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EP 3: How to Reach Millennials and Gen Z – Brand Advice From Nicolas Cole Mather

Millennials?

The word millennial is pretty much a swear word in the minds of many older generations or those who don’t understand Generation Z. Millennials are seen as the “me” generation, the ones who want it all…and they want it now. Nicolas Cole Mather works to teach people how to build their brands, is an expert on the younger generation and is a writer whose work is published in Inc. Magazine, The Huffington Post, Business Insider, Forbes and more.

Nicolas Cole Mather on Millennials

Brandboom sat down with Nicolas Cole Mather (his friends call him Cole) to discuss the topic of millennials, Gen Z and what they mean for today’s workforce.

In the podcast, when asked how he defined millennials, Cole offered a new take on the topic.

“The way that I’ve come to see it is it (millennials) has a lot more to do with access and if you see a lot of companies that are trying to attract millennial talent, what they do is they misunderstand that idea of access and try and replace it with things like, “We’re gonna provide Ping-Pong tables,” or “Everybody can sit in a nice comfy chair while they work on their laptop,” or “We have an open bar on Fridays.” And those things are cool and they certainly maybe make the environment feel a little bit more comfortable or even younger, but in reality, that’s not really what a millennial is after. What they’re after is access to things that they might not be able to get on their own,” Cole explained.

According to Cole, these millennials aren’t just seeking a “chill” work environment, but are more so out to find a place of employment that fosters their desire for knowledge through access. So often millennials are coined as lazy kids who just want to play on social media all day, but really, Cole believes, they actually truly do want to learn and for them, access is the way to do just that.

For companies considering hiring millennials, Cole says you will draw in the types of employees that you advertise for.

“It’s kind of just thinking about what kind of millennial do you want to attract? If you’re using those things to attract millennial talent, I’ll tell you what kind of millennial you’re gonna attract, and it’s not gonna be the workforce that’s willing to stay up until 2:00 in the morning grinding out a project. It’s gonna be the person that thinks they’re still in college,” he said.

Cole also says that the ways in which millennials receive their news and information has changed from the ways of the past. Credibility and honesty are still things millennials look for in their sources, but gone are the days where people wait 15 minutes for a video to load. In this sense, instant gratification is indeed a trait of millennials. And, if outlets want to capture the attention of this new age of viewers, they need to be smart in doing so.

“If someone 27 or 30 but below 22 or 15, if they go to your site and it doesn’t load properly for 15 seconds, they’re gonna leave. I will go to a certain site and go, “Oh, that’s a really cool article,” and then I’ll click on it and it’s now on my phone spazzing in front of me because there’s four different ads trying to load at the same time. I’m gone. I’m never coming back,” Cole said.

For brands and companies marketing to a millennial audience, this is a mistake they can’t afford to make. Luckily, Cole is an expert on teaching such companies how to improve their marketing strategies, especially to millennials. In fact, he offers services on how to improve online writing, build a personal brand and how to communicate a company’s story and mission through written content.

Through all of his time working as a consultant in these areas, Cole has come to believe that if such businesses were to fully understand Generation Z, then this failure to connect with them could be avoided. If an outlet paid attention to the fact that millennials won’t wait for things to load or that they become dissatisfied with messy content, they would be able to correct their errors and better appeal to such viewers.

Another area such companies could improve on when it comes to attracting millennials is to be sure their product fits.

“A great example of how to “sell” in today’s economy is, you’re not telling someone, “Go buy this,” you’re sharing something of value and then saying, “And by the way, it’s here if you want it.” And so if you look at the press world which is a perfect example, you’ll have all of these PR companies that are very old in the industry, and they go, “Hey, the better way to sell your company or sell your product is to go get some other person to write about how great you are.” Okay, nobody’s reading that. Like, literally nobody,” Cole said. “And then the opposite, which is what I’ve done for myself, and now I’m starting like, it’s what works. It’s what people do wanna know, is if you have the CEO themselves telling the story or saying, “This is how I built my company. This is what it was like when I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to bring this idea to fruition 10 years ago. Oh, and by the way, this is what we do. It’s here if you want it. Anyway, back to my story…” That’s how you sell something today.”

The new generation of consumers takes more kindly to the advertisements that aren’t in your face, just like with the example Cole gives.

“That’s what makes it so compelling and it’s not disruptive or it doesn’t step on the toes of the consumer. They don’t sit there and go, “My experience was just bothered by an ad.” It’s just part of it. It’s there if I’m on it. And so, when you’re talking or explaining to big brands how do you reach the younger people, it’s like, you have to completely change your mentality. It’s not just this single voice outward being like, “Go do this. Go buy this.” You have to figure out what they’re already willing to pay attention to and finding a creative way to weave your brand or your story into that narrative,” Cole said.

Cole also says that when it comes to speaking to younger generations, it’s all about either being entertaining or teaching something of value.

“You either need to speak the entertainment language and find a way to make your customer laugh or be engaged and then find ways to weave your brand into that without like, “And now a cut from our sponsors.” As soon as that comes on, everyone turns off. And the same goes for the knowledge. It’s like, fine… Whoa, there was such an awesome book I read. I read this maybe like four years ago. I have to look up the title. And it’s about all of the brand collaborations that have happened, and how even before influencer marketing, it was about brands working together and finding ways to weave their stories together so that they would create a more authentic ad if you will,” he said.

Don’t get him wrong, though, Cole still believes in the power of ads, just when they’re done correctly.

“You know to be clear, ads still work, right? Like, Facebook ads are great. I guess the thing that I just want people to understand is if you’re gonna take an ad budget and put it somewhere, put it behind a piece of content that doesn’t look like an ad,” he said.

To get more of Cole’s insights on marketing and appealing to Generation Z, follow him at Nicolascole77 and check out nicolascole.com.

Key Takeaways:

  •  “The biggest thing that I’ve noticed it has to do with this idea of access where I think, the millennial generation they wanna know things when they wanna know them or they want to meet people when they want to meet them or they want to create their own schedule when they wanna create it” Cole at 2:10
  •  “A lot of millennials are kind of boxed in and coined as these people that they don’t wanna learn, they just scroll through Instagram all day. But really, they do wanna learn.” Cole at 3:51
  •  “It’s like if you have your main thing being a site or a product or an app or whatever and the usability of it, the actual experience of it gets compromised just so you can put an ad there or you think that like that’s the better way to reach someone. It’s almost like they’re still not hearing it, that no one’s paying attention to that ad” Cole at 10:10
  •  “A great example of how to “sell” in today’s economy is like, you’re not telling someone, “Go buy this,” you’re sharing something of value and then saying, “And by the way, it’s here if you want it.”” Cole at 12:07
  •  “The reason influencer marketing is becoming so popular is because it is one of the first marketing strategies if you will, where you’re not telling the consumer, “Go buy this.” You’re saying, “You already like this thing. Here’s my story. First person. This is me. And, oh, by the way, this thing’s here if you want it. Anyway, back to the story…”” Cole at 13:19
  •  “People go online for two reasons, they either wanna be entertained or they wanna learn” Cole at 17:14
Here is a transcript of the whole conversation. Some of this will not appear in the final podcast.

Amy: Welcome to the Brandboom Podcast where we discuss trends and share tips and stories from the savviest retail brands. My guest today as Nicolas Cole Mather. So he goes by the name of Cole. I’m just gonna keep calling him Cole for the rest of the podcast. He’s an expert on branding and marketing to, specifically, Generation Z. And he’s an amazing, prolific writer with more than 200 columns for Inc. Magazine alone. Cole, I’m super excited to have you here. Welcome to the podcast.

Cole: So I think the best way to think about it is to frame it in the context of access. Really, the millennial generation, I’m a millennial. If you noticed, the big controversy is that everyone says millennials want what they want, when they want it which is usually right now. But if you… From my perspective, because I’ve written about millennials in the workplace a lot and I’ve interviewed all the go-to millennial experts, and I’ve talked to the Fortune 500 CEOs. And I really try, and whenever I get interested in something I like to tackle it from every perspective.

And the biggest thing that I’ve noticed it has to do with this idea of access where I think, the millennial generation they wanna know things when they wanna know them or they want to meet people when they want to meet them or they want to create their own schedule when they wanna create it. So it’s having the freedom, yes, that’s kinda how everybody else frames it, is like millennials just want freedom and that usually means in that context like not working.

But the way that I’ve come to see it as it has a lot more to do with access and if you see a lot of the companies that are trying to attract millennial talent, what they do is they misunderstand that idea of access and try and replace it with things like, “We’re gonna provide Ping-Pong tables,” or “Everybody can sit in a nice comfy chair while they work on their laptop,” or “We have an open bar on Fridays.” And like, those things are cool and they certainly maybe make the environment feel a little bit more comfortable or even younger, but in reality, that’s not really what a millennial “is after.” What they’re after is, it’s access to things that they might not be able to get on their own. So for example, if a company goes, “We wanna be very millennial driven.” If you will really go after young talent, maybe that access is, “Hey, once a quarter we take everybody to a cool, like, vacation spot and do our work there for a long weekend.” Like, that’s not just a getaway or a vacation to a millennial, that’s access to a spot or a place that they wouldn’t be able to get you on their own necessarily. Maybe it’s too expensive or none of their friends wanna go there, so with their company, it makes sense. And so, if you kinda flip the equation too on the other side, access isn’t just from a pleasure perspective but also knowledge. A lot of millennials are kind of boxed in and coined as these people that they don’t wanna learn, they just scroll through Instagram all day. But really, they do wanna learn. And if you can give them access to people that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, they’re gonna feel really appreciative of that. And so you have these like huge companies that instead of sitting back and thinking, and I’ll admit, Gary V. does a great job. You have to give him credit because he has understood this idea and he goes, “Even though I’m the CEO of this huge company, I’m still going to find little ways even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes to connect with the most entry-level person there.” And that’s access. And so you have these massive companies that instead of thinking about how to do that, they just throw money at the problem and go, “All right. Well, let’s just buy a bunch of Ping-Pong tables and we’ll have kegs on Fridays. And let’s make it a super fun young environment.” But that’s really not what it’s about.

Amy: Those are really, really good insights from you. And honestly, myself as a millennial, I feel the same way. And I value a lot in what my company can provide to the employees who are Generation Z and millennials that are working with us. We give them great benefits but we definitely don’t have kegs on tap and everything, but we have lunch where everyone sits around we have our all-hands meeting where we actually share data around what we’ve learned about the company and such and the CEO’s right there to answer everyone’s questions if they have any. So those are the things that I think really brings about the workforce that will really motivate this generation.

So if we kind of turn this around to think about from a marketing perspective, because a lot of our listeners from Brandboom are brands that are building, not only a company culture that probably full of millennials and Gen Z, but they’re also trying to, at the same time, market their products to the millennials and the Gen Z demographic. So, you’ve written a lot about that as well. You said a lot about how they are receiving information through their mobile devices, but they, as you have said, as an analogy to the workforce, they also very much value the credibility factor that they receive from their entertainment sources such as YouTube. They are going there for entertainment but they’re also going there, for instance, as a learning opportunity to increase their knowledge on a specific topic. So when we’re talking about marketing to this type of generation and this demographic, what are your thoughts around how can a brand come out as more authentic or really speak to this generation through these type of channels and mediums?

Cole: First, let me frame where I come from with my perspective, because as much as I’m a marketer and over the past few years, I’ve really established myself in the element of personal branding or speaking into millennials or Gen Z and what not. I’m really an artist first. That’s really how I got started. I went to school for creative writing. I just wanted to write books. That was really it. I didn’t study advertising. I didn’t grow up thinking I was gonna be the next Don Draper and play Mad Men. I wanted to write books and I wanted to share my story and in order to do that in today’s day and age, I needed to learn how to market myself. And in the process of marketing myself in my writing and because I really learned and understood digital writing, specifically how to write on the internet, once I started getting momentum there, then I had all these people coming and being like, “Wow, you really understand marketing. You understand how to market yourself.” And now like, this podcast is a perfect example, right? Now I’m on a marketing podcast explaining my perspective, but where I come from, is this whole idea of make something that matters first and then figure out how to market that.

So if you go back to the whole idea of access, to me, there are so many quick wins that huge companies are missing out on. I don’t think the big, big brands are fully… I don’t think they fully get it yet where if someone that’s a millennial, and I’m 27. So if someone 27, 30 but like below, like 22 or 15, if they go to your site and it doesn’t load properly for 15 seconds, they’re gone. I will go to a certain site or I will go and like, “Oh, that’s a really cool article,” and then I’ll click on it and it’s like, and now my phone is spazzing in front of me because there’s four different ads trying to load at the same time. I’m gone. I’m never coming back. And that’s like, there’s this huge knowledge gap where brands and… I mean, like everything, right? Like publishers, even YouTube is like they’re struggling with this. You’ve got digital ad fraud going on. They’re all trying to figure out, “How do we stay alive?” specifically if you’re monetizing through ads like that. And also like, “Where do we invest our money?” If you have your main thing being a site or a product or an app or whatever and the usability of it, the actual experience of it gets compromised just so you can put an ad there or you think that like that’s the better way to reach someone. It’s almost like they’re still not hearing it, that no one’s paying attention to that ad. No one. So when you talk about reaching these younger demographics, it’s like, “Okay, well, where…” The older mentality is, “Well, let’s just keep pumping money into ads because the more times we hit someone then they’re more likely to convert.” And really, it’s like the complete opposite. The younger that you get, the less it has to do with seeing an ad and the more it has to do with what’s the experience of me actually using the thing and then that’s gonna determine me telling someone else about it or me being really loyal to it.

Cole: I would say this is the biggest shift in terms of selling, right? And this is something that I’ve seen even from myself. In the process, I’m building a company right now that offers thought leadership to CEOs. So what we are is it’s a ghostwriting agency and we hop on the phone with the CEO or an entrepreneur or a keynote speaker. We bring questions to the table that they want to answer that we think would make for great articles, we’d listen, we write it for them, and then we give it back to them, and then we post it. A great example of how to “sell” in today’s economy is like, you’re not telling someone, “Go buy this,” you’re sharing something of value and then saying, “And by the way, it’s here if you want it.” And so if you look at the press world which is a perfect example, you’ll have all of these PR companies that it’s a very old in the industry, and they go, “Hey, the better way to sell your company or sell your product is to go get some other person to write about how great you are.” Okay, nobody’s reading that. Like, literally nobody. And then the opposite, which is what I’ve done for myself, and now I’m starting like, it’s what works. It’s what people do wanna know, is if you have the CEO themselves telling the story or saying, “This is how I built my company. This is what it was like when I didn’t know if I was gonna be able to bring this idea to fruition 10 years ago. Oh, and by the way, this is what we do. It’s here if you want it. Anyway, back to my story…” That’s how you sell something today. And people don’t get that. And so if you go to younger generation, Gen Z, like, the reason influencer marketing is becoming so popular is because it is one of the first marketing strategies if you will, where you’re not telling the consumer, “Go buy this.” You’re saying, “You already like this thing. Here’s my story. First person. This is me. And, oh, by the way, this thing’s here if you want it. Anyway, back to the story…”

And that’s, like, that’s what makes it so compelling and it’s not disruptive or it doesn’t step on the toes of the consumer. They don’t sit there and go, “My experience was just bothered by an ad.” It’s just part of it. It’s there if I’m on it. And so, when you’re talking or explaining to big brands how do you reach the younger people, it’s like, you have to completely change your mentality. It’s not just this single voice outward being like, “Go do this. Go buy this.” It’s, you have to figure out what they’re already willing to pay attention to and finding a creative way to weave your brand or your story into that narrative. And unfortunately, most people, they are not that creative.

Amy: So that’s the Brandboom Podcast for today. Visit us on SoundCloud for new episodes and go to brandboom.us for show notes and more. I’m Amy Zhou and thanks again for listening.

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