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Alan Hilburg – Using music to market to Millennials

Access to the Millennial Generation – the key demographic group between the ages of 18 and 35 who constitute nearly 30% of South Africa’s population - remains an elusive aim for many marketers.

The attention span and loyalty of a generation who have been defined as self-obsessed, demanding and famously non-committal has proven evasive in a cluttered market place.

Brand architect Alan Hilburg, President and CEO of HilburgAssociates, widely recognised as problem-solver in brand survival, told a recent Forum at the Gordon Institute of Business science (GIBS) that music and especially hip hop, is an important tool for marketers hoping to build bridges with the generation and ultimately gain their trust.

While millennials are famously known as the self-centered, now generation who are lazy, narcissistic and flighty, they are also open-minded, passionate about causes and collaboration and want engagement.

Hilburg said to get a brand to resonate with Millennials would require defining its essence or protagonist, its higher purpose. He gave the example of Google, whose brand protagonist is the democratisation of knowledge; or Apple and the pursuit of individual creativity. “Millennials want to be part of something bigger than themselves. It is their higher purpose,” Hillburg said.

“A brand is the trust relationship that is built between the brand and its community. It is getting people to listen through connection and trust. Millennials seek out brands that talk to them,” Hilburg explained.

Engagement with Millennials is therefore two-way and not simply about creating brand awareness: “Building awareness is out of touch as it has no emotional connection. It is important for a brand to make a connection, as it is defined by the trust communities place in the experience.

“When you deliver a consistent experience over and over people begin to trust you, creating an emotional bond. Without trust you can’t sell a brand. It is the most important ingredient in branding,” he said.

Hilburg explained that music is a very important part of millennials’ lives and can be used as an emotional bridge: “Music lends authenticity and credibility to a brand and is considered an emotional touch point.”

Millennials consider music as an essential part of their lives, and view it as something very personal that provides them with a unique identity.
Hilburg highlighted hip hop as a genre that Millennials have a particular affinity to and called it “the music of the millennial generation” for its impact on culture, brand building and customer loyalty.

Started in 1970s New York, hip hop began as an expression of desperation turned into aspiration by becoming intrinsically linked to aspirational brands. By talking about brands in their music, many hip hop artists such as American rapper
Jay-Z have demonstrated the power of the genre as an influential call-to-action mechanism.

Hilburg cited the Hunter’s Dry campaign that featured local musicians Jack Parow, JR and Tumi from the Gangs of Instrumentals as an example of using music to create a bridge in an advertisement. In the campaign, the group experiences a breakdown on their Hunter’s tour bus looking for refreshment in the Namibian desert.

The campaign has succeeded in creating a strong presence for the brand across the African continent.

Hilburg said research confirms consumers will invest in brands that invest in hip hop, as there is a sharing of values. If the target community identifies with the music featured in a brand advertisement it will view the brand favourably he explained.

“Hip hop has had an impact on culture, mainstream business brands, and those brands' bottom lines. It has rewritten the soul of branding,” Hilburg said.

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