Connor Blakley is an entrepreneur, a Fortune 500 consultant, and popular speaker who's delivered presentations on a range of topics including youth marketing, personal branding, and social media.

He's also 17 years old.

I met Connor about a year ago, after reading an article he wrote. I was impressed with his ability to identify what so many companies get wrong about engaging with customers, namely, their failure to make an emotional connection.

For example, Connor relates a marketing epiphany he had while hanging out with friends in his basement one evening:

"As conversation turned dry, most of us turned to social media to catch up on what we missed while playing basketball all day. As the noise level dropped and my friends focused on their phones, I noticed something. They were scrolling through their feeds (Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook) at an insanely fast rate, only periodically pausing to pay attention to something that was interesting to them.

"I suddenly realized, the attention graph for consumers is decreasing rapidly."

But is the problem that most brands have no clue how to tell a good story? Or is it that our attention span has been reduced to that of a goldfish?

Connor believes it's both.

So how do companies get better?

"We want nothing more than to be engaged with as a human," he says. "We want to know 'the why.' Stir up our emotions. Tell a story. Of course, older generations value this as much as younger ones. But the Millennial and Gen-Z attention graph (through social media) is so much smaller, you have a very small margin for error. So you need to make sure you do it right while you have the chance."

Of course, marketing can get you only so far. "Nobody wants to buy something that adds no value--whether you're 10 years old or a 100," says Connor. But beyond a great product, it matters how you tell the story. "We're all sick of being sold on every single post. Don't talk at us; talk with us."

Chubbies shorts: a case study in honest marketing.

Like so many people, Connor believes companies should be honest and transparent. That advice may sound cliché, but the truth is few companies today demonstrate an understanding of what those terms mean to the consumer.

Who does he think is doing it right?

"If I could pick a brand that resonates best with Gen-Z, it would be Chubbies [a startup that sells men's shorts]. They have created a powerful brand message that resonates with Gen-Z.

"Chubbies' brand message is transparency at its finest--because it portrays a reality rather than a fantasy. Unlike the models in many advertising campaigns, where the models included are what society deems "beautiful" or "hot," Chubbies realizes the majority of people don't look like that! Which is why they use exactly the opposite of what you expect to see from a model in their ads."

In addition, Chubbies has built a strong reputation for surpassing customer service, clear and hassle-free policies, and a relentless focus on valuable content. The results of that honest message? Despite being around for only a few years, the brand has built a following that includes:

"One thing I always say is that it is easier to sell to a friend than it is to a stranger," Connor explains. "Being human is so important. So often through social platforms we see companies selling, selling, and selling some more...Nothing is cooler than when a personal brand or company replies or acknowledges your comment or engages with something you're interested in."

I believe Connor succeeds because he gets down to the basics. His advice is simple--tell a great story, cultivate the relationship, use emotions to grab people's attention--but he knows how to execute better than most.

And maybe therein lays the greatest lesson Connor can teach big brands:

Stop making it so hard, guys. Even a 17-year-old can do it.

Published on: Oct 31, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.