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Marketing Experts: Millennials And The Power Of Cool

'Good Is The New Cool' Authors Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones share their 7 principles for branding with a social impact

Looking at the news headlines today, it would be easy to fall into a state of deep despair. Stories of extreme climate change, preventable diseases, economic inequality, social injustice, and the failure of our key institutions—government, banks, and corporations—dominate the news cycles and social media feeds.

Yet from traveling around the world and talking with young people, it is clear the millennial generation (those born between the early eighties and the mid nineties) and Generation Z (born in the mid nineties to now) have a real sense of optimism about the future of this planet. Younger generations want experiences over products, sharing versus sole ownership, and entrepreneurship versus employment. And these shifts in values are for good reason: these younger generations have seen their parents’ generation work themselves to the bone to—quoting finance expert Dave Ramsey—“Buy things they don’t need, with money they didn’t have to impress people they didn’t like,” only to see them lose it all to financial crises and downsizing.

And with these new attitudes, come new expectations of brands. Consider these statistics: Millennials in the United States number 80 million and have a combined annual spending power of $200 billion (and a staggering $2.45 trillion globally). And according to the 2015 Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study, 91 percent would switch brands to one associated with a cause (versus the US average of 85 percent). In addition, the report states this group is also more likely to purchase a product with a social or environmental benefit, and volunteer for a cause supported by a company they trust.

The situation is no different when we look at the generation hot on the heels of millennials: Generation Z. Numbering 80 million, Generation Z has a direct spend of $44 billion, which rises to $200 billion when you consider the indirect influence they have over their parents’ spend. And according to the Fuse Gen Z Report on Social Activism and Cause Marketing after learning a brand supports a social cause, 85 percent are likely to purchase from that brand over another brand that does not support a cause (vs. 70 percent of millennials who do so). Both of these generations have realized, to quote the writer Anna Lappé, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the type of world [you] want to live in.”

The implications for marketers and anyone involved in the business of brands is profound. Building on our belief “Great Marketing Should Optimize Life,” we think that today there is a powerful new model where brands (“Commerce”), nonprofits (“Conscience”), and artists (“Culture”) can work together to “Make Money and Do Good by Harnessing the Power of Cool.”

Each of these entities has valuable strengths. Brands with their budgets and customer bases have reach and resources; nonprofits have in-depth knowledge of how to solve issues and armies of workers and volunteers dedicated to their cause; and artists have the ability to shine a spotlight on an issue, and help engage their fan bases.

Working together allows us to solve issues within each of our own industries. Brands that genuinely find purpose and align themselves with nonprofits and artists to create large-scale, meaningful ways to solve people’s problems, will be able to solve the “trust gap” with consumers and turn them into their biggest advocates. Artists who partner with brands and nonprofits in sustainable and respectful ways can use their talents to not only give them new canvases, but also leave behind a moral legacy, as well as an artistic one. And social entrepreneurs who create alliances of integrity with the right artists and brands can find ways to use the power of cool to do more good than if they tried on their own.

We all need each other to make what we do more meaningful, more powerful, and reach more people. To do that, we should follow these seven principles.

1. Know Your Purpose: We believe that ‘Purpose is the new Fifth P in Marketing’ (along with Price, Product, Promotion and Place). The greatest companies today have a higher-order purpose than just profit. Disney’s is “We create happiness by providing the best in entertainment for people of all ages, everywhere,” Tesla’s is “To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy,”and Nike’s is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” Think about how inspiring these purposes are to the customers and employees of these companies—far more than any quarterly profit goal. Finding your brand’s higher-order purpose is the first step to unlocking a tremendous amount of meaning and potential.

2. Find Your Allies: Today’s brands must build coalitions of allies with common purpose—especially with nonprofits (who bring an in-depth knowledge of how to solve issues) and “Architects of Cool” (who are able to shine a cultural spotlight and ignite societal change). at’s a terrifically powerful way to tackle the massive problems facing the world today. As the African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

3. Think Citizens, Not Consumers: We believe that if you only treat people as “consumers” of your product, you are condemned to have only a one-dimensional relationship with them. Conversely, if you treat people as “citizens”—with a range of passions, concerns, and goals—you will be able to have a much richer, multidimensional relationship with them. In that relationship your purpose as a brand can find common ground with their needs and passions; instead of being in a “transactional” relationship, you can be in a “transformational” relationship.

4. Lead with the Cool: Today it is no longer just enough for a brand to be “good”; it must also be “cool.” It must have great design and a great story, and it must be an object of desire. People don’t buy Warby Parker glasses just because buying a pair donates another pair to a person in need. They buy them because they have amazing designs at great prices, conveniently available online or in great store experiences. Smart, socially impactful brands from Method to Tesla know the “power of cool” in helping shift behavior.

5. Don’t Advertise, Solve Problems: Instead of just defaulting to advertising as the solution to everything, we believe the natural intersection that brands can and should focus on is adding value to their consumers’ lives by solving problems. These problems could range from the “everyday” (e.g., time-saving services and products) to the “epic” (e.g., ending poverty, income inequality, or environmental pollution). What brands choose to work on depends on their organizational purpose and goals.

6. People Are the New Media: In an age of increasing ad blocking, how do you communicate your message at scale? According to a study by Nielsen, 92 percent of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing. And 81 percent of US online customers’ purchase decisions are influenced by their friends’ social media posts. Marketers should be obsessive about creating marketing experiences, products, and services that are so good people will want to spontaneously tell their friends, coworkers, and family about them.

7. Back Up the Promise with the Proof: “Young people have been marketed to since they were babies, they develop this incredibly sophisticated bullshit detector, and the only way to circumvent the bullshit detector is to not bullshit,” says Vice founder Shane Smith. Make sure you backup the “Promise” of the brand (your marketing communication) with the “Proof ” (actual tangible evidence of the good you are doing). Otherwise your customers and community will expose it for the empty rhetoric it is.

TO SUMMARIZE OUR POINT OF VIEW: instead of creating yet more advertising, your goal should be to create “purpose-based” marketing experiences and services that are so inspirational, educational, or useful that they create an army of advocates to help spread the story of your brand in a rich, authentic way. That’s how we think “Great Marketing Optimizes Life,” and that’s how marketers can find more meaningfulness in the work they do.

Afdhel Aziz and Bobby Jones are two highly experienced marketers and the co-authors of the book ‘Good is the New Cool: Market Like You Give a Damn’ available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble now. With insights and interviews from a new generation of marketers, social entrepreneurs, and leaders of such brands as Zappos, Citibank, The Honest Company, as well as the culture creators working with artists like Lady Gaga, Pharrell, and Justin Bieber, this rule-breaking book is the new business model for the twenty-first century, and a call to action for anyone committed to building a better tomorrow. Their friendship and common passion for the idea of “giving back” led them to collaborate on this book, which they hope will inspire other marketers to use business and culture as forces for good. You can follow Bobby on on Twitter at @mrbobbyjones and Afdhel at @afdhelaziz.


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