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AOL’s prophet warns youth shutting out brands as they ‘privatise’ their networks

AOL’s digital prophet David Shing has warned that brands are losing touch with the vital youth market, which is the key to the future, as the next generation of consumers shuts out the outside world.

David Shing

David Shing: Companies should look to the views of their employees who reflect the audiences they want to connect with

Speaking at the AANA Reset Conference in Sydney, Shing, whose role is to chart the next opportunities for the US-based digital arm of telco Verizon, said that younger audiences were seeking deeper connections with the people they knew and trusted, and brands were being shut out.

He said that often just as companies understood and started engaging with audiences on a new platform, app or channel, like moths they would suddenly “swarm to a new light”.

“Your audience now has an audience,” Shing said of the evolution that has made so many consumers content creators.

However, he said this evolution was set to provide an ability for audiences to simply shut out the wider world, including brands.

Asking the Reset audience how many were on Snapchat the majority of the assembled marketing, advertising and media executives raised their hands.

Asked how many kept their Snapchat feeds private, most kept their hands up – a result, Shing said, is in contrast to today’s teenagers.

Snapchat has a revamped homepage as of Tuesday. Photo Illustration: Yuliya Kim; Sources: Snapchat

“If I ask that in front of high school kids, 100% of hands go up,” Shing said of the generation who keep their Snapchat and other social feeds private.

“What is happening is the younger generation is locking their network down. So this interconnected, closed network, peer-to-peer, is coming.

“When you thought your brands could go in there, they have already been locked out. So that is why you have to think different when you think about it.”

Shing said that rise of messaging apps was now the “new new”, allowing people to connect across closed networks out of the reach of advertisers.

The evangelist also said that where emotion remained the most powerful driver of a purchase over price, the rise of the internet of things was actually becoming “the internet of emotion” which was going to be more powerful than the devices through which it was delivered.

Shing said that brands also needed to build a culture of influence that could sidestep locked networks and that examples included US insurance brand, Geico, which created masses of content, shared in a limited way, until something took off.

He said the company then capitalised on creations that had traction and amplified them widely, such as an unskippable ad featuring a ravenous dog.

He said one of the most effective ways for companies to reset themselves was to turn their business upside down and seek the views of the people in their business who reflected the audiences they wanted to connect with.

“Most organisations, their organisation structure is upside down,” he said.

“So, think about the young people in your organisation … the first thing to do is to set up a group of young people – under 25 is what I recommend – and observe what they are doing.”

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