Nature vs nurture: Businesses must adapt to survive the millennial generation

"A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention" claims Nobel Prize Winning Economist Herbert Simon. Every minute, Facebook users share around 2.5 million pieces of content, 350,000 Tweets and 300 hours of YouTube video. So how can brands encourage the current generation to hold their gaze?

Advances in technology have given everyone the power to become a publisher, leading to a world that is saturated by information and lacking in brand loyalty. Gone are the days of impenetrable brands - we are already seeing the early Internet giants such as AOL or Blackberry brought to their knees - and engaging consumers has become a critical challenge for businesses.

In terms of engagement, the millennials have a clear message:  only one per cent say they put their trust in advertising. You need to offer them something tangible, something they feel they can gain from. As a result, brands are being told that, to survive, they need to invest in "content" as a strategy.

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This has put many brands under pressure to churn out content, but too often they are doing so without considering its purpose, its audience or its goal. In many cases, no single owner is taking responsibility for the quality of that content and this can be a costly mistake if customers start to switch off. 

Some brands, however, are built to thrive in this environment. These are the disruptive businesses developed from the ground up in the time of the online, on-demand economy. These are the brands catering for the fast-paced, digitally-savvy, socially-conscious millennials who will form 75 per cent the UK’s workforce by 2020.

Take Airbnb, a company designed to meet a market need and tap into the humanity of today’s online consumer. In six short years it has gone from start-up to $10bn business, revolutionising the rules of holiday rentals along the way. Its content is as innovative as its disruptive business model, as demonstrated by the decision to go against the status quo of digital and maintain a presence in the world of print.

The result is Pineapple, a 128-page, ad-free magazine hosting a variety of travel features from three of the company’s most popular destinations: London, San Francisco and Seoul. Describing Pineapple as a crossroads between ‘travel and anthropology’, AirBnB clearly understands its millennial audience. To them, the package holiday is dead – they want to ‘belong anywhere’ and be part of an authentic experience. Pineapple, full of stories from local people, paints a vivid picture of cultural reality via carefully crafted content – enabling Airbnb’s customers to achieve their desired grassroots fantasy.

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Bigger and older behemoths, formed prior to Generation Y, don’t have the same infrastructure and urgently need to bend to the requirements of the growing millennial audience in order to remain competitive. 

Evolution is possible however. Take Selfridges, a brand founded in 1909 - almost a century before the digital revolution and the birth of the Millennials. Selfridges has worked incredibly hard to stay current, keeping up with the times and remaining interesting and superior to other department stores by investing in everything from art installations for their high street stores to tailoring its website content.

In an effort to ensure that the customer is smoothly guided through their purchasing journey, the Selfridges communications team have produced a selection of chic and historically reflective inspired pages. For example, the "10 reasons why we love the 70s trend" took inspiration from a classic 1975 Vogue issue and just a click behind the surface lies the retail site, essential for online product purchasing.

The retailer’s latest financial results announced their highest operating profit in its history.

Ultimately, the explosion of the Internet economy has created unprecedented challenges for consumer brands. The audience is changing and so is the way they consume information. Some businesses have been born from this change, with digital content an innate part of their business composition.

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Others have to learn how to use content, adjusting their business model accordingly. Competition is tough and the millennials are unforgiving so the current trendsetters shouldn’t be complacent either. The innovators of today should stay mindful that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs could tip them off their pedestal at any time.

Ed Bussey is CEO and Founder of Quill

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Please see for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.


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