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How Can Our Company Attract Millennial Customers? Accenture's John Zealley Answers

In this edition of “Ask the Board,” John Zealley, Accenture's senior managing director, global lead of Customer Insight & Growth, explores why ‘hyper-personalized’ experiences are key to wooing Gen Y.

By: Barbara Thau, Senior Features Editor
 John Zealley of Accenture headshot
John Zealley, senior managing director, global lead of Customer Insight & Growth at Accenture, discusses how the nation's biggest buying group is dictating how businesses run. — Accenture

If you could create your own fantasy Board of Directors who would be on it? CO— connects you with thought leaders from across the business spectrum and asks them to help solve your biggest business challenges. In this edition, a CO— reader asks how to market to millennials in relevant and meaningful ways.

John Zealley, senior managing director, global lead of Customer Insight & Growth at Accenture, answers…

Millennials are the 20th Century’s last generation, and its first truly digital one.

We are now in a new era of digital-based competition and customer control, where the new generation of consumers buy because of a brand’s relevance to their needs in the moment.

The ‘I-want-it-now’ generation expects a consistent and ultra-personal experience.

Millennials cannot be viewed as a single homogeneous group. There are nuances to consider. For instance, older millennials are ‘classic digital’ and typically use platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Others, who are increasingly becoming post-college earners, are ‘new digital’ with a preference for Instagram and Snapchat.

Companies cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, they must be laser focused on making themselves relevant by building a deep understanding and connection to the empowered consumer.

Social media continues to be a real disruptor targeting today’s consumers, who want the convenience to purchase directly at the click of a button.

The further development of social media, the growth of social media commerce and the continuing emergence of disruptive technologies are offering even greater potential for consumer brands to reinvent their relationships in the marketplace so that they are front-of-mind at key purchasing moments.

According to Accenture’s Annual Holiday Shopping Survey, the use of social media platforms for holiday shopping [when retailers generate the bulk of their annual sales] is growing rapidly. The percentage of respondents who planned to use social media sites for their 2018 holiday shopping nearly doubled to 15% from 8% in 2017. The percentage who said they check Instagram before looking or buying elsewhere online more than doubled to 14% from just 6% in 2017.

Companies cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach.

John Zealley, senior managing director, global lead of Customer Insight & Growth, Accenture

What you need to do:

To be at the meeting point of social media and commerce requires speed and agility. It’s about developing [what Accenture calls] a living business capability that can sense, respond, and even predict behavior to create a commerce opportunity around a holiday trip or fashion buy based on Instagram usage, for example, in real time to ensure relevancy for consumers and value for brands.

Successful companies become even more relevant by creating hyper-personalized experiences at the moments that matter to the individual consumer, on their terms.

It will require not just more local decision making, but also assistance from analytics tools that enable companies to build a granular picture of their customers. For example, product teams leveraging data-driven creativity to understand their audiences, and marketing promotions grounded in insights about the profitability of individual products and customers.

Organizations need to become authentic living businesses, building and sustaining symbiotic ties with their customers as if those relationships are with a concierge, butler or friend.

The winners will be those who capture the value of rapidly evolving digital technologies and capabilities that are creating nearly endless possibilities for agile and hyper-personalized consumer experiences.

What you need to address:

Many millennials are innately skeptical and feel disenfranchised from the values, and, by extension, the brands of earlier generations.

Millennials expect more representative messaging and marketing than generations past.

Accenture Research found that consumers are no longer making decisions based solely on product selection or price; they’re assessing what a brand says, what it does and what it stands for. This generation of consumer will support companies whose brand purpose aligns with their beliefs. And they reject those that don’t.

According to Accenture Research, 72% of U.S. Gen Z and millennial consumers (aged 18 to 29) want companies to take a stand on current and broadly relevant issues such as sustainability, transparency and fair employment practices.

Now more than ever, companies need to rethink and redesign their digital capabilities so that they can sense, shape and respond to the individual.

For example:

We are already seeing evidence of this. Accenture Research found that a small number of innovative chief marketing officers [CMOs] who are helping their organizations generate shareholder returns 11% higher than those of their industry peers [are doing so] by delivering hyper-relevant customer experiences.

With so many different and individual consumer demands to satisfy, companies must seek to deliver value through carefully targeted consumer channels. Just look at SoulCycle. By creating a community for indoor cyclers and fitness buffs – supported by value-adding elements like custom SoulCycle playlists on Spotify – this brand aligns its purpose with its customers’ values of health and a positive environment.

Relevance is becoming the key brand differentiator. And consumers are willing to go the extra mile to ensure they get it, by actively participating in all aspects of the brand.

Consider how Brewdog has evolved from a punk craft brewer into a personality that global fans have embraced wholesale. Whether it’s moving into hospitality, becoming a subscription content streamer, or even offering investors the chance to fly on the world’s first craft beer airline, Brewdog is a shining example of the power of creating a brand that is more than just a product — and putting it right into the heart of consumer lifestyles.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published April 16, 2019

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