Collaborata interview with Jane Buckingham: Renown speaker, author, trend expert, Trendera CEO
You’ve had a career spanning advertising, research, and publishing, always with a focus on generational insights. As businesses are increasingly working on understanding how to appeal to different cohorts, what encouragement and “watch-outs” would you offer brands as they develop their own generational insights?
Well, I think that any insights are better than no insights! People say you shouldn’t use your own kids as a focus group, which of course is a “watch-out,” but I think it’s good to always be looking and thinking about how the generations might be evolving and changing. You don’t need to wait to conduct a big study or read a huge report, if you’re constantly observing, reading, looking, searching, thinking. On the other hand, don’t expect to find a silver bullet by simply studying the generations. Yes, generations change, and yes, there are critical shifts. But, if your business is smart and has truly been staying current, it’s rare that just one insight will radically solve your problems.
It seems these days everybody is interested in “Millennials”; even the term has become part of pop culture. As someone who’s been focusing on this cohort before they became “of age,” do you in any way worry that all this attention on Millennials takes the focus away from the emerging generation and whether some brands are painting Millennials with overly broad brushstrokes?
We always stereotype generations and people. And that’s good – and bad. There is no way to really understand 75 million people (the size of the Millennial cohort in the U.S.), but what generational research tries to do is look at the key characteristics that make Millennials different then previous generations. What are their different values, goals, aspirations, behaviors and characteristics that might have changed versus previous generations? Some things actually do stay the same, and those are important to focus on as well. Your first kiss, your first job, your first time living on your own. But in today’s world whoyou kiss might be different; the kind of job you think you might like may be different; whether you ever expect to own a home could be different; and even when Millennials expect these things to happen to them has changed. But not everyone within a generational cohort will feel the same way or experience the same things. We just try to point out how and why things have shifted.
You’ve successfully started and exited a highly regarded company in The Intelligence Group, and you’ve successfully started another company, Trendera, in a similar space. How were you able to differentiate the two brands, and do you ever find yourself competing or collaborating with your old company?
I am so grateful to have worked with smart people at both my companies, and to watch The Intelligence Group develop and grow when I sold it to CAA. My job is to understand trends and solve problems, and in 20 years it’s been amazing to see how much my clients’ needs have changed. When I began, there really was no internet and everyone just wanted to know the next hot color or shoe or person. Now there are too many sites and blogs and “hot” lists, so today it’s more about finding the “right” trends and talking about what they mean. As for competition, I love solving my clients’ problems. And there are plenty of problems to solve. So the way I see it, as long as there are great companies doing great work, there is enough for everyone.
At Collaborata, we’re finding that clients intellectually support the idea of collaborating with competitors but find it hard to actually pull the trigger, because doing so flies in the face of how they’ve been doing business for such a long time. Any advice to clients as how to get over this hurdle so they can take advantage of the inherent opportunities that research collaboration can offer?
Business today is just not the same as it used to be. That’s the reality. Playing it the way you used to won’t work. So companies have to try new things. If the music industry, the movie industry, even the television industry shared more information, I think they would find greater success.
You’ve been particularly successful in marketing multi-client projects. How are you able to both develop a product with broad enough appeal so that it’s used by many different clients, while assuring that your work can offer unique benefits to so many different brands?
Even though our multi-client projects are information-driven, I see our products like style, art, or literature. Everyone will interpret them differently. Everyone will take something out of the shared work that’s unique to their business. And there is so much information that I find that competitors each respond to different parts of our reports. Typically, companies have different issues and challenges, which is why they should be more comfortable looking at the same things!
We’ve found that clients are inevitably executing the same research as other clients. If they were to share the results, they could dramatically reduce costs as they reduce this redundancy. That said, do you believe the insights and marketing-research industry is ready to leverage “the sharing economy” in such a bold way?
Ah, that’s a tough one. I think that there will be some research that can be shared and some that everyone will always want to keep private. And I think that’s okay. Everyone does need to have their “special sauce,” and things that they want to uniquely focus on in research. So, I don’t think we’ll ever see everything be shared.
Jane Buckingham is one of the country’s foremost experts on Generations X, Y and V. She is a bestselling author, speaker, and television host. Buckingham is the Founder and CEO of Trendera, a leading consulting and trend forecasting company. Buckingham also provides mentorship and consulting services to bridge young professionals and the working world. In her commitment to public service work, Jane serves on the Board of Directors for Baby2Baby and Women In Film and advises The Joyful Heart.