Brand Strategy And Politics: A New World

Walker SmithDecember 10, 20124 min

This is the second of three posts on the brand marketing lessons to be learned from the recently-concluded Presidential election. The first can be found here.

There is one thing in particular about the recent election results that Baby Boomers should take care not to overlook. The world Boomers live in nowadays is no longer their own.

This is to say that, as a group, Boomers voted one way; young people voted another. Exit polling data from Pew found that 60 percent of voters under 30 voted for President Obama while only 48 percent of voters 30 and older voted that way. Contrast this with 1980. Reagan captured 56 percent of the under-30 vote, along with 62 percent of the 30-and-over vote. In other words, in 1980, young Boomers, as a group, voted the same way as their parents. Not so in 2012.

This generational divergence was first seen in the 2004 race between Kerry and Bush. In that year, 54 percent of under-30 voters voted for Kerry versus 47 percent of over-30 voters. But it has only been in the last two elections with Obama that the political preferences of young people have overwhelmed those of older voters.

As far back as McGovern versus Nixon in 1972, young people and older people have swung the same way politically (with the one exception of Clinton versus Dole in 1996), barely differing in proportions in most elections. No longer. In the last three Presidential elections, young voters have marched to a completely different drummer, and now older voters must make do in a world at odds with their overall preference.

The sort of ascendance of Millennials is an unprecedented generational phenomenon. Boomers came of age with new values but the same politics as older people; so, too, GenX. Millennials are the first generation since the end of WW2 to start off with a completely different politics than their elders, and they are doing so in such numbers that their preferences are dictating terms for everyone else. What is true of politics is true of brand marketing as well.

Boomers have been the dominant force on the scene for decades, but Millennials are now leading the way. This is most apparent in technology, the key thing driving innovation and business models in every category. Boomers are fast followers of every technological innovation, but Millennials and Millennial tastes are channeling the flow of technology in directions they prefer. Boomers live in a world built for Millennials.

In fact, this unseating of traditional power brokers in both politics and the marketplace goes beyond generations. As the recent election made clear, the demographics of diversity are now in control. Exit polls conducted by CNN found that Obama won 93 percent of the African-American vote and 71 percent of the Hispanic vote, but only 39 percent of the white vote. This is noteworthy because the 2010 census found that 92percent of the population growth in the U.S. during the prior decade was accounted for by minorities, Hispanics in particular.

Generation and diversity intersect. Young people are much more racially and ethnically diverse than older people, a difference that is only going to become more pronounced.

In 2011, for the first time in U.S. history, non-white newborns outnumbered white newborns.

The fact that diversity is ascendant as a correlate of the rise of the next generation of consumers means that Boomers now find themselves at a perilous crossroads. At the very moment Boomers need to bear down and stay engaged with work and the marketplace, the marketplace is veering away from them. With contours unlike any seen before, older people must come to terms with a world not of their making. Brand marketers, too.

Numbers are the reason cited most often as the biggest reason that diversity matters, but while enormously important, that is actually the smaller part of the story. The real significance of diversity becoming the mainstream marketplace is that it adds momentum to the on-going shift to a marketplace utterly dominated by microtargeting. The absence of a shared experience of big culture deprives brand marketers of the commonality of connection needed to build a master brand. In effect, this will make all branding, even in the home U.S. market, a form of multi-country global branding.

As outlined in a Future Perspectives white paper from The Futures Company called The Future of Global Brands, the first generation of global brand marketing was an export model in which master brands were taken unchanged to other countries and mostly managed from the home country. This gave way to a second-generation in-country model with local managers handling local affairs. The third-generation standardization model was centered on the idea of cosmopolitan consumers with cross-country similarities. The fourth-generation glocalization model involved local customization of a global master brand.

The current fifth-generation co-creation model involves an explicit collaboration between brand owners and local markets. Rather than customizing a global concept for a local market, co-creation means an iterative, interactive process whereby the very concept of the brand itself arises bottom-up and, by virtue of this conception, is specific to individual market situations.

The model of co-creation fits today’s global economy in which a brand must be different everywhere because individual cultures, not a shared big culture, predominate. Globalization has not globalized tastes; instead, it has had the paradoxical effect of unleashing localism. This reality of the global marketplace is now being replicated in the U.S. marketplace by the demographic force of diversity. No less than separate cultures, separate sub-cultures require that a brand be different everywhere. Even in the home U.S. market, diversity will require that brands co-create multiple versions to fit cultural groups with distinctive tastes and preferences. What’s true for the global economy is now true for the U.S. economy. The next generation of both marketing and consumers is now in control.

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