Interview: Carol Phillips on Millenial Marketing, Changing the World and Social Media Mad Men


carolphillips_brandamplitude_socialnerdiaCarol Phillips is a Notre Dame Marketing professor, Millennial marketing expert, and Founder/President of the consulting firm Brand Amplitude. I had the opportunity to chat with her on "The Social Nerdia Show!" yesterday. You can stream the show in its entirety below, stream it on blogtalkradio, and subscribe to the iTunes podcast.



Carol started teaching Notre Dame sophomores in 2003 and she quickly realized that this generation, often called Gen Y, was "very different". While she expected Millenials to be very marketing savvy, she realized that they did not know that much about marketing and that inspired an article she wrote for AdAge in 2007. It was that article about what college students don't know about marketing that introduced me to Carol's work and writings.

Her blog describes Millenials as the group that outnumbers Baby Boomers and is determined to change the world. The idea of "changing the world" resonates with me so I asked Carol to elaborate on this. "Globally, when they do studies of Millenials, of what's most characteristic about them, the thing that comes back is the Obama optimism, a passion to want to make a difference."

Millenials have been called many things, both positive and negative but the fact is that, as Carol told me, "Each generation reinterprets being young a little differently.. based on where they grew up, parenting techniques, the economy, significant events." And not everything that is said about Millenials is true. "There are an awful lot of stereotypes.. There's a positive flip side for all of those (negative things); another way of looking at entitlement is confidence."

millenials_collegestudents_socialnerdia"Millenials are often shocked at how people interpret their actions. You see this a lot with Millenials entering the workforce with very high expectations and I'm not so sure that's a terrible thing, but they get misinterpreted, particularly by Gen Xers. There's some friction that's developing in the workforce," Carol added.

Some people believe Millenials are similar to Baby Boomers, but Carol told me that while "they get along great and share some values and are able to take about them," the similarities between them "have been overrated." The incredible thing is that Gen Y not only "likes their parents," but they are also moving back in with them, which is something that wasn't even an option for many Baby Boomers when they were in their 20's. "We're moving to a more traditional model of multiple generations living under one roof," Carol explained.

Regarding what Millenials consider when entering the workplace, Carol said that "at the top is this idea of balance, they do not expect their jobs to define their lives." She then brought up the fantastic example of Ryan, Pam and Jim on the TV show "The Office" (which was airing as we spoke) and how different those Gen Y characters are from Michael (who obviously finds his identity completely integrated with his job).

Carol also shared that her students at Notre Dame don't like ambiguity and that they work hard because they want to excel. These difficult times have made it difficult for them, especially those graduating this year. She explained that the job market is not under their control and that while she thinks "the recession has changed them for good," she also knows that "it has been very hard for everyone", especially because many of the students that are not able to get a job today would've received several offers just some years ago. "It's going to take a toll on them psychologically."

millenialmarketing_socialnerdiaThe recession and other drastic changes in consumer behavior make it difficult for marketers to keep track of trends. Still, Carol points out that "social media has made it a little easier and it is an exciting time to be in market research." Even without much social media efforts, some brands like Apple and luxury goods have managed to get much love from young consumers and Carol believes that marketers "need to be able to position things as necessities" without trying to mislead or lie to young consumers.

On Facebook, Carol said that the social network continues to be a place where people are social with friends. "Products can be there and they have learned to behave more like friends," which has made it OK for brands and people to coexist on social networks. Sponsored tweets and messages might not be very well taken though."I find it kind of offensive that someone would be paid to endorse a product and not be upfront about it."

Carol also said that "marketing is figuring out what the consumer wants and giving it to them. The consumer is smart. Companies and celebrities have to be careful with their brand."

At some point I went on a tangent about what the world would be like without the abundance of advertising and shared about how my initial reaction to Kanye West's unique appearance at the MTV VMA's was the assumption that it was carefully planned. Carol laughed and said, "It is very Millenial to be cynical about marketing." It is very Millenial indeed. Side note: I'm guessing Millenials are the source of cynical videos like this "great" YouTube video about Apple keynotes.

All the talk about Gen Y made me wonder about the generation after my own. Those in Generation Y knew much more about technology than their parents (I personally can attest to this), but Carol thinks this "is not going to be true of the next generation." The next generation, which includes kids up to 13 years old and might be too young to make assumptions about, is already incredibly tech-savvy. She also believes that this group is going to take the idea of "making a difference to a whole new level. The values they absorbed in terms of the environment and social justice, they're going to take that Millenial agenda and drive it home."

socialmedia_madmen_socialnerdia-copyCarol shared that while she didn't start her advertising career in the Mad Men era and loves the show, she did begin in a similar environment. She is excited about how marketing has changed over the years, but she in a little concerned about how we view things like social media. Just as the advertisers in Mad Men have departments that were focused entirely on TV and saw it as such a revolutionary concept, we often see social media in ways that are too focused in the present. Carol thinks marketers should focus on solutions instead of creating departments for every next big thing.

"Social Media is not strategic; it's one more tool. It isn't a thing by itself; it is another way to communicate."

Marketers need to be agnostic about how they do marketing. Just as TV did not displace radio, social media will not displace television. Even though sometimes it seems like traditional media is going away, the fact is that media of all kinds will change and potentially merge, but they will not disappear.

And our Millenial desire to change the world? Well, that's not going to disappear either.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.