• Kian Bakhtiari

Generation Side Hustle Is Changing The Face Of Marketing

Photo by Moses Vega on Unsplash

The idea of a job for life seems unthinkable to young people entering the world of work today. Work has become less permanent and more fluid, with a whopping 84% of Millennials looking to leave their job within the first two years. The changing nature of work has manifested in the rise of the side-hustle: a secondary business or project that brings in, or has the potential to bring in, extra income. Side hustling has gained mass appeal across all segments of society, though it’s far more common among those aged 25 to 34 aka generation side hustle. This is a cohort that’s entered the labor market after the global financial crisis of 2008. Put another way, economic uncertainty and job insecurity have been a constant fixture of their adolescent lives. Unlike previous generations who are making a deliberate decision to embrace new ways of working – young people have no other choice, it’s all they’ve known. 

Despite economic hardship, young people have access to digital tools that were beyond their parents' reach. These platforms offer new opportunities to connect, create and make money. In general, there are three main reasons young people start a side hustle. First, to make some extra cash, since globally, young adults now earn 20% less than their average compatriot 30 years ago. Second, to pursue a passion not afforded in their main job. Third, to test or validate a business idea with minimal risk. In recent years, HR departments have started to acknowledge the need to change their practices to attract, retain and develop young talent. Similarly, marketers need to recognize that generation side hustle is going to transform the traditional brand-consumer relationship.  

The idea of a job for life seems unthinkable to young people entering the world of work today. Work has become less permanent and more fluid, with a whopping 84% of Millennials looking to leave their job within the first two years.

It’s not all about the money 

Throughout the 20th century, a competitive salary and a fancy job title were the most attractive qualities when choosing a career. Therefore, Fortune 500 companies were able to hire the brightest talent from across the land. These days, young people are choosing purpose over paychecks: 88% want to work for companies that share their values and beliefs. Self-actualization, not money, is the status symbol of the 21st century. And so, a career in advertising — be it brand, media or agency side — is not as desirable as it once was during the golden age of advertising. Even the notorious FAANG’s (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google), the same companies that lured talent away from the marketing industry – are struggling to win the hearts and minds of young candidates. According to CNBC, Facebook has been struggling to win over graduates in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It goes to show, brand purpose is as important to employees as it is for customers.  

The desire to save the world isn’t the only reason why young people are turning their backs on climbing the corporate ladder. Many young workers don’t want to be a cog in a giant wheel; they would much prefer to be the wheel, be it, a small wheel. In other words, young people want to feel a greater sense of responsibility and personal achievement from work. If companies don’t offer them the chance to learn, contribute or grow — they will channel that energy into a side-hustle or worse, another company. Having a side hustle should be viewed as a marketing asset, not a conflict of interest. By encouraging an internal side hustle culture, companies can breathe new life into their marketing campaigns. Ultimately, brands are only as effective as the people who build and maintain them.

Everybody is a marketer 

Brand building was once the pursuit of multination corporations with large marketing budgets. Until the invention of the Web, a storefront and bought media were the only surefire ways of building or maintaining a brand. Ordinary people simply couldn’t afford to enter the market due to high startup costs. Digital technology changed all that by reducing the barriers to entry. A quick look at the number of tools at our disposal points to an era of abundance. We can use Instagram to build a creative portfolio in a matter of minutes. Squarespace or Wix to develop a website without coding. Shopify to build a storefront, without the need to rent a brick and mortar store. Stripe to receive payments over the Internet. Canva, to create assets, without design skills. And Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn to broadcast. In short, it has never been easier to start a side hustle. Young people have become marketers in their own right, further blurring the line between brands and consumers.

Technology companies are also making the most of new tools and surplus labor. Thus, spawning the gig economy: characterized by the prevalence of short-term freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs. The gig economy promises the perfect compromise between time and money. In theory, young people can work enough to pay the bill; before spending the rest of their free time growing their side hustle. But, there’s a darker side to the gig economy. Companies like Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker position themselves as tech platforms, not employers. This means workers often don’t have the same rights that actual employees do — things like minimum wage, paid holiday or sickness pay. Early signs indicate that Gen Z is hesitant to join the gig economy due to a lack of stability (47%). Moreover, a recent landmark California bill is starting to drive national debate on labor rights and the future of work. Marketing departments have a chance to offer young prospects the best of both worlds: the flexibility of the gig economy, with all the stability and growth opportunities of a full-time job. Doing so can be an overlooked and undervalued way of future-proofing the business.  

Brands, as a service 

Low barriers to entry and fragmentation of media are also having a profound effect on brands and advertising agencies. Nowhere is this more apparent than the growth of direct-to-consumer (D2C) model. D2C brands have a simplified, direct proposition that cuts out the middleman, namely retailers. There are currently over 400 such firms including Casper, Warby Parker and Glossier. To put things into perspective, D2C consumers are estimated to grow at a compound annual rate of 18% until 2022. In contrast, last year the world’s top seven fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands saw a mere 1% YoY cumulative growth. The growth of D2C’s can be attributed to aggressive customer acquisition, through highly targeted ads, access to first-party data and complete control of marketing campaigns. It’s important to note, the D2C model is typically a go-to-market strategy – after scaling, many D2C’s begin to act like traditional brands, in search of actual profit. 

Crucially, it’s young founders, or at least, younger founders at the helm of these new startups. The companies are often supported by a crack team of multitalented side hustlers with a priori knowledge of digital marketing. Business success stems from the ability to identify the unmet needs of young consumers. A task made easier thanks to their own lived experiences. The result is a seamless, omnichannel experience, from browsing to purchase. That said, senior marketers in charge of global brands have a golden opportunity to leverage their superior reach, resources and infrastructure to reverse engineer the D2C process by positioning the brand as a service. Recent precedence includes Apple ArcadeNike Adventure Club and Walmart Grocery. The winning brands of tomorrow will be services powered by a dynamic marketplace of side hustlers who act as talent and business partners. In light of this, the role of marketers will change from promoting products to overseeing the entire customer experiences. 

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