Graham Brown is an industry analyst, business author and public speaker based in the UK. He is also the Director of mobileYouth – a research advisory firm founded in 2001. Their aim is to connect the youth with companies in order to provide helpful customer insight. We spoke to Graham about the great work that mobileYouth is doing and how he thinks the youth will impact technology in the future.
Tell us about mobileYouth and how it came about.
I’m a psychologist, digital anthropologist and cultural explorer. mobileYouth, therefore, has become my natural home. We got our start when I was living in Tokyo in the 90s and saw how the earliest adopters of mobile were high school students. I was convinced it would happen back in ‘The West’ but on my return was told by many mobile companies, “we don’t do kids”. How times have changed.
In a video clip on mobileYouth TV, you speak about advertising putting the content into context. Nowadays people don’t trust advertising and rely on other people for recommendations. What can brands do to regain the trust of their customers?
We need to appreciate that advertising is just one form of marketing and ad agencies just one option. Re-building trust means stopping the talk about ‘having conversations with our customers’ because customers really don’t care about your brand or having a conversation with it. They simply want you to help them connect with each other. If you’re building an online community, your brand should be the real estate owner, not the party host. As brands, we need to eat humble pie and realize that youth don’t wake up thinking about us anymore. This isn’t 1989.
You also spoke about the context needing platforms to help consumers interact. What platforms are necessary other than social media?
Social media isn’t a platform, it’s a medium. Platforms are frontlines where the brand has touch-time with the customer. Social media may be a way of enabling that but frontlines can take many forms, such as retail space; as in the case of Apple, online communities like with Monster Energy or a movement such as Ford Fiesta.
The mobileYouth Report often gives some fascinating findings. What surprised you most in the latest report?
Perhaps the most fascinating finding is the importance of offline for youth. Sure, media likes to talk up ‘digital natives’ and a ‘connected generation’ but the reality is far from that. In my book “The Mobile Youth: Voices of the Mobile Generation” I share ten stories that illustrate how mobile and social technology needs to be rooted in real world interaction for it to be meaningful. Successful online communities help youth meet offline. Too often technologists build castles in the sky, hoping they can create some app for youth but forget that youth ultimately want to use this app to drive offline interaction. If the end goal of your product doesn’t facilitate offline interaction, you’re wasting your time.
What is the aim of the Youth Marketing Academy?
Youth marketers who ‘get it’ are in the minority. Let’s face it, selling to youth is easy, very easy. The biggest sale is selling the idea of change within your own organization. That’s why we built the Academy, to bring together the change agents in youth marketing and connect the dots across different industries.
How do you think the youth will impact the shaping of technologies and media to come? What predictions do you have?
Youth remind us that innovation is social. Many of the well-known technologies today are the result of countless social iterations between youth; like Facebook, file sharing, the iPod, the iPhone, SMS, Firefox and so on. In fact, many of the old school technologies were also invented by teens. Cathode ray TV was first conceived by a 14 year old. We can expect this rich vein of innovation to continue as long as there are young people with limited resources and a strong drive to connect. There are three areas our research flagged up for tech clients in 2013 that will be driven by youth. Social video chat, like ooVoo, mobile shopping, and messenger services like Kik and Whatsapp.