This article forms part of the Youth Month 2016 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of June, will shine the spotlight on youth issues and highlight the work of young entrepreneurs and innovators who are shaping SA’s future.
Young people are key to numerous markets.
“They are often the trendsetters,” says Bradley Maseko, “Once they catch up on your brand or your service and they like it, it’s easy for them to make it viral to the extent that other age groups slowly start catching up onto it.”
Maseko knows this all too well, he is the founder of BrandedYouth, a youth marketing agency founded in 2009 which facilitates relationships between brands and the youth market.
This is the man that companies like Standard Bank, WeChat and Hyundai talk to when they need to connect in an authentic and profitable way to the youth market.
“The youth are also the early adopters for most products and services and as such most businesses and brands take note of this and target them first,” he says.
South Africa has a large youth segment made up of individuals between 14 and 35 years and constitutes 41.2% (20.5 million) of the total population and are often said to be the most elusive customers and many businesses struggle to connect with this market.
But how can you get young people to connect with your brand?
“At BrandedYouth, we believe that great strategies are not developed in the boardroom, but rather by the people being targeted on the ground,” Maseko says.
BrandedYouth conducts an annual study called the Youth Psyche Report covering Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
This research, Maseko says, allows them to interact with the youth to get their in-depth attitude and perceptions.
“The study covers several sectors such as advertising, social media, traditional media, lifestyle and youth culture. Put simply, we let the youth tell us how they want the brands to communicate with them,” he says.
For youth by youth
Maseko (32), founded BrandedYouth at the age of 26 in 2009. The company is a 100% youth agency with all directors and employees under the age of 35.
He says the reason behind this strategy is that in order to fully develop strategies for the youth, it’s important that we take a step back and end the tradition of over 35-year-olds advising how to engage with under 35-year-olds.
BrandedYouth has eight permanent employees, but on any given day has youth all over the country on a part-time basis given the different projects that they undertake in the respective provinces. BrandedYouth targets brands and organisations that wish to engage and effectively communicate with the youth market.
“We act as an intermediary between brands and the South African youth,” Maseko says.
SME South Africa speaks to Maseko about how they have managed to tap into the youth zeitgeist and become the voice of today’s young people and what SMEs can do to nurture brand loyalty within this market.
BrandedYouth engaging with young people.
Aiming to solve a big problem
When he founded the company, Maseko says he was hoping to help solve two big problems.
Firstly, it was a communication problem. He says most businesses and brands were failing to create effective engagement strategies and failed to truly understand the youth and their needs.
“The idea was to assist them with in-depth insights and assist them develop effective communication strategies.”
The second problem was the employment issue in South Africa.
“Given that the country is hit by a high rate of unemployment and the majority of the unemployed are the youth, my idea was to run a business by the youth for the youth. A business that offers youth services while at the same time providing them with employment,” he says.
Big brands ignore the youth market at their peril
Maseko says some of the biggest things he’s learnt about the youth is that they invest in brands that invest in them and are very tech savvy.
“The youth can make or break a brand,” he says, “The youth caught onto Blackberry and BBM and made it an amazing brand and beyond some point when the brand failed to invest in innovation and other brands such as Apple and Samsung started to pump more money in innovation and ultimately become “cooler”, their cool effect got the attention of the youth and with time Blackberry went from being the coolest brand in the youth market to a brand that is not mentioned.”
Why businesses struggle to connect with millennials and GenZ
Maseko puts it down to a to lack of insights.
“Businesses still focus on old engagement strategies that they used a decade ago and assume that they will get the same results,” he says and adds, “They refuse to understand that the mindset of the youth 10 years ago and now is totally different. The ability of the youth to actually make or break your brand is different now than it was then.”
Businesses and brands need to invest more in research to get a greater understanding of the youth market, Maseko says.
Moving from brand awareness to brand loyalty
Maseko says big brands need to create memorable experiences for the youth.
“More than just advertising and activations, they need to show the youth that they have their life interests at heart. Experiences such as assisting with small business development, graduate recruitment programs and bursaries for the youth do not go unnoticed. The youth invest in brands that invest in them,” he says.
Engaging with the youth 101
With seven years already under the belt at the helm of BrandedYouth, Maseko has become somewhat of a youth-whisperer, able to tap into the psyche of today’s millennials and GenZs. He shares his top three strategies to help businesses stand out from the crowd and effectively grab the attention of young consumers.
This is how you get the youth market’s attention
Identify a particular segment within the youth market – There are different segments in the youth market. You need to identify what type of “youth” you want to target. Never assume that all youth can be classified as one.
Speak their language – You need to make your brand or service resonate with them, speak to them in their language and you will have a captive audience. If your message is generalised it will fall with all the clutter and will be ignored.
Identify your cool factor – Young people buy into ‘cool’. The cool factor plays a big role in the youth culture. If your brand is “cool” they’ll want to be associated with it.
3 ways businesses can help young entrepreneurs
Engage – Get to meet them, get research done and gain insights on the different businesses that there are starting, understand why they are failing and what will be needed by the entrepreneurs to survive.
Educate – Inform them on the different platforms that can give them tools of survival. From financial advice, Tax Returns, HR to specific skills development for the different industries.
Empower – Provide them with industry contracts to enable them to meet their overheads, pay employees and make profit.
Other important ways big businesses can help young entrepreneurs, Maseko says, is to provide them with credit facilities and easy terms that will assist with their cash flow and yet still not leave them with a lot of credit to pay off.
“Provide them with mentorship from industry leaders that have made it in the respective industries, mentors that will not only give advise but also assist them in finding new business,” he says.