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The changing nature of work and what this means for brands

The changing nature of work and what this means for brands

Mathew Weiss

Managing Director

Superunion Africa




The new ways Millennials consume products and services has helped fuel the rise of the world’s most innovative and rapidly growing companies. Empowered by technology, Millennials want convenience (mPesa), value and experiences (Airbnb, Uber), prefer access over ownership (Netflix, Spotify) and place enormous value on community and connections (Facebook, Instagram).


This cohort is also changing the way we work. Many are eschewing traditional corporates and preferring to go it alone. Entrepreneurship and freelancing are flourishing, with the latter growing three times faster than the traditional workforce. Technology makes it simple to connect and work with people from anywhere in the world from the relative freedom of your local coffee shop. Never has there been more kudos in starting your own company. The idea that you either live to work, or work to live is increasingly outdated. Millennials want work and life to be integrated, enjoyable and meaningful.


With these changing attitudes comes a new set of expectations that not only affects employers but is also changing the way brands target this enormous and upwardly mobile audience. From banks – offering financial products, to entrepreneurs and small businesses, to retailers - selling work-life ‘tools’, to property developers - providing the physical spaces to facilitate work, they all need to be cognizant of, and respond to, the changing expectations of these consumers.


Standard Bank’s Purple (in Beta phase) developed an offering that ‘collaborates’ with entrepreneurs and the people who support them. Purple pinpointed the special relationship that an entrepreneur has with their accountant as an area where Purple could make a difference. They developed products that show an understanding of the problems that accountant try to solve in order to make the entrepreneur successful. To ensure meaningfulness, entrepreneurs and accountants were also invited to co-create these solutions.


We are also seeing new collaborative workspaces replacing traditional offices. WeWork says it ‘creates high energy, collaborative office communities that are responsive to the needs of this mobile and creative workforce’.  Through the combination of cool, innovative environments, support services and a digitally enabled community allow independent businesses to enjoy the benefits of scale without the cost and complexity. While WeWork was originally targeted at micro businesses, they are starting to attract employees from large corporates who see the benefits of working in these environments. Landlords are going to have to think very differently about how they design the offices of the future.


So, what are the implications for brands and employers that want to build strong appeal and loyalty with this Millennial class in work mode?


1.         A new definition of value. There is an expectation in servicing workers that you get what you pay for. The value equation is binary. It’s either cheap and cheerful or expensive and exclusive. As in other sectors, most notably fashion, we are seeing a change in how people understand value. Value offerings do not need to feel cheap. Value focuses on pragmatism (solving the most important needs), aspiration (desirable and modern design that people are proud to own) and partnerships (collaborations with other brands to extend the offer).  The launch of Level, a new low-cost airline (by AIG) targeted at Millennials, followed this formula, became one of the most successful airline launches in history and attract business travellers even though they have no business class seats.

2.         Work with purpose. Millennials approach their work with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning. They want to use their talents and strengths to do something that matters, with 63% expecting their employers to contribute to a social cause. Steve Jobs lured Pepsi executive John Sculley to Apple by asking him: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” This question is something Millennials are asking of themselves and the brands that they use while they work. CSI programmes are not enough, a brand’s purpose needs to be hard-wired into the business strategy. Companies like Nando’s who speak the truth to authority and have helped to promote the South African art scene globally have got it right. Discovery’s has its goal to promote healthier living and backed this up with a programme to train healthcare workers. This initiative is expected to create 40 000 new jobs by the end of 2018.

3.     Productivity is king. Technology has helped revolutionize the way we work, especially the speed at which things get done, and the number of people who can work collaboratively on a single project. But this comes at a cost - the possibility of a misunderstanding and non-alignment between teams remains high and despite all the tech, poor execution still undermines the best laid plans. BlackBerry built its brand on the idea of improving productivity, but lost its way as it sought to reach out to a wider audience and competitors introduced similar ‘work tool’ features. More recently a service like Slack, one of the fastest growing business tools in history, is helping to resolve these problems by ‘creating alignment and shared understanding across teams, making them more productive, less stressed, and just a little bit happier’. Everyone is looking for productivity gains and if your brand can help then it will be highly valued.

4.     Anytime anywhere. The majority of millennials are less inclined to commit to a 9-to-5 office routine. By choosing their own hours, they can identify the time slots of the day in which they are most productive, while being able to deal with pressures from their personal lives. Work becomes a choice, not a location. In 2013, WeWork launched WeWork Everywhere, a flexible membership offering a la carte access to its spaces and services, as well as exclusive membership to the online member network. This was designed to appeal to workers not living in close proximity to a WeWork location. This supports their long term vision of empowering people everywhere to work at what they love.