Monday, February 12, 2007

Making companies cool

posted by Andy Leff
I'm a younger adult -- 25, to be exact -- and I'm a small business owner. This helps me see both sides of a touchy subject: older companies reaching younger audiences.

And talking about Facebook's deal with Comcast the other day got me thinking about concrete ways businesses can avoid the corporate stigma, and foster genuine 'cool' in their outbound communications (Web sites, marketing, advertising, etc.).

My first piece of advice to older generations: Whatever you see on MTV, or read in a teen-geared magazine, DON'T USE IT. Young people can immediately tell when somebody older is trying to act younger.

I experience this everyday. I can't hide my age when I go to business meetings. In response, older people in the room dumb down concepts and conversations, assuming I won't understand them. Worse, they start using outdated terms like 'gettin' jiggy with it', 'wazzzzzzzup', and even words such as 'rad', 'sweet', or 'badass'.

Forget about me and my peers ... even my parents don't use those terms anymore. It's not impressive to do so. In fact, it's embarrassing -- so much so that I tell all my friends how moronic most corporate suits are.

Opinions and approaches are bound to conflict between generations. However, one element remains constant -- respect. Treat youth with respect, and you will receive it right back.

Honesty falls into that category, too. Don’t market yourself as a company or product you're not. Be comfortable with your company's goals. Don't try to appeal to the group; rather, be transparent about your goals, and how you want to serve us. Youth will appreciate and respond to your candor.

And if you really have to look 'cool' to youth, say for a Web 2.0 service or network, then ask them what they want. Conduct focus groups with them, but without pandering. They will tell you if they like your idea or not. Use this information to fine-tune your product or service.

Final word of wisdom: My generation has strong opinions, and we're not afraid to air them. Use this to your advantage. After all, the entire Web 2.0 community would never have flourished if my generation didn’t have anything to say, or the liberty to say it. So let my generation speak without imposition and censorship, and you will begin to look cooler than you ever dreamed you could be.

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