First, the findings. Viacom Velocity just released a report from a study exploring how popular culture gets shaped as the lines between brands, celebrities, fans, and mass media have steadily faded. That research forms the basis of Velocity's documentary, "The Culture of Proximity," a fascinating look at what happens when groups that once existed separately start to merge and behave similarly -- in other words, when customers start acting like brands, and fans start acting like stars.)

Velocity broke down their findings into these key themes:

1. The conjoint effect:

Brands, celebrities, fans, and content creators have started acting like one another other -- brands are people, and people are brands. For example:

  • 50 percent of Millennials believe their life should be made into a movie (sorry, but I had to highlight this one)
  • Nearly half feel like they know their favorite celebrity, and one third of those say their favorite celebrity is like a friend or family member (and this one too)
  • Only 11 percent of Millennials do not like when brands have online personalities, as if they were real people

2. New centers of gravity:

The risks and rewards of shared influence -- proximity puts people on the same playing field as the creators of mass culture. For example:

  • 61 percent of Millennials say they can influence popular culture
  • 86 percent of Millennials believe that fans have some ownership of the things they're fans of

3. The new intimacy:

People live with only one degree of separation from everything -- the difference between "in real life" and virtual is blurry, and true intimacy is possible without physical proximity. For example:

  • 73 percent of Millennials have made friends with people online or through social media because of a shared passion
  • More than half say they could fall in love with someone they only know online
  • When asked "Which of the following group or groups of people do you trust?"
    • 68 percent said people online with a shared interest or cause
    • 58 percent said people my age
    • 56 percent said people in my community
    • 29 percent said news media
    • 21 percent said government

4. The filtered me:

The idea of authenticity is being rewritten. The ways people create and broadcast their identities continues to shift, and they are often negotiating the difference between showing the best versions of themselves and the authentic lives they lead. For example:

  • 70 percent of Millennials choose activities that will give them items to post (couldn't resist highlighting this one either) and almost one third admit they post things that make their life look better than it is (I'm surprised that number isn't a lot higher; who tries to make their life look worse?)
  • One third say brands are as honest as people try to be
  • Millennials say it is OK to publicly share:
    • Mental illness: 70 percent
    • Coming out: 70 percent
    • Going to rehab: 55 percent
    • Having a miscarriage: 50 percent

Now take a second and get all the "Millennials are so self-absorbed" jokes out of your system.

I know that's hard if you're of a certain age (read: mine.) The thought that my life is worth being made into a movie? Ha. The idea that I would participate in certain activities just because that would give me something cool to post on social media? Double ha.

What's important is that Millenials clearly feel they have influence on the people around them, both physically and in "social" circles. And they eel they are influenced by those same people.

In fact, they want to be influenced by people they trust -- they're more likely to trust people with a shared interest than they do their friends.

And they look for cool experiences, not just because they will enjoy the experience but because they want to share it with others.

That's great news for your brand -- if, of course, you provide a great experience, work to build a sense of community among your customers, and take positions that let them identify with you. In short, be more than just a company that sells things.

As Dharmesh Shah of HubSpot says, "Many companies have forgotten they sell to actual people. Humans care about the entire experience, not just marketing or sales or service. To really win in the modern age, you must solve for humans. Every process should be optimized for what is best for the customer -- not your organization."

That's not true only for Millenials, of course. Millennials want to be influenced by people they trust. Millennials want cool experiences. Millennials want to share those cool experiences. And granted, while many Millennials think their lives should be a movie, what that really means is they want their lives to have meaning.

Sounds just like the rest of us.

Published on: Apr 21, 2017
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