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The Big Shift Business Can’t Afford to Miss

By Sheila McLean, SVP/Director, Corporate & Brand Citizenship, Qorvis MSLGROUP

Shortly after Denise Morrison became CEO of Campbell Soup three years ago, she had lunch with former IBM CEO Sam Palmisano to get his advice.

Morrison, 60, is one of only 25 female CEOs in the Fortune 500. Her goal was to do what Palmisano had done for IBM – turn the 145-year-old food company into a “great company,” Morrison told a crowd of more than 2,500 sustainability and marketing leaders in San Diego for the annual Sustainable Brands conference earlier this month.

“He told me that one thing is more important than anything else: ‘Don’t miss the big shift’,” Morrison said. And that shift, according to Morrison and many of the other conference speakers, is Millennials – a generation that has been alternately dubbed as lazy and narcissistic, the “Trophy Generation” and the “Next Great Generation.” This is a generation that came of age after 9/11 and the great recession; a generation that strongly reflects our growing distrust of all institutions and is re-defining consumption models in ways that revolutionize products and services.
For Campbell, the key to success is reaching millennial consumers and employees, Morrison said.

“More than half the world’s population is under 30 and has never known life without the internet,” she noted. This group is focused on social purpose. “More than half of millennials say that if price and quality are equal, they will choose based on social purpose.”

Are You Ready For Business Citizenship? a 16-country study of more than 8,000 millennials by MSLGROUP draws similar conclusions. Millennials around the world see brands as much more than the products they represent. They expect business to work with them to solve our toughest challenges, and they want to re-shape the way brands go to market – creating new models for “sharing” and “leasing” products instead of owning them.

Levi Strauss & Company, for instance, is re-thinking its approach to design completely, according to Paul Dillinger, senior director of Global Design. The impact of a product on the climate, water and labor is carrying more weight than its design – and this “shift” is being led by designers like Dillinger!

“If I want to design a new blazer, I start with our existing jean jacket line,”

Dillinger said, rather than creating an entirely new manufacturing line.

“We have found that when we led with our values without consideration of profit we create a new norm.”

And it’s not just millennials as consumers and their eventual spend of an estimated $1.3 trillion a year that’s got businesses worried – it’s millennials as employees.

“The most important thing for our ‘Better Tomorrow’ plan was reaching 428,000 employees and convincing them that they are the solution,”

said Neil Barrett, Group Vice President for Sustainable Development at Sodexo.

“It took 12 months and 30,000 managers went through E-learning session in 27 languages.”

What can businesses do to attract millennials?

Our research reveals that millennials expect business to engage their hearts, minds and hands. They want businesses to:

  • SHARE. They expect business citizenship leaders to share credible information, share their values and even share opportunities to design products and services.
  • ACT. Contributing money to causes is no longer enough. Millennials expect companies to roll-up-their sleeves and solve real problems with them.
  • SERVE. Serve their communities, serve their employees and serve their customers.
  • PROTECT. They expect business citizenship leaders to follow their values and protect livelihoods, protect consumers from harm, and protect the environment.

sheila mclean_Approved

Sheila has extensive experience in public affairs, advocacy, CSR, media, corporate public relations and issues and crisis management. She has worked on environmental initiatives throughout her career, from her days as a reporter covering the issues to helping clients win legislative support for clean fuels, promote new green products, launch corporate CSR initiatives and navigate the complexities of influencer engagement.

Follow her on Twitter: @sgmclean8