started as a fashion blog, then expanded to include product sales by asking their readers what they wanted in a face wash. Then they developed the new product, already knowing that consumers would like it before it hit the shelves. Now, more than 100 top customers are on a Slack channel, leaving feedback that helps the company's product team innovate faster.

The companies who understand how Millennials think aren't just accepting customer feedback—they're asking for it.

New developments in tech plus opportunities for engagement give Millennials the space to shape products their way. And the companies who understand how Millennials think aren't just accepting customer feedback—they're asking for it.

2) Permit Experimentation

Like generations before them, Millennials face societal hurdles. Rather than withdrawing out of a sense of disenchantment, they’re motivated. Since everything is falling apart, they might as well follow their instincts and experiment. When Millennials aren’t pleased with the way something is working, the question they pose is, “How can I change this?” They don’t shy away from attacking a problem.

Millennials use the technologies and tools that are around them to innovate, molding the world to their liking. Out of a kind of existential fear of what the future may bring, Millennials feel that the time is now to put their imprint on it.

Twitter's rise is emblematic of this instinct. "At first, Twitter was more about telling your friends what you were doing right now," says media critic and journalist Jeff Jarvis in Fast Company's oral history of Twitter's early years. But, then, Twitter was "avidly embraced by young adults," as a 2009 Pew Research Center Report put it. Nearly one in five Millennials had used Twitter by 2008, the platform's third year of existence, but only 10% of those aged 35-44, and only 5% of 45-54 year olds. According to Pew researchers early in Twitter's existence, "Users have themselves expanded the information carried in a Twitter message through the development of tweet shorthand and symbols that allow for the sharing, replicating, and searching of tweets."

The Twitter we see today wasn't hatched by the brilliant minds of the platform's Gen X founders. Twitter's Millennial users invented it.

The Twitter we see today wasn't hatched by the brilliant minds of the platform's Gen X founders. Twitter's Millennial users invented it. And it has now spread to other generations. "My son had to push me to Twitter, I will confess," says Jarvis, a member of the Baby Boomer generation. (Donald Trump, another Baby Boomer, sent his first Tweet in May 2009.)

Does your brand give customers the opportunity to experiment with their own usage for your offerings?

3) Give Them Choices

Millennials have grown up in a world of choice. Generation X grew up reading the morning paper, while Millennials chose from infinite web sites. Generation X chose between Ragu and Prego. Millennials can choose between Ragu's roasted garlic or Prego's creamy vodka. Critics like to say Millennials have been coddled by the conveniences of the era, but this is simply their reality. For better or worse, Millennials expect lots of options.

Many Millennials are motivated by the number of options they have. Because they've always lived in a world partially tailored for them, Millennials are driven to pursue an aspirational lifestyle, with nuanced products customized to their every need.

Delivering a product that goes beyond "one-size-fits-all" is how you'll win with Millennials.

What's Next For Companies?

If marketers are saying you need flashy ads to break through to distracted Millennials, you're getting bad advice. Instead, satisfy their desire to provide input, to experiment, and to make choices.

The big question:

Where does your product fit in the world that Millennials are creating?

How Today’s Kids Will Shape The Future Of TV

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how today's kids will shape the future of tv

The TV that today’s kids will watch when they're older will be deeply shaped by the way they watch TV now. Factors like evolving technologies, socially-relevant programming, and the ever-expanding Internet will all play a part in how TV adapts to suit the needs of a future generation. And since most kids are already device-agnostic—looking for TV anywhere they can find it—content is the future focus of the medium, not individual devices.

The main thing to keep in mind? TV in the 2020s may not even look like TV as we know it.

Here are four ways kids’ viewing habits and expectations are set to shape the future of TV, based on Insight Strategy Group’s unique understanding of the past, present, and future media environment.


Kids today expect to participate with TV in a way their parents didn’t—and don’t. YouTube stars speak directly to kids and listen to their comments.

Apps like Minecraft let kids create worlds from scratch, and Musical.ly helps kids create their own videos.

They can participate in choose-your-own-adventure narratives, virtual reality explorations, customizable apps, and story-based video games.

Kids relish the control and creative input these new formats allow, and as kids grow they won’t want to let that go. Audience input may be the basis for the next decade's most successful TV shows.

Create auxiliary content like music videos, "making of" clips, bloopers, or actor interviews.

To foster fan-created content that will build enthusiasm for a show, interact with fans so they feel that they’re being heard and listened to. Highlight input from fans on social media and reach out to big fans and ask for their feedback.

This generation wants to see themselves, or a piece of themselves, or people like them, in their media.

Need for 360˚ Brand Development

Kids can discover brands virtually anywhere now—and expect to see their favorite brands both on and off TV. If you’re planning to build a TV show, you should be thinking from the get-go about how you’re going to roll out the brand in other areas, like apps or video games or perhaps movies.

What are the natural springboards into each version? If you have a TV show, what play patterns are you seeding in that will make great toys down the line? What’s the catch phrase or recurring visual joke that kids will want on a t-shirt? If you have a board game or toy, what can you add that would naturally lend itself to content later, without feeling awkwardly tacked on?

Constant Freshness

Kids’ favorite YouTubers post weekly, daily, or even hourly. Memes come and go by the minute. This sets up an expectation of freshness.

Beyond preschool age, today’s kids have very low tolerance for reruns. They also notice when out-of-date trends show up in content. YouTubers can be very timely and on-trend, because the content is produced and released so quickly. But TV producers typically have much longer production cycles, often making trendy content feel dated by the time the work is released.

So what to do? To try to keep pace with the ever-fresh supply of content on YouTube and other digital sources, make sure you are always staying current in between those long-form releases. Create auxiliary content like music videos, “making of” clips, bloopers, or actor interviews. Avoid plain-old reruns by releasing a different spin on full-length content so kids will want to watch it again. Provide clues to Easter eggs hidden in the content that they have to search for. Or why not release a version with ducks quacking instead of actors speaking? Can you play it backwards?

Audience input may be the basis for the next decade's most successful TV shows.

To make sure you don’t have a cultural misstep, be careful about putting very timely, trendy references into work that has a long production cycle. Remember the difference between timely and timeless content.

Embracing Different Types of Inclusivity

One of the defining features of the current generation of kids is they’re the most diverse ever—in terms of ethnicity, family make-up, and so much more. Inclusive content that welcomes a wide variety of viewers will succeed because kids expect their world to be mirrored. This isn’t likely to change as they get older.

Just one example from our research—kids tell us they don't like it when a show is targeted at one gender or another. They prefer content that breaks down gender barriers. Shows that reflect diversity and inclusivity resonate with kids today, and will continue to be popular with them as they grow.

Content creators who keep these four factors in mind will have the most success as the current generation grows up. But if you need just one guiding principle, this should be it: Plan for your TV show to be more than a TV show.

Research Questions

Where is their room in your show for viewers to participate and give feedback?

How will audiences want to experience your content off-screen, and how can you best plant the seeds for those experiences?

What are the best ways for your show to stay fresh in kids’ eyes?

How can your content be inclusive and diverse while staying true to your story-world? Does your audience view your content as inclusive and diverse?

3 Important Ways To Measure TV Viewing In 2017

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3 important ways to measure tv viewing in 2017

Since the dawn of television, executives have measured the success of a scripted show by how many people watched it "live"—that is, when it aired. Back then, live or same-day ratings were incredibly valuable metrics. They not only measured viewing behavior but also served as proxy for measuring viewers’ passion for the content.

Now, viewers who really care about a show can watch it whenever they want, and delaying the viewing occasion doesn’t mean they are any less passionate about a show. The historical link between the behavioral measure and viewers’ enthusiasm is broken.

So creators and advertisers must now answer this question: In a world where engagement can take so many different forms—different platforms, different devices, viewing at different times—how can we measure the full spectrum of attitudes and behaviors that contribute to a show’s success?

What new metrics should gauge emotional connection?

1) Real-Time Viewer Behavior

Real-time behavior tracking for TV viewers is just starting to take shape. One company installs a camera on top of the TV to track viewers' eyes. Another installs an app on their phones, using the microphone to listen to what they watch. NBC gave viewers Fitbits to measure when their heart rates increased while watching Olympic events.

Regardless of the method, measuring eyes on screen is the goal, because that proof of attention will attract more advertising dollars. Product placements and other content partnerships are no more effective than ads skipped on DVR if the viewer isn't actually watching the show.

Content that grips viewers' attention is likely to be the content they're heavily invested in emotionally. Attention metrics can help TV executives identify which of their shows audiences are truly connecting with. This new way of measuring shows will only increase in importance. Raw, live viewership will become less important.

Attention metrics can help TV executives identify which of their shows audiences are truly connecting with.

Research question: What types of content generate high attention metrics among the audience members you care about?

2) Viewer "Net Promoter Score"

When we gather TV fans for viewer research groups, we never have trouble getting opinions. Not only do they share their favorite shows with us, they usually start sharing with everyone else in the group too.

Back in the network era, only a few channels created quality scripted programming. Buzzed-about shows were well-covered by the local newspaper's television critic, or in mass market magazines like TV Guide. But today, with television criticism so fragmented, recommendations come from all directions rather than a few trusted publications.

Every TV viewer recognizes that discoverability is a problem, and they want to help their friends and fellow viewers out. Sharing the hottest new show is also a way to look cool. The extent to which your show inspires this sort of boosterism may say more about its long-term prospects than live viewership does.

Research Question: What is the level of enthusiasm for sharing of your content? What elements of shows make them so cool/unique, the audience can't wait to tell their friends about them?

3) Passion

The rise of self-publishing and fan culture has changed the landscape of how fans interact with shows. People have always dressed up as their favorite characters, but today's society celebrates and embraces fandom in a way it didn't in the past. Now, fandom is cool—aided and abetted by the digital tools that make it easier for fans to connect. Behaviors like cosplay, fan fiction, and participation in online message boards indicate long-term dedication to a show, no matter when viewers choose to watch it.

Behaviors like cosplay, fan fiction, and participation in online message boards indicate long-term dedication to a show.

We've interviewed people who consider themselves passionate fans of a show who have never watched it live—like the woman who said she saves up episodes on her DVR until she can binge watch them.

Research questions: Looking beyond the ratings, what's the viewer enthusiasm level for your content? And which aspects of your content are the sources of that enthusiasm?

Are Your Current KPIs Leading to Bad Content Decisions?

Your viewers don't really care when you want them to watch shows. They are going to watch when they want. Yet some TV networks still employ aggressive tactics that force viewers to watch in real-time. Today's audiences are smart enough to understand what's going on when you only let them watch the last five episodes of a show online, or don't put it online until the next day. Viewers tell us how frustrated this makes them. Will a person who feels like a show is patronizing them recommend it to their friends?

Forcing viewers to watch in real-time could make existing metrics sunnier to the detriment of a property's long-term success.

The solution? Consider whether you're judging shows on the wrong metrics.

The 4 Biggest Myths About Health-Conscious Consumers

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The 4 Biggest Myths About Health-Conscious Consumers

When someone buys a couch, they want to know how comfortable it is. When someone buys a jacket, they want to know if it fits. And, increasingly, when someone buys a food product, they want to know whether it's good for them or not.

Whether a consumer is buying kombucha or candy corn, health is a consideration. For some, it may be a small or inconsistent consideration, but today's consumers never completely forget about it. And the way they think about health doesn't follow the patterns of the past.

This drastic shift has made the conventional wisdom about consumers and health obsolete.

Myth 1: Health-Conscious People Never Eat "Unhealthy" Food

Here’s the truth: The health-conscious Millennial who counts calories at meals and jogs for 30 minutes after work still enjoys a scoop of ice cream before she goes to bed.

But when she's at the store choosing that ice cream, she brings her health-conscious attitude to the freezer aisle with her. She seeks out products that clearly signify an awareness of the importance of eating healthy—like Halo Top, which emblazons calorie count and other health buzzwords like "protein" on every pint of ice cream.

Nutrition facts and buzzwords help validate unhealthy choices.

When healthy people want to make “unhealthy” choices, they look for ways to validate those choices. Nutrition facts and buzzwords make them feel better about their decision.

Myth 2: People Only Think About Health When They Buy "Healthy Food"

No one tells us that they think potato chips, crackers, or donuts are healthy. But, more and more, consumers tell us that they are trying to make healthier choices when they buy these items.

If you followed a busy mom on a search for snack food, you'd see her making health-related decisions every step of the way.

When she stops at the potato chips display, she picks a niche brand with photos of natural ingredients on its packaging, rather than the mass-market brand that emphasizes flavor. She isn't sure if the mass-market brand has chemicals in it that could damage her family's health, but thinks that the "all-natural" brand won't.

Just a hint of healthiness in an otherwise indulgent product can influence her buying decision. Stopping at the bakery, she picks jelly-filled donuts over glazed. At least they have some fruit in them.

When we asked fans of a certain sugary dessert whether they'd be more likely to buy it if the portion was larger, they surprised us by saying no. They told us the dessert was big enough. If it were any bigger, they said, it would be "unhealthy" and they wouldn't buy it.

Myth 3: My "Healthy" Is the Same as My Customer's "Healthy"

The long-distance runner trying to stay lean wouldn't consider eating broccoli smothered in cheese sauce. But to a busy parent, that same side dish is a healthier alternative to macaroni and cheese.

Everyone rates foods on a unique personal spectrum. Yet everyone expects to see their instinct validated somehow in the product's packaging or labeling.

Brands have many different ways to validate the healthiness of a product. The Food Marketing Institute's 2016 U.S. Grocery Shopping Trends Report identified 14 different health claims that at least 20% of shoppers seek when purchasing a food product. (Low-sodium, at 42%, and whole grain, at 38%, were the highest.)

A person's evaluation criteria may also encompass how the product is made. "Consumers attach increasing importance to the way food is produced," write the authors of an influential 2002 study of Danish consumers. "The production process has become a dimension of quality, even when it has no immediate bearing on the taste or healthiness of the product."

Claims like "organic" and "GMO-free" influence consumers' decisions, whether they're buying tomatoes or tortilla chips.

That's why claims like "organic" and "GMO-free" influence consumers' decisions, whether they're buying tomatoes or tortilla chips—even if consumers don't know exactly why "organic" is better, or what GMOs are.

Myth 4: Consumers Who Think About Health Are Savvy About It

When we interview consumers, they often say they're savvy about nutrition. Their dieticians disagree. Dietitians surveyed in 2013 said that 67% of nutrition information is based on personal beliefs rather than peer-reviewed research.

These personal beliefs often play a larger role in their decision process than the facts on the nutrition label. Many consumers will simply cherry-pick the facts that reinforce the decision they want to make anyway.

Take this example: A single guy is picking between two snack bars at a convenience store.

One is a new brand of health bar, the other is a mass-marketed, chocolate-covered granola bar. Granola was originally marketed as a health food, and he still sees it that way.

When he looks at the nutrition facts on the box, he sees that the two have the same number of calories per serving. He doesn't look closely at the label to compare the sugar content, or how big the serving size is. Both are snack bars, and if the calories are the same, he'll buy the product he wanted to eat anyway—even if the other bar is factually healthier.

Because people typically don't feel any better or worse immediately after eating a less-healthy product, they don't see any negative effects from a choice they think was a reasonable one.

This goes the other way, too. Consumers show a preference for brands and products that have "healthy" reputations—despite what the nutrition facts tell them.

What Brands Can Do

Signalling that a product is healthier will help drive sales. But how do you do it? Indications of health to consumers aren't always what you (brands) think they are.

Discovering how to effectively include healthy messaging may be the key factor that helps a brand retain its customer base in this time of growing preoccupation with what’s better for you.

We suggest starting with these research questions:

  • How do your consumers define “healthy?”

  • What health considerations are in play when consumers decide between your product and a competitor's?

  • What misconceptions or communication lapses could be keeping consumers from recognizing that your product is healthier than a competitor's, or, if it’s not healthier, then worth the splurge?

  • Could you add messaging that signals "health" on your packaging without turning off your core audience?

Memes Are A Marketing Opportunity Brands Can’t Ignore

Inspiration posted by Insight 0

Memes are a marketing opportunity brands can't ignore

On the first Saturday of 2017, Turkish-born chef Nusret Gökçe posted a video of his unique steak preparation on Instagram.

Later that day, a Twitter user in Houston shared the video along with her a nickname for Gökçe: "Salt Bae."

Before January was over, "Salt Bae" was as culturally relevant as one of the world's biggest movie stars.


This is the power of memes. A meme can break through the noise of the internet and into the world's consciousness in a matter of days. It's the type of reach usually limited to Super Bowl ads. Unsurprisingly, marketers are trying to harness memes for their brands.

To succeed, they'll need a deep understanding of meme culture, and of their audience.

What Is A Meme?

Scientist Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" as an analogue to the word "gene." Dawkins defines a meme as "an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” It’s similar to the way a gene spreads through organisms.

Internet memes are highly visual. The Salt Bae meme spread as people made their own comments and visual mashups of Gökçe's dramatic method of salting the steak.

salt bae photo with funny captions

While memes sometimes go viral, not all viral content is a meme. An incredible performance by a musician that millions of people watch is viral, but it's not a meme. People simply watch it. They don't add to it.

But the bizarre reaction of an audience member that people comment on and create their own stories around—that's a meme. A meme in its purest form is an idea, rather than standalone content.

The Life of a Meme

Most successful memes have a predictable, brief lifecycle. Often, a meme starts as original content that someone discovers, deems meme-able, and puts into a template for others to share.

Typically this process starts on meme-centric community sites like Reddit or 4Chan. Those sites feature mostly user-generated content. When members of the community upvote or comment on a post, it automatically gets more visibility to other members. Memes also start on more mainstream social networks like Twitter and Instagram, where they spread through likes, comments, and shares.

Once a meme catches on, the whole internet gets in on it with takes, remixes, and mashups. The meme migrates to mainstream social forms. Suddenly, it's is as talked-about as Chris Pratt.

salt bae remixes

Eventually, a successful meme leaks into the real world.

Entrepreneurs will try to make money off of it, and the mainstream media will catch on. You know a meme is dying when you see it on a t-shirt or on Good Morning America.

Where Memes Live

The most popular platforms where memes spread are the internet community Reddit and its associated photo platform, Imgur. Both sites have covetable audiences.

On Reddit, 87% of the audience is younger than 35; 63% is 24 or younger.

On Imgur, 74% of the audience is younger than 35, and the audience is 84% male. Advertisers view the site as a male-centric alternative to Pinterest, where the audience is 81% female.

Meme audiences are engaged: Imgur says that 83% of their audience spend at least three hours per week on the platform.

Brands constantly look for ways to engage with audiences on these platforms. Since 2015, Imgur has allowed brands to create promoted posts.

eBay was one of the first adopters, creating a series of posts based on Internet memes with links to products for sale on eBay. Home Decor That Brings Out Your Inner Geek alludes to cat photo memes and meme-derived slang.

cat meme in ebay advertising on imgur

Old Spice, Budweiser, and Frito Lay have also advertised on Imgur.

"We started tracking the amount of time people are spending on these promoted posts, and it's 25 seconds a post," Imgur VP of Marketing and Sales Steve Patrizi told AdWeek. "That's getting pretty close to the gold standard of TV advertising."

Why Memes Are Important

Memes are a visual reference guide to the trends of the wider culture. As a meme spreads, creators mash it up with aspects of culture that matter to them in that moment—what's in the news, their favorite shows, how they are feeling about the world.

The way people remix the meme reflects what's important to them. Taken together, they are a time-stamped snapshot of internet culture.

The way people remix memes reflects what's important to them.

Often, memes reflect the creator's identity. memes contribute to slang by spreading new terms like "fam," "on fleek," and "af." They become default reactions and celebrations. They're a means of expressing emotion.

football player does the salt bae motion

Meme creators use the form to bring underground phenomenons to the attention of new audiences. "Juju On That Beat" started as a novelty song that went viral. This low-budget video of two guys dressed as clowns doing that dance has 40 million views.

That's a level of engagement that even huge brands can't manufacture. At time of writing, Chevrolet's official YouTube account only had 35 million views.

Memes also serve as safe space where people can express themselves about difficult or controversial topics. Creators can imply something they're afraid to say explicitly through the medium.

Anxiety and depression

anxiety and depression in meme form

Race in the U.S.

race in the us meme

Politics (Note: the Pokémon cards are photoshopped in!)

politics in meme form

Who Makes Memes Big?

The people who create and spread memes form a community. They take pride in seeing a meme that they've worked on spread across the internet. They even track meme history with encyclopedic precision.

This community can launch a meme into the national consciousness in a matter of days. Brands who want their memes to succeed need to win them over. Here are our suggestions:

1) Always stay in the loop

Memes come and go at lightning speeds. If your content isn't fresh, it will be ridiculed on places like the #FellowKids subreddit.

2) Deploy memes in ephemeral media that you can take back

Because the Internet changes so fast, you don't want your memes in any format you can't easily take back if it hits the wrong note. A billboard is a bad place for a meme, and a meticulously-planned rollout is a bad strategy. Move quick. Fail fast.

3) Understand the line between cutting-edge and pandering

The meme community is savvy—they know brands exist to make sales, not mirth. Content that adopts meme styling for baldly commercial purposes won't succeed. tic tac ad trying to use a meme

Instead, be honest: “Look, I am a company that’s advertising, but this post/meme is interesting even when removed from my marketing campaign.” Wendy's brutally honest Twitter persona inspired fans to create their own meme: Smug Wendy.

4) Meet your target audience where they are—don’t advertise to the “general audience”

Memes aren't meant to appeal to everyone. Or at least a single take on a meme isn't. Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to, and in the subreddits and message boards where they hang out.

Target meme-based content to the group you're advertising to.

How Research Can Help Memes Succeed

Successful memes start at a grassroots level, bubbling up from a specific subreddit or other online community. To succeed with this community, you need to understand it on a deep level.

A pre-meme research project would include:

  • Identifying the segment of your target audience that shares memes
  • Learning what memes they share and why
  • Finding the specific message boards / subreddits where they spend their time

Like every meme, "Salt Bae" died down. But the surrounding publicity was so substantial that Gökçe is now planning a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan. As a marketing opportunity, memes are too popular to ignore.

Today’s Consumers Love Brands—And Expect More From Them

Millennials posted by Insight 0

As a portrait of teenage angst, The Breakfast Club holds up well after more than 30 years. But the film's non-diverse cast and social categories of "athlete," "princess," and "brain" are as outdated as the computer-less library where the characters served detention.

More than Baby Boomers and Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z use brands to define their identity. Teens today look for representations of themselves, and are much more likely to identify as "Swifties," "Potterheads," or "Whovians" than any of the categories Generation X used.

Superfans like these are very loyal, but that loyalty has a flip side—their expectations for brands go far beyond simply providing a quality product or compelling content.

Driven by Millennials and Generation Z, consumers now expect brands to behave just like their friends do, including:

  • Owning up to mistakes and fixing them quickly
  • Connecting with them in an authentic, personal way
  • Standing for more than the bottom line

Own Up to Mistakes and Fix Them Quickly

When 28-year-old Anna Hezel moved in with her boyfriend, she bought a $600 Peggy couch from West Elm. She wanted, she later wrote, “to prove [her] adulthood with mid-century furniture.”

But the couch was built so poorly, and the brand showed so little sympathy for her complaints, she ended up throwing it out and writing a long article for The Awl about her disastrous experience.

Hezel's article took off on social media, inspiring other Millennials to share photos of the frayed stitching and detached buttons of their own Peggy couches.

peggy couch tweet

West Elm's response? They agreed to refund all customers who bought the couch within the last three years.

Today's consumer has dozens of ways make their complaints public. Any story, anywhere, can mushroom into a public relations crisis. One study of UK consumers found that social media complaints increased eightfold between 2014 and 2015. Sometimes the shaming is deserved, but other times it can be a form of cyber-bullying. Often, companies (and consumers!) have no way to confirm whether the complaints are valid.

Because of this, many companies are faced with a “One strike and you’re out” ballgame. A single decision or action, however well-intentioned, can turn into a debate that threatens years of loyalty-building. Even established brands like West Elm are vulnerable to sudden changes in consumer attitudes towards them—like a best-selling couch rendered worthless overnight.

The stronger the brand, the less likely these tactics will have an impact. Starbucks was ridiculed for its "Race Together" campaign, which encouraged baristas to discuss racial issues with customers. But when the company walked back its request for baristas to write the phrase on cups, the ridicule went away too.

Smart brands don't hide from customer complaints. Just like a close friend, they want to know when they've done something to offend—and they want to repair the relationship.

JetBlue's customer service team quickly answers customer questions, and sometimes has airline staff follow up in-person at the terminal. On their Twitter account they help customers, respond to customers, and even joke around with them.

When brands own up to mistakes and make good, customers are often even more supportive of the brand. After all, they're only "human."

But consumer outreach doesn't have to be reactive. Brands should identify the underlying motivations for negative sharing and use this research to proactively surprise and delight their customers.

Connect with Customers in an Authentic, Personal Way

How do friends build trust? Not with blast emails or marketing jargon. Brands who default to these tactics won't succeed with young consumers, who seek authentic, personal connection to brands.

more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than 7 in 10 teens say it's important for brands to be authentic. Younger generations are savvy about advertising and seek communication that feels more honest.

Consumers who identify closely with brands expect those brands to show up in the same social media feeds where their friends are. The clothing company Everlane, which targets a Millennial and Generation Z audience, declared in 2015 that Snapchat would be the brand's main social channel. To create an authentic connection the brand uses Snapchat to show behind-the-scenes footage from its design studio.

Wendy's uses its Twitter account to banter with people—and sometimes scold them—just like a friend would.

wendy's roasts consumers

In the media world, networks and movie studios are increasingly letting fans and actors interact in the more intimate setting of social media. After Stranger Things was renewed for a second season, the youngest members of the show's cast conducted a 16-minute Facebook Live session, playing '80s trivia games and answering audience questions.

Reddit Ask Me Anythings (AMAs) allow stars to respond to fans' questions directly. Passengers star Chris Pratt did an AMA in December 2016, two weeks before the movie's release.

Between responding to customer complaints and giving fans behind-the-scenes access, brands can open up a constant feedback loop, driving conversation that can not only increase brand loyalty, but inform product decisions and future marketing campaigns.

Stand for More Than the Bottom Line

Brands need to go beyond just knowing what issues are important to their audience—they need to support their audience with social stances of their own. In March 2016, North Carolina enacted a law regulating restroom access in that state. LBGT advocates decried the law as discriminatory against transgendered people. More than 70 brands announced their opposition to the law. The NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. Deutsche Bank stopped plans to hire 250 new employees in the state.

Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores with a more conservative audience, sued the U.S. Government and won a Supreme Court case, arguing that the Affordable Care Act violated the company's religious beliefs.

brands need to support their audience with social stances of their own

When sexual harassment allegations against Bill O'Reilly went public, activists targeted brands that advertise on O'Reilly's Fox News show. More than 80 brands pulled advertisements from the show, and O'Reilly was fired.

With the news cycle constantly churning, and advertising diffused across thousands of sites and pieces of content, it's a daily effort for brands to maintain their image. But they have to. Because consumers have so many options, it's easy for them to avoid brands that don't align with their values—and throw support behind brands who stand up for shared beliefs.

Film and TV creators know that their content will perform better if the audience makes a personal connection to the actors involved. But their content can also lose part of its audience if an actor's statements or behavior offends a key demographic. The 2016 film Birth of a Nation faced a boycott and protests after sexual assault allegations against writer, director, and star Nate Parker came to light.

In 2015, the movie Aloha, set in Hawai'i, featured Emma Stone playing a character described as half-Chinese and one-quarter Hawaiian. The Media Action Network for Asian Americans released a statement condemning the film's casting.

In contrast, when making the movie Moana, Disney convened a panel of advisers from Polynesia, who weighed in on everything from how the characters were drawn to the lyrics of the songs they sang.

Every choice a brand makes will be debated on social media. Brands can't please everyone, but they must at least avoid stances and choices that offend their target audience.

Key Takeaway

The intense identification consumers now feel for content, companies, and products is both an opportunity and a challenge for brands. Superfans can be reliable customers for decades, and no-cost marketing engines that never stop.

But when a brand lets a superfan down, that negative experience feels much more personal—it's an attack on their identity. Just like a friendship, the consumer relationship requires effort, empathy, and near-daily maintenance.

5 Essential Elements for a TV Show’s Season 2 Success

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going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy

According to Metacritic, of the 44 scripted shows that debuted on major networks in the 2015-16 season, only 19 were renewed. Any show that survives its first season has beaten long odds.

What's next? Making it to season three, of course.

These five key elements of season two success are based on Insight Strategy Group’s extensive experience surveying and interviewing media audiences.

1) Build Cliffhangers Around a Show's Main Characters

Planning for season two success must begin before season one ends.

To build anticipation for season two, build mystery into the end of season one. But not just any mystery. Cliffhangers should involve the characters that the show's superfans care about most. Storylines about secondary or less-beloved characters won't build audience interest—audiences just don't care.

Know which characters your superfans connect with before you plot your season-ending storylines.

2) Develop a Business Plan

No show makes it to a second season without a devoted core audience. But if that audience doesn't grow, a third season isn't likely to happen.

Going into every new season, a show needs a business strategy. Often this is a choice between deepening engagement among the target audience or expanding the show's appeal to a wider audience.

For example, many of today's prestige shows have a unique narrative structure. These shows might be able to reach a broader audience with a more conventional structure, but that would turn off the audience they've built.

It's a tricky problem—one that research can help solve.

3) Learn How to Super-Serve Your Core Audience

Audiences connect with television shows for a combination of these reasons:

Connection to Characters

Insight Strategy Group research shows that nine in ten TV viewers 18-49 say they enjoy characters dealing with moral or ethical dilemmas.

Audiences take the scraps and hints about television characters and construct versions of them that make them as real as anyone they know. Viewers’ investment and emotional connection make them care about the character's life.

Psychographic Needs

Audiences often watch television to help them process challenges in their own lives, or to challenge their own intellects.

Insight Strategy Group research shows that more than seven in ten TV fans 18-49 say they love shows that make them reflect on their own lives.

Viewing Occasion Needs

Audiences pick different shows to fulfill different needs at different times of the day: The show they watch in the den after Sunday dinner with the rest of the family is not the same one they watch in bed on their iPad.

Once a show has made it through season one, research can identify which of these factors drives audiences to watch. Creators can then decide which aspects of the show to emphasize to delight the audience even more.

4) Keep the Focus on the Main Story and Characters

Now that viewers can get an entire show's run on demand, few pick up a show in the middle. If a target viewer hasn't watched a show yet, they will catch up before the season two premiere.

As such, rather than using early episodes of season two to re-introduce the characters, shows should immediately pick up the cliffhangers from season one.

Shows should also never suddenly introduce new characters that might take the spotlight off of the ones audiences love. Audiences aren't as likely to connect with new characters unless they link to the main characters' families or existing relationships.

know which characters your superfans connect with

In addition, because audiences are so engaged, "previously on" montages don't need to be as long by the second season of a show. Many viewers fast-forward through them. "Next time on" clips are a better way to use this time. Viewers love getting hints about where the story is headed.

5) Use Teasers to Create Urgency and Intent-to-View

Fans follow entertainment news and even actors' Twitter accounts. They don't need to be reminded that a show exists—they want to get excited about it.

To fulfill this need, develop teasers to air in the weeks leading up to the season two premiere that are designed to:

  • Energize existing viewers, getting them to talk about the show and share the teasers on social media
  • Compel potential viewers to move a show out of their consideration queue and into their active list of shows

In conjunction with the marketing campaign, make all episodes of season one available free on demand so potential viewers can catch-up.

Season two teasers can incorporate the audience research from season one, highlighting characters and other aspects of the show that viewers love. But never reveal major plot points from season one, or anything definitive about the cliffhangers heading into season two. No spoilers! Audiences will want to make these discoveries on their own.

Once a scripted television show navigates the treacherous waters of season one, season two provides calmer sailing. Audience research helps by identifying the essential elements of a show's success, as well as what can be added or changed to increase fan devotion or audience size.

5 Rules for engaging Millennials as employees and consumers

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By Slaine Jenkins, Director.

I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a panel discussion on “The Future Millennial Workplace” at this year’s Youth Marketing Strategy conference in Brooklyn. We explored the various ways companies can create workplace experiences that younger generations want to engage in, and shared how we see unique Millennial mindsets and motivations reshaping workplaces now and in the future. As the conversation transpired, it became clear that what matters to Millennials when "shopping" for a job has many parallels with what they look for in the brands and products they "hire" to play key roles in their lives. Five key insights emerged as ways to build strong connections with Millennials from the office to the shopping cart, and beyond:

  • 1. Appeal to their ideals, but give them tools to get real. American Millennials are pragmatic idealists. They’re a generation encouraged to pursue their dreams, and empowered with the digital tools to do so. Millennials commit themselves to goals that are consistent with their personal beliefs and values – and then think logically about how to get there. A great example of this comes from Erica Nicole, founder & CEO of YFS magazine, who talked about a “do what you’re best at and outsource the rest” mentality. This Millennial mantra is reflected in their smart and efficient approach to both career and brand decisions. Warby Parker is another great example of a brand that appeals to Millennials’ idealistic desire for purpose, while strongly delivering on their pragmatism through product, service, and overall user experience.
  • 2. Give them hands-on control, not just handouts. Millennials value flexibility over freebies. What’s most important to them is having a voice in their experiences, from workplace policies and culture to brand engagements. While few will ever say no to free office snacks and brand swag, handouts like these won’t attract as much Millennial attention or loyalty as offerings that give them flexibility and control. In the workplace this can look like policies that allow working remotely or adjustable office hours, and for brands this is embodied in products and services that are versatile, empowering, and personalized. Innovative brands like Rent the Runway and Birch Box are good examples.
  • 3. Boost their personal brands. Millennials are hyper-aware of their personal brands. Many even manage a portfolio of social media profiles across platforms, balancing and experimenting with different parts of their personal, professional, and aspirational identities. Snapshots of office life and branded products alike play an important role as building blocks constructing their personal brands. And in today’s meta culture, merely talking about the right brands and curating the right content can build cultural capital and social currency without spending a dime. This need for content to fuel self-identity offers many opportunities for personal brand infusion strategies. By creating an internal and external brand experience that Millennials want to be associated with, you’ll make them want to include you in their personal brand expressions.
  • 4. Offer “freelance” opportunities. They’ve got side hustles. Millennials talk about their day jobs and their dream jobs, often working towards the latter through self-made gigs. They also “freelance” in their brand and content engagements – relying on one brand or content platform to meet one need, and another the next. This is particularly true in their content diets as they engage with different content providers throughout the day across formats and platforms (e.g., Snapchat on their phone, a live sports game on TV, and Netflix on their iPad). By offering timely, snackable content that is short form and part of current cultural conversations, you’ll get your brand on their list of go-to freelance destinations.
  • 5. Know their loyalty is contingent. Unwavering brand loyalty is a thing of the past. Millennials' loyalty is contingent on what a brand represents and offers, not the idea of the brand itself. For many, this mentality carries over to work as the average Millennial’s tenure at a company is significantly shorter than prior generations'. Millennial loyalty can be bolstered by innovating and pushing your brand or workplace forward in new and unexpected ways.

I share these rules with an awareness that we’ve all read and heard numerous stereotypes about Millennials as employees and as consumers. Some of these stereotypes are true, but many are highly exaggerated. While the five rules above are grounded in truths we’ve seen in our work with Millennials, they are undoubtedly ripe with nuance when looking at specific Millennial sub-groups. To make matters more complex, Millennials are a moving target. They’re growing up, and what we have come to know about them is evolving as they enter new life stages. When we think “Millennial,” we tend to think college age. But the oldest Millennials are now in their mid-30s, with many starting to form their own families. How will their mindsets continue to impact your business ecosystem in the future – from workplace structures, to media content and consumption, to consumer needs and behavior?

In Human Centered Innovation, Empathy is not Enough

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Innovation has never been more important, nor more challenging, as today's businesses face markets, technologies, and cultural landscapes of accelerating dynamism and complexity.

It’s no surprise then that approaches like Design Thinking have risen to prominence on their promise to supercharge creativity and reduce the uncertainty inherent in product development. At their best, these human-centered methodologies help build an empathic understanding of the consumer experience through techniques like ethnography and co-creation exercises. These are valuable tools to help develop more innovative and effective solutions by revealing consumers’ authentic practices, latent needs, and unarticulated pain points.

However, empathy alone only gets you so far. At their worst, these techniques can lead to naïve empiricism, stale ideas, and an over-reliance on consumers to drive the ideation process.

Being able to see the world through your consumers’ eyes should be an end result for all research, but it’s only a first step toward deeper insight and creative thinking. Empathy-building is a “bottom-up” approach that’s incomplete if not combined with a “top-down” analysis of the contexts in which consumers live, learn, and make choices. Narrowly practiced user-centeredness leaves unanswered important questions about how cultural and social factors shape needs, priorities, desires, beliefs, and practices.

Answering these questions is critical for brands seeking to stay ahead in markets and cultural landscapes that increasingly look like fast moving targets. Relevance, brand engagement, and competitive advantage are at stake if the systemic factors that shape consumers’ values and behaviors are ignored.

What’s needed is a holistic approach. Fusing empathy with social science’s conceptual tools and frameworks provides a scaffold to see beyond current needs and routines, to the socio-cultural processes and relationships that shape them. It is only through this bottom-up, top-down perspective that we can understand the principles and pathways that point to potential futures, and to fresh territories for breakthrough innovation.

By Aaron Frey, Senior Creative Associate.

What exactly are you trying to disrupt?

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When chasing innovation it’s easy to get lost in our dreams and lose track of reality. It’s part of being a dreamer. As innovators, we believe so strongly that we’ve found the answer that we start to forget what the question was. We get “innovation blinders.” We live in an economy where dreams can come true in a major way, but they can also blow up in spectacular fashion.

Innovators have a long history of creating products and services that have failed. One of the biggest lessons that I’ve personally learned from these experiences is that there isn’t a demand for every supply. Innovation can be costly, but it’s critical for any business that wants to withstand the test of time (ahem, Kodak).

Here are a few steps that you can take to avoid falling victim to innovation blinders:

1. Employ a devil’s advocate.
This person is critical to any innovation team because they keep everyone in check. When done right, this person challenges and grounds the team, while often pushing its ideas forward. One of the biggest dangers of innovation blinders is that it’s difficult to know when you have them on. The human brain has an incredible ability to rationalize almost anything, and when you’re innovating that ability can be a financial drain if left unchecked. It’s important to get a gut check from someone outside the core innovation team, just to make sure you haven’t lost our way.

2. Talk to the market
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse.” – Henry Ford

This quote speaks to the importance and dangers of talking to the market. Humans have difficulty conceptualizing an idea that significantly different from their previous experiences. The average person in the early 1900’s couldn’t have predicted how common the car would become – which is why we’re lucky Mr. Ford came along. If Mr. Ford had taken the market’s word at face value he wouldn’t have pursued his dreams.

But the quote still tells a lot about customers’ needs at the time: They wanted to go faster. As an innovator and a marketer, that little insight provides direction through the question “How can I help them go faster?” If you know the question, you have a better chance at finding the right answer.

3. Repeat
As an innovation evolves so will peoples’ reaction. It’s important to have multiple touchpoints throughout the process to best identify themes and underlying customer needs, and to check that you still know what question you’re answering.

Today’s world is filled with customers and consumers asking questions that call for innovative answers. As an innovator and a dreamer, I strive to invent answers that push society forward. The beginning of these projects are always exciting because they start with the most important question: What exactly are we trying to disrupt?


By Chris Tolan, Senior Analyst

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