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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 19th Jan 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Social capital – fuel or fight, building a solid foundation for the sector's next generation and unexpected insights from England Rugby
Authors: Emma Woods, David Sheen and Ann Elliott

Social capital – fuel or fight by Emma Woods

There is much talk about how the changing digital landscape is affecting how we market to consumers. Much less is said about how these new channels are driving a fundamental shift in emotions and motivations in young adults – the consumers and future consumers of most of our brands.

Yet we are witnessing a new addiction – an addiction to curating life through the lens of one’s peer group and urgency among young adults to accumulate social capital. Addiction brings highs in the form of “likes” but – crucially – also the lows of anxiety and self-doubt.

Here, I share some research Wagamama undertook with ethnography agency Canvas8 and ask: Should marketers seek to fuel social capital for our consumers or do we have a responsibility to consider its potentially negative impact on well-being and try to fight it?

What we have been up to and why?
Wagamama is a restaurant brand that was inspired by the Japanese view that warming bowls of ramen nourish body and soul. Pretty simple – so why the need for research? Well, for all its simplicity, Wagamama’s is a pretty bold brand claim, and to be sure we continued to deliver on our promise, we needed to understand what form of emotional nourishment today’s young consumers really needed.

What did we do?
We performed the often-overlooked marketing trick of walking in our consumers’ shoes. We spent three months talking to youth experts, then talked to young consumers and took them out to eat. A very bright 22-year-old in my team “reverse mentored” me – sharing her life for six weeks. Finally, in a Big Brother-style social experiment, we observed small groups of friends chatting on dinner dates. As the research unfolded, five key observations unnerved me:

1. Living for now by experiencing more: We knew experiences had become modern talking points and also the building blocks of social capital – we just hadn’t realised how significant the phenomenon had become. Generation Ys in the UK spend £419.5m a month on live experiences or events. And 78% say they would rather spend their money on a desirable experience than on a desirable object. Entering adulthood later, they seek to make the most of their youth and this means experiencing more and sharing it rather than aspiring to the traditional symbols of adulthood – so travelling is more important than getting on the property ladder.

They also don’t want to be left out – 73% say the fear of missing out drives their search for new experiences: “For me, the strongest indicator of how happy I’m going to be is how great my experiences have been over the past few months. It’s not about what I’ve bought, what I’m wearing or how many things I have in my house. It’s going to be about how many memories I’ve made. Did I do something different? Did I do something new? Something weird? Something worth talking about?”

Social capital needs stoking – and experiences are the fuel of choice.

2. They are ‘always on’ – being busy is an aspirational status symbol: Filling every moment of life is seen as a way to grow and develop so they see it as a responsibility to engage all the time even starting up part-time businesses when in full-time employment: “I am young, I have no family responsibility, so it is really important I use this opportunity to be busy and active and do as many things as I can so I don’t have any regrets when I can’t.”

We were struck by how purposeful this busyness was – being busy is a badge of honour. Yet an always-on approach to life takes its toll, leaving little time to relax and recuperate.

3. They stand up for what they believe in and expect: Generation Y shares a sense of responsibility towards the world and its problems. They see themselves as global citizens, aware of the world’s issues and enabled by technology to get involved from afar. The causes they connect with help define them and they look for businesses and brands to stand alongside them and take action. Talking the same values is no longer enough for brands – brands need to do something.

By this point – if you are like me – you should feel exhausted on behalf of our young consumers by their constant juggling of “choreographed wonderfulness” and the need to be a campaigning individual. It’s probably no surprise then that the final two observations felt a bit of a kick back to this pressure.

4. The intention-action gap means they don’t always do what they aspire to: While Generation Y’s need for experience is all-encompassing, we were surprised at how often they would talk about wanting to do this or that new latest thing, which would look great on Instagram – only for them to end up in familiar haunts where they wouldn’t feel the pressure to post as it was just an ordinary moment catching up with friends.

5. Missing out is gaining appeal: It felt to us like a new state of JOMO (joy of missing out) was becoming more socially acceptable. Our consumers talked about duvet days – indulging in a home switch-off fed, literally, by services such as Netflix and Deliveroo.

So what does this mean for marketers?
What responsibilities do we have in contributing to the social capital economy? Our experts told us how young adults today develop their self-identity through choices that reflect who they are or want to be. But choosing is difficult if you are dazzled by options and have a nagging doubt there may be some better way of expressing yourself just round the corner. Social capital is fuel for their developmental journey but it is also fuel for insecurity and stress.

But is the answer to fuel or fight social capital? We concluded we need to do both. We should embrace the fact developing social capital is now a vital part of growing up and that digital openness can be a huge force for good but – and this is an important but – we should challenge ourselves to use our brand conversations and creative capabilities to fuel it positively. Here are two thought-starters on how: 

1. First, and foremost, appreciate young adults’ social capital agenda and use it to fuel positive emotions not anxiety. This means creating opportunities for social collaboration not competition. Brands can uniquely create and drive shared dialogue around causes and communal needs that can unify and support this generation’s social identity journey. But make sure this dialogue is close to your core business – authenticity is expected.

2. Build into your brand thinking your consumers’ desire for space to be themselves – to switch off and stand apart from the anxiety-provoking decisions that underlie self-identity exploration. Encouraging young adults to relax and unwind rather than further their busyness can start a meaningful emotional relationship for your brand. Do this first by offering practical benefits and solutions that take account of Generation Y’s suspicion of a brand’s purpose as a profit-maker for big business.

While this thinking is new and we wouldn’t pretend to have a suite of answers, it’s already starting to inspire our marketing in small ways. So if you are in a Wagamama restaurant over the next few weeks, you will see there is no traditional January mention of new year’s resolutions, and no invitation to try juices suitable for health kicks. Instead we are just encouraging all our customers to stop, pause and colour in.

This simple concept was suggested not by a marketing agency but by a brilliant young member of our team in Manchester. And perhaps that is the biggest takeaway of this work – brands that properly listen to this generation will earn the right to grow.
Emma Woods is customer director at Wagamama and presented this research at this week’s Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Conference

Building a solid foundation for the sector's next generation by David Sheen 

Earlier this week I had the chance to quiz a room full of young marketing professionals working in roles across the sector at the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Conference "boot camp" event, run by Propel and Think Hospitality. The opportunity presented a chance to gather useful information on industry perceptions and career paths, and to gain a little insight into the thoughts of the next generation of future leaders on the challenges the sector faces. 

At a time of an ever-shifting landscape, the results demonstrate the majority believe the diversity a career in hospitality offers, along with the sociable operating environment and the "hands-on" feel to the work, are the top benefits of working in the sector. However, four-in-ten agreed more investment and time needed to go into training and while about half rated the quality of training within the industry as "ok", only one-in-five described it as "good".

It’s clear the industry needs further support in this area so we are very happy to have recently launched the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers Hospitality Diploma. Providing the UK’s hospitality businesses with an all-inclusive, exhaustive training and assessment scheme designed to meet the myriad demands of this innovative and varied sector, the diploma will also give employees the support and education they need to progress within the sector. 

Our aim is for the whole experience to deliver a solid foundation for a potentially long and rewarding career and, ultimately, a senior role within our dynamic industry. It is hopefully one step closer to providing a solution to some of the concerns raised by the future leaders in hospitality. 2018 will see an unprecedented level of focus on employment from the industry and we continue to draw attention to the valuable work being carried out by hospitality workers across the board, and to work closely with the government to provide support. 

There were also many other positives highlighted by the survey, with 93% of participants stating they rated the current quality of marketing activity and campaigns in the sector as "good" quality or above. Coupled with two-thirds of respondents agreeing one of the main strengths of hospitality is the strong consumer interest, this reiterates the importance of the eating and drinking out sector in not only modern life but the UK economy. 

The findings clearly communicate the excitement and energy that exists within the sector and the range of opportunities on offer to those working within it. Having seen some of our own members, Thai Leisure Group and Maxwell’s, scoop several awards at Thursday night’s Restaurant Marketer & Innovator Awards it showcases some of the great work happening in the sector, and the evolving innovation and creativity in place, which helps keep us front of mind with consumers. Yes, there are still many important challenges that need to be tackled, but this week’s event left me with a real feeling of positivity that the future of our dynamic and vibrant sector is in safe hands.
David Sheen is director of policy and research at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers

Unexpected insights from England Rugby by Ann Elliott

When Ewan Turney, head of content at England Rugby, got up on Wednesday to speak at the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator conference, held by Propel and Think Hospitality, I mentally (and almost physically) checked out. It’s not that I don’t like rugby per se – I just didn’t think the topic would be of any relevance to me or my clients. Time to catch up with emails I thought – I can pick up with the conference once this session is over.

How wrong I was. Within minutes, if not seconds, Ewan had totally engaged his audience. Not easy to do so with close to 300 people in the room and lunch beckoning. I learnt so much from this session. I have tried to communicate some of Ewan’s comments below but as I was writing furiously on my knee, I may have missed some crucial bits or misinterpreted others but I hope you can get my drift. Any mistakes are mine, not Ewan’s. Here are my take-outs from this excellent presentation.

Check any brilliant ideas you might have against what you know your customers like and love. Don’t be tempted to develop a brilliant idea if it’s not aligned with your knowledge of your customer.
The England Rugby content is very Instagram and video heavy – it has a great subject matter of course. It really is very impactful.
Produce “thumb-stopping” content. The first three seconds should stop a thumb from scrolling. If it can’t do that, then the content is not arresting enough. You literally have two to three seconds to grab someone’s attention.
Action therefore has to be front-loaded in a video. Colour is critical.
It also has to be great content with the sound turned off. 85% of England Rugby’s content is watched without the sound on. Subtitles might be appropriate on some video content.
Readers (if that’s even the right term) have a six-second attention span.
Lead the content strategy with a powerful vision.
The most interesting part for me in this presentation was Ewan’s focus on strong guidelines for content. For his organisation those guidelines are:

Exclusive: Don’t replicate what others do – eg the BBC. Provide content your consumers cannot find anywhere else. Find areas where you have exclusive access but your competitors don’t.

Entertainment: Facebook Live is critical to England Rugby. It has produced a 30-minute live show for this channel that is storyboarded and scheduled – just like normal media.

Engage: England Rugby does not simply publish what it wants to publish. It listens closely to its market to find out what truly engages it and publish content for it. Facebook Live is a great tool here too, where it can answer questions from fans in real time.

Enhance: A total of 80% of millennials will watch rugby on a screen while doing something else on another device so, to keep their attention, England Rugby enhances the experience of watching a game by including statistics about players or games that really interest its consumers. It makes the whole experience of watching a game much more interesting and entertaining.

Educate: This felt like it was really important to the organisation. It puts an enormous amount of effort into communicating the values of the game, the rules, how to play etc, to people at all levels.

Encourage: Link the elite of the game with the grass roots. Watch its film on The Game Of Our Lives. I thought this was tremendous and brought together all the elements above in a really inspiring manner.

There was also much more to learn from this than I can communicate here. It was very clear and straightforward, no fluff, yet emotional and highly engaging. It was fabulous stuff. Thank you, Ewan.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – Follow her on Twitter: @elliottsagency

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