Creating the right connections for your brands

Shaun Weston30 Jul 2010

© Keef Andrew/Flickr

Bryan Urbick on how our era of connectivity is impacting on children, the first generation to have grown up knowing no different.

Connectivity has always been a key part of human nature. Our ancient ancestors connected and formed tribes, and we still instinctively deem connectivity to be one of the single most important facets in our social lives. Yet, connectivity as we've always known it seems to have shifted out of all proportion. It's becoming increasingly ?virtual? each day. And though from the outside the change may appear subtle, the effects are numerous and far-reaching.

As the world becomes more connected, consumers have developed an expectation that brands and products will do the same. Despite the fact that this connectivity is for the greater part arti?cial and contrived, it still represents at some level ?connection?. To those of us who have witnessed the technological evolution, there's still very much a sense of wonder at the speed technology has transformed (and continues to transform) our lives. Yet, to children – the ?rst generation to have grown up with this virtual connectivity at their very core – it can appear to be the only real way to interact. This in turn is creating an unusual backlash, which, in hindsight, makes sense, but dif?cult to have predicted.

This sense of connectivity that children are gaining via technology has, to a certain degree, left them craving for 'real' connections. There's a sense of not having enough ?genuine? connection – after all, technology can?t replace a proper face-to-face relationship. This void is only just starting to emerge, driving young people to crave ?real? and ?genuine? and ?deeper?.

Concurrently (and somewhat paradoxically), they're also looking for bigger thrills, more exciting experiences and even new ways of connecting. Obviously, this needs to be kept within context, and adults need to ensure that kids are getting a good balance of one-on-one, real, in-person relationships too. However, at a branding level, it offers an ideal opportunity to rebuild new and meaningful connections, and perhaps ?ll the emerging void.

One of the sectors that has already started recognising the value of readdressing the way brands can connect with the youth market is the food and beverages industry. Some of those who have pinpointed this need for true connections have very cleverly de?ned the value of hyper-personalisation. Take Jones Soda in North America. By encouraging consumers to send in their favourite photos to appear on its labels for all to see, it captured people?s thirst for creating their own identity. This style of personalisation has given children, tweens and teens the type of vehicle they crave to express their individuality. It responds to that need for authentic connectivity with a brand.

While hyper-personalisation is one way of 'cosying' up to the youth market, encouraging them to take a greater part in sharing experiences with their friends is another way to their hearts (and stomachs).

The connector kids

Kids use social media as if they were born to it, which, to a certain extent, they practically are. As such, spouting about their latest discoveries, their latest ??nds? and their latest experiences is one of the things they love to do best. In other words, they're natural ?connectors? and ?mavens? – it simply depends on their character. But it isn't only a vehicle for one-way communication that they desire, they also want responsiveness and reactions; to have someone (or some brand) show they care. The challenge is that they also want it immediately, because they have experienced from technology an immediate grati?cation.

The ?connector kid? will want to share with his various circles of friends the fantastic news that a favourite restaurant is offering free soft drinks when purchasing something else. They will be brand messengers if they see something to give them credibility as the one ?in the know?, but also of real value to his/her friends. If there was an incentive to do so, that's even better, but the true connector actually just wants his friends to sit up and pay attention when he tells them about the new ?avour of crisps he's just tried.

The maven kids

The maven kid, on the other hand, is more interested in offering advice on how he sees and experiences the world. Ultimately, the maven kid will develop a gathering that respects his choices.

Understanding this psychology in kids makes marketing to them really fun, and the more fun it is, the more likely they are to gravitate towards a brand. Kids are not easily made loyal, but give them their dues, they'll have a go if their friends enthuse about the latest ?latte-?avoured? gum, and if they can somehow apply a little of their own identity to the brand and brand experience, they most de?nitely will want to shout about it.

Bryan Urbick is founder and CEO of the Consumer Knowledge Centre in the UK.