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Who are Millennials? We are more than just a marketing buzzword used to reference young people. We are a generational cohort born somewhere between 1981 and 2000. We are often defined as sharing homogenous qualities that are key to consumer targeting. In reality, we are a complex group with unique identities influenced by a multitude of variables. This means that tailoring marketing plans for my cohort can be extremely difficult.

While most of us Millennials have yet to reach our peak buying power we will eventually become the primary target market. Thus, advertisers need to realize the importance of getting out in front of us early and communicating with us in a language we understand.

My answer to this language barrier may surprise some people. I believe advertisers would be wise to leverage the authentic voice of the hip hop music genre.

Studies have found that Millennials spend more on music than any other cohort. And it is this spending that helped to propel digital streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music. Simultaneously, hip hop has overtaken all other music genres to become the most popular music of the day. Hip hop has amassed 25% of all music sales as well as 30% of all streams on digital platforms. The significance of this is that Millennials’ consumption of hip hop music on streaming platforms has essentially revitalized the music industry.

Prior to this revitalization led by Millennials, the music industry was struggling severely. Particularly because of the rise of online piracy and reduced spending on physical CDs. However, thanks to Millennials it re-emerged smarter, leaner, and more focused such that, according to Goldman Sachs “profits are expected to double by 2030.”

For those of us under 40, it is safe to say that for the majority of our lives hip hop has been a dominant culture. Look no further than social media challenges as well as Fortnite and TikTok dances. Hip hop is intertwined with these activities either through music or cultural influence. Hip hop is uniquely positioned because it is not just a genre of music, but a culture intertwined with relevancy.

I am by no means saying that brands should completely overhaul their marketing plans and explicitly focus on integrating with hip hop culture. What I am saying is that hip hop has become the most popular genre of music, particularly for Millennials. If brands wish to garner the same success in targeting Millennials they should emulate some of hip hop’s core marketing principles.

Here are three key insights that marketers can take away from hip hop.

Stay fresh.

A key element in hip hop culture is relevancy and being current: in other words, staying fresh. For example, Canadian hip hop megastar Drake has mastered the ability to embody freshness. He aligns himself with the rising artists emerging from the sub-genres within hip hop and adopts their flow patterns to create hit songs. His most recent album Dark Lane Demo Tapes was heavily influenced by the rising New York “Drill” Rap. He even collaborated with relatively unknown artists that are emerging out of the New York Drill Rap scene.

Brands should follow the hip hop lead by keeping their marketing campaigns fresh and relevant. Be fearless and adapt to the environment around you! As long as your adjustment is based on performance and keeping your content fresh, you will prevent your brand and its content from becoming stale and obsolete.

In 2020 Drake released the song “Toosie Slide” as a blatant attempt to target the emerging social media platform TikTok. He achieved the intended results with the song, garnering over 1 billion views in two days on TikTok.

Be real.

Coming off as authentic is easier said than done. When you try to be authentic often the opposite occurs. Authenticity has been a key pillar in hip hop since its inception. Hip hop began as a means for disenfranchised men and women to entertain as well as shed light on their communities. Early rappers like Grandmaster Melle Mel and DJs like Grandmaster Flash collaboratively made songs like “The Message” filled with socially conscious lyrics about the realities of their community.

Currently, rappers like Cardi B maintain this pillar of authenticity. A brief glimpse of her Instagram feed reveals that while she may be a chart-topping megastar, her page content is original and relatable. Her Instagram features her speaking earnestly and unfiltered to her fans. Her candour and personality are what her fans enjoy most about her, and not necessarily her music.

Cardi B immediately jumps onto Instagram after receiving news of her song going number 1 on Billboard. Her post is organic, impromptu, and most importantly real.

Your words and lyrics matter.

Rappers are master communicators, and the rappers who obsess over crafting their lyrics are the ones who have found the most success. As a relatively recent musical genre, hip hop has few legacy acts. Rappers such as the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and the Wu-tang Clan are wordsmiths. The trend continues today with the most popular rappers such as Drake, J Cole, and Kendrick Lamar being self-defined lyricists.

People communicate complex ideas through words. Kendrick Lamar wrote the song “Alright” as an expression of his inner monologue during a tumultuous time in his life. His words resonate with the complex and varied emotions felt by Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. Although the song did not directly mention the issues of the protest, the song became the BLM protest anthem.
Despite the current trend in short-form video, content words will continue to be of great influence and importance to consumers. It’s through words we form emotional connections and convey our experience. Good copy resonates with readers and compels them to participate in the brand.

The Kendrick Lamar song turned protest chant against police violence demonstrates the impact words will always have on people.