Co-authored by Evan Mitchell, Director, Love & Wine and Co-founder, Gen Y Brand Specialists HOW&Y

When a disruptor invades a market, a predictable ritual ensues. The invader makes threatening, exaggerated claims. This is the chest-thumping, attention-seeking stage. And the attention it seeks is media attention. Which duly follows. The prey will either publicly shrug it off, pointing out to the same media the strategic changes they’d made recently to address the very shortcoming being exploited (guaranteeing more media attention), or they’ll play the insouciance card, pretending to ignore the interloper, while working desperately undercover to determine if the problem is real.

Markets being what they are, the situation sorts itself. The would-be disruptor departs bloodied, or moves from outsider to insider, becoming themselves subject to future disruption. The result: a more efficient market. Such is the cleverness of our free enterprise system.

But what if the disruptor is not a new market entrant, but an entire existing demographic? What if the renegade in question happens to be the most powerful, trans-national, consumer market in history – and growing? What if the disruption takes the form of total disdain for the old marketing rule book? What if their rejection of traditional marketing messages and methods is not analytical, but emotional, visceral – completely instinctive? What if the successes that marketers enjoy with this demographic are a matter of chance, of hitting values they weren’t even targeting? What if the subsequent repeat of their “successful” approaches is akin to what psychologists would deem “superstitious behaviour”?

If all competitors are in the same boat, it’s “move along folks, nothing to see here”, the status quo prevails (subject to other circumstances). But what if the penny drops for one competitor? Then that disruptee becomes a mammoth disruptor for the others, because they not only inherit a competitive advantage but are able to forge further ahead with the knowledge and experience they gain – while others are flailing.

Sure you can detect similarities. The well-known sense of entitlement had started to show through with the later X-ers. But the educational, social, cultural and technological dynamics that shaped Gen Y were a tsunami (outlined in depth in the B&T Feb/Mar 2016 article “What really created the Gen Y Consumer”.) The result was a genuine paradigm shift. They don’t just march-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drum, they won’t march at all.

We spent 20 years in the FMCG industry working with top international companies at senior sales and marketing levels, across widely diverse categories and brand portfolios. No one disputed the fact that, whatever the embroidery, the key to sales was customer needs.

Through some kind of social alchemy, with this generation the motivation shifted from needs to values.

Through the superiority of their own organic evaluative processes, the best companies have twigged to this. They are the few.

Gen Y are not going away, nor changing. Coming to grips with a values-driven consumer is disruptive enough, but the values themselves extend the disruption. Though aspirational and self-defining in nature, they are also confrontational, contradictory, and insular – the last one creating an authenticity hurdle that can bring down the smartest operators.


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Dr. Brian Mitchell
AFTER a PhD in Psychology at the University of Sydney, Brian Mitchell spent several years in clinical practice before moving into consulting with the Mandev International group. He became President of the North American, Asian, and Australian operations, and an international speaker on the subject of retail sales productivity. In the mid-1990’s Brian established Mitchell Performance Systems (MPS), working with CPG industry leaders in the US, on systems to improve sales and negotiation outcomes with retailers. He has completed three books in collaboration with Evan Mitchell – including the 2009 Praeger publication The Psychology of Wine, now released in a revised eBook edition. A joint paper in 2013 to the 7th International WineHealth conference highlighted the dangers facing the wine industry from generational trends. He is Co-founder of HOW&Y, a group specializing in the Millennial generation – as both consumers and employees.
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Tom-Scott Gordon

Spot on, mates! I’m sitting at this precipice myself. People will be absolutely livid when/if they ever do see my culinary boot camp taking seed. One secret to touching Gen X-Y values is not veering away from your own gut responses. And, I’ve been deflecting criticism over my contentious views of the way things are in the restaurant biz for many, many years.

Evan Mitchell

Very true – and the restaurant industry is particularly vulnerable to the caprices of Gen Y, while still being extremely dependent on them as both staff and patrons.

Tom-Scott Gordon

Here in the States, just since the crash of ’08, the statistical shift from manufacturing jobs to food services is phenomenal and we sense the dichotomy between low wages and career values quite differently. Pressing for $15hr min. is said to be an untenable figure by the US Media. Yet, $15hr was the minimum in Brizzy when I was there in 1993-94. Then came VAT, and we never heard another word from them about the changes this wrought upon AU. It’s a continual News-embargo and no country seems immune.