Keeping Up with Market Trends: 3 Reasons Why You Need a Reverse Mentor

Do you know how a reverse-mentorship can help your business innovate and stay relevant in the eyes of your target audience?

The reverse-mentorship is one of the most brilliant new cohort-researching strategies on the block. At a time when brands of all sizes want to understand more and more about Millennials and Gen Z, critical groups of shoppers to gain, one excellent solution has been found.

It’s just as it sounds. Rather than the traditional setup of a professional seeking the mentorship of a more senior or more experienced professional, it’s the most senior professional (often executives and business owners) seeking the mentorship of their junior colleagues. These relationships educate senior executives and brand owners in a way that no research report on these demographics ever could. Not only are they spending time with actual Millennials and Gen Zs, but they’re more likely to be in their target market. For example, this is the case with many of the Millennials working for the Estee Lauder Companies. These young professionals are paired with top-level executives for the beauty brand’s in-house reverse-mentorship program, what is so far the most inspiring program to be found.

The Estee Lauder Approach

Estee Lauder’s reverse-mentorship program is a smart model that has truly allowed them to be agile in adapting to market trends. The beauty giant has been around for more than 70 years, and yet it’s consistently mentioned among top industry innovators in the Information Age.

They’re supporting tech incubators and encouraging innovation. They’ve acquired and/or invested into a diverse selection of beauty brands, including Deciem, Smashbox, Bobbi Brown, Jo Malone, Aerin Beauty, RODIN olio lusso, Becca, MAC, La Mer and many more.

According to an Estee Lauder Companies interview in Glossy, ELC Online is 80% female and 65% Millennials or Gen Z. The company pairs employees in the two cohorts with senior executives in which the junior employees advise on new concepts, trends and the zeitgeist. They’re also able to chime in with their assessments and opinions of new projects and initiatives.

Estee Lauder uses a special “matchmaking” system to pair executives with mentees based on their greatest needs or company goals for their departments. They also take care to match pairs from two different departments to offer the opportunity for even more diverse insights. The teams then meet face-to-face once each quarter and are able to communicate via email in the times between for any relevant matters that may arise. Very savvy.

While you’re inspired by Estee Lauder, here are three reasons why you need a reverse mentor for the success of your fashion brand.

Reason #1: You Have an Untapped Wealth of Resources on Your Team.

You have to keep up with market trends and what consumers are looking for if you want to maintain long-term success in the fashion and beauty industries, in nearly any industry for that matter.

Your in-house reverse-mentorship program is a unique opportunity to secure valuable primary research from sources who live and breathe your brand. Reverse mentors are also motivated and inspired employees. It’s an excellent way to empower younger staff while cultivating an open, innovative and creative company culture in the workplace.

Reason #2: Agility Is the Name of the Game.

In 2019, the only constant in retail is change. Your reverse mentor is your resource to quickly pick up on new and important market trends before your competitors have time to respond.

You only need to reference the success of unicorn beauty brand Glossier, Estee Lauder, apparel subscription company Stitch Fix and others to realize the top players have their ears to the ground and they’re using the data they receive. Most companies have data and analytics programs in place and yet so many are still lost on exactly what their customers need.

Take advantage of these golden insights.

Reason #3: You Can’t Be a Long-Established Company and a Startup at Once.

From decades-old enterprise companies to young digitally native brands are all equipped with their own sets of unique challenges and strengths. Reverse-mentorships allow larger companies to be more nimble and think and act more like startups. Executives who are normally in touch with approaching aspects of the business from the macro level can gain the personal perspective. Yes, focus groups help, however, the combination of speaking to a member of either of these cohorts who also happens to be a knowledgeable company employee is invaluable.

Conversely, startups are wise to look to pair not just more senior individuals with the Millennial and Gen Z set, but senior team members who are well-experienced on the merchandising and retailing sides of the business. This is because the majority of startups are founded and operated by individuals in the same target market and cohorts as their audiences.

Best Practices for Reverse-Mentorship Success

Unlike focus groups, it can be difficult for brand owners and executives to ask colleagues who are 10-20 years younger what is cool, new and happening in the space.

Tips for Success…

  • Create an official program with clearly-defined structure. For a smaller brand, this can simply mean getting it in writing and presenting it as a new addition to how the business is run.
  • Establish respect on both sides. Younger employees need to respect older employees with more experience and knowledge of how things work. Older employees need to respect younger employees and establish an environment of comfort, trust and non-judgment, an environment encouraging Millennials and Gen Zs to speak freely about their ideas and the lifestyle.
  • Older executives should arrive prepared, with the right questions:
    • What is cool? What is new IRL (in real life)?
    • What are the top trends online right now? The best websites? Who is hot on social media and why? What is no longer cool and why did it go out of favor?
    • What is happening that I should know about if I were hanging out with people your age?
    • What are the trends I should be looking out for?
  • The questions should come from a place of genuine connection, interest and respect.
  • Remember that everyone has something to learn from anyone they encounter. For example, in business, older marketers tend to undervalue younger marketers. However, though the senior marketers hold invaluable experience, it’s the younger marketers that are the most culturally relevant today.

The beauty (no pun intended) of reverse-mentorships is that they pair senior executive-level expertise with the culturally-nuanced zeitgeist of someone who is on the ground, surrounded by this reality in everyday life. It’s difficult to compete with the savvy combination of early adopters and experienced industry professionals. Running a business from just one side of the coin will never be enough.

Next Steps: Dive Deeper into Millennials, Gen Z & Mentorships

Looking for market research support or executive leadership coaching? Get in touch. We work with startups, growth stage businesses and enterprise companies. Call 310-957-5264 or send us an email at hello@scalingretail.com.

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