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Barbara Ward Thall of Audible How NextGen hacks its way through micro-passions: an interview with Audible

For our recently launched bookzine frAGILE, we connected with 26 senior marketing executives to hear their take on the next generation and how they connect with these youngsters as a brand. One of these talks was with Barbara Ward Thall, SVP Global Brand Marketing at Audible, an Amazon company selling and producing audio entertainment such as audiobooks. One of the (many) interesting concepts mentioned during this talk is NextGen’s quest to micro-craft their unique selves through a variety of interests and the role of lifehacks in all this.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: An interview on #NextGen #marketing with @‏bwthall of ‏@audible_com by @Joeri_InSites insit.es/2zKsMvV via @CoolBrands #mrx #fragile #geny #genz #interview

Let’s start with a general question. When you think of NextGen, what comes to mind, how would you define them?

I’m a Boomer, so a lot of the ways that I think about the NextGen segment is in contrast with the way that I have thought about my own generation. I feel like one of the things that stands out for me is the Millennial desire for authentic experiences, things that perhaps are more grounded, have more meaning. It seems to me that it’s a generation that has watched some of the mistakes of the Boomer generation… or perhaps not the mistakes, but the outcome of some of the attitudes and tendencies of the Boomers and GenXers that have not led to personal fulfillment. And even though the NextGen segment is the most technically advanced and in some ways the most modern, I feel there’s almost a little bit of backlash towards the previous generations’ quest for fulfillment through traditional markers of success – status, the acquisition of material goods, etc. – and the singular focus required to achieve those things. They don’t seem as interested in joining the rat race as much as they are trying to find authentic meaningful lives, whatever that means for them. So I think it’s a generation that really is accepting and desirous of a broad range of passions that may or may not be mainstream or generally accepted as worthwhile.

What could be a reason for having a broader range of passions or interests?

I think part of it is an outcome of being raised on the likes of Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube and other micro-blogging platforms. It’s that they are exposed to so many diverse passions and interests. I think it opens up the minds of that generation to see that someone has a Tumblr with pictures of every bathroom they’ve ever been in, or a YouTuber that’s created a career out of their passion for make-up, Rubik cubes or Frisbee tricks. These technology platforms have enabled exposure to so many diverse interests; and they too want to explore their own interests and develop their persona and identities accordingly.

You also mention meaningfulness and authenticity, where do those come in?

I wonder… it’s almost like the Boomers and the early GenXers were so focused on finding a singular passion, building that passion to an end. Giving them an edge-up in their career, a specialty, by being singularly focused. And I wonder, again, if this generation hasn’t seen the perils of that kind of focus. Perhaps they just find it more interesting to be the kind of person that’s like “I’m into microbreweries and I’m into watches and I’m into Japanese culture and I’m also really into some other random thing”. And tomorrow, that whole list of interests could be different. Maybe it’s just the collection of those tiny micro-interests that adds up to uniqueness.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: How the collection of tiny micro-interests adds up to #NextGen’s uniqueness by @‏bwthall ‏@audible_com insit.es/2zKsMvV via @Joeri_InSites @CoolBrands #mrx #genz #geny #interview #fragile #marketing

Do you see any differences when it comes to how they consume information, in particular audiobooks?

I see a big difference. This generation has no bias about the value of reading, that it is somehow better than listening, more intellectually nutritious. The older generations, when you say “Hey, you don’t have to read Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, you can now listen to it performed by a wonderful narrator”, they are interested, but what we see is a higher perception amongst the older generation that listening to Faulkner is not as valuable as reading it. That it’s somehow cheating… Youth don’t have that same perception at all. They don’t put a value judgement on how they get their information. And I think it is a generation that is more about lifehacks, so to speak: how can I optimize everything, optimize my exercise, optimize my nutrition, optimize my physical space, optimize my technology, and so for them listening to information which can be done anywhere while multitasking etc. is an optimization, they don’t see it as a cheat at all.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: #Lifehacks: #NextGen doesn’t put a value judgement on how one gets information by @‏bwthall ‏@audible_com insit.es/2zKsMvV via @Joeri_InSites @CoolBrands #mrx #genz #geny #interview #fragile #marketing #audiobooks

I also think that listening as a behavior and a way to consume information and entertainment, in the past, has been very rooted in book adaptation. Audiobooks were a translation of an existing thing. So you have a book, now we are going to narrate it and perform it, and that’s an audiobook. It’s not been rewritten for any specific audio purpose, it’s just an adaptation layer. My hope is that this generation will give rise to a new class of creator, who will help us evolve the form.


How do you connect with the young generations as a brand?

I think the big theme of connecting with the young generation is around the value of experiences, and maybe it actually relates a little bit to the notion of ownership, in that maybe our generation is one that owns things and acquires things. Again, I think this generation prefers experiences and esoteric knowledge. If someone of this generation has $2,000 in the bank, I believe they’d be more likely to use it on travel, an activity or adventure than on buying an object. So a fantastic audiobook and voice narrator that has the ability to take you out of your everyday and immerse you in a new world or expose you to a new idea, is pretty powerful.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Connecting with #NextGen is about the value of experiences over #ownership by @‏bwthall ‏@audible_com insit.es/2zKsMvV via @Joeri_InSites @CoolBrands #mrx #genz #geny #interview #fragile #marketing

Wish to read more about NextGen characteristics like micro-interest, macro-meaning, lifehacking and dematerialized ownership? Download our new frAGILE: Is NextGen marketing more chemistry than science? bookzine. Or sign up for our free webinar on frAGILE on December 12!

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