(photo by Christina Gandolfo)
Growing up in Bristol, England, I went to a very strict private boys’ school. But when I was 10 years old, my father took me on a trip to Los Angeles. Even though I was a child, I intuitively understood the appeal of Hollywood at the time, which was escapism and the freedom to live your life, your way.
I look at celebrities through a stark business lens. Instead of agreeing that Beyoncé is one of the most influential people in the world because Time magazine said so, or because she has the most Twitter followers, I measure influence by how relatable and authentic audiences find someone. In my survey of 1,500 respondents aged 13 to 18, the top five celebrities were YouTube stars.
The challenge for older generations will be to move beyond the idea that taking selfies, for example, is silly and narcissistic, to an empathy for the fact that many people find selfies incredibly meaningful and empowering. We need that compassion and emotional understanding to create brands that connect.
Brands today are looking to develop fanatics. Being careful or silent as a means of capturing the largest market share possible doesn’t work anymore. Consumers know that an organization’s leaders have a perspective, and they want to hear it.
They also recognize that organizations are contradictory, and that those contradictions can offer a platform to start a conversation. Unilever, for example, owns both Axe and Dove, two global brands with wildly contradictory customers, messages, and value propositions.
Labels are being thrown up in the air—so-called difficult people like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are adored and idolized as successful leaders. Millennials and Generation Z are the most color-blind, gender-blind, open-minded generations we’ve ever seen—authenticity starts with accepting who we are, what we want to create, and how we feel about the world. This applies just as much to an individual as it does an enterprise.
Class of MBA 2004, Section F