by Gregg L. Witt, author of “The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility“
Most people, at some point, have experienced a form of bullying. In fact, a lot of bullies were bullied, and they are just doing what they were taught. There is no excuse for this behavior, however, and awareness and education around the issue has made a big difference. What more can we do to address the effects of bullying?
Starting in about 3rd or 4th grade, when I started riding the bus, I also became a target of bullying. I was taunted, given wedgies, pushed around, and had my bag taken. I was scrawny, they were cool and older – I didn’t know how to fight back. I tried to laugh it off or ignore it, and accepted it as my fate, but I didn’t feel good about it. Circumstances changed, and the bullying died down, only to start back up again when I started high school. This time I was heckled for being a skateboarder, and for being different. And I was, but this time that difference gave me confidence. I was proud of who I was as a skateboarder. I was talented, it made me happy, and I had friends and a whole life outside of school. The intolerance and aggressive behavior, instead of intimidating me, now fostered an internal rebellion. I resolved to be successful and outdo everyone who thought they could beat me down.
I started a skateboard company at 16, after traveling extensively as a sponsored amateur skateboarder for Vans. Within a year it became a global company, and this time I was traveling the world entering skateboarding competitions, doing exhibitions and now promoting my own brand. What had been a liability was now a strength, and the bullies were rendered obsolete. I felt powerful, and I could shut down aggressive behavior almost before it began. I had learned to trust and be proud of myself, and developed the valuable skill of never backing down in the face of adversity or intimidation. Trust me, I’m not about to thank my bullies; they also left some pretty deep scars. What I am grateful for was that I developed a strong sense of self around what I loved, and that this gave me the authority to stand up for myself under any circumstance.
To answer the question, “What more can we do to address the effects of bullying?” I think we need to continue to look toward reinforcing the confidence and esteem of kids as they grow up, especially during the critical years of self-discovery and development. In my current role as a youth marketer, I observe, interact with and analyze the youth mindset in its various stages. I see daily the interactions and constant evolution of mindset and character, and am constantly reminded of the intensely complex lives, that adults often write of as simple and unchallenged.
As brands and businesses, we can make an impact on the mental well-being of our young people, while positively impacting our bottom line. In my role as Chief Strategy Officer at Engage Youth Co., I follow five guiding principles of empowerment in marketing, that are designed to build relationships through mutual respect and benefit, and empower the parties on both sides of the equation.
An individual, and a brand, must know themselves honestly and respect and grow that persona. They must similarly strive to know the identity of the individual or audience they wish to engage. When we seek to understand and respect young audiences, we empower them, and create a sense of belonging, or tribe. This is critical to any relationship, and reinforces the confidence of those involved.
Trust is earned when the relationship is established and respectful. Trust also provides a layer of safety and comfort that allows those involved to let down their guard and explore themselves, their environment and to thrive.
When a brand provides offerings that are relevant to their audience, it reinforces trust and contributes to a sense of belonging and inclusion…that their wants and needs are recognized and addressed.
Creating a sense of possibility offers a pathway to the hopes and dreams of the audience. It inspires thoughts and actions, and instills a sense of aspiration that can change the course of a life.
A positive experience is the final piece of the puzzle. When we can create a positive experience, shared or not, we create a reinforcement of the relationship, and a reinforcement of the individual’s wellbeing.
These five principles have guided me through my entrepreneurial life since I was 16, and continue to keep my work focused on the empowering relationships that keep clients, audiences, and myself, passionately invested. If bullying taught me anything, it’s that we must find our path and our tribe, and help others to do the same. Working with people – young and old, big brand or fledgling entrepreneur – to feel good about who they are and where they are going, and to have the resolve and confidence to overcome obstacles and find their best self… that is the best revenge.
Gregg L. Witt is a renowned youth marketing strategist and generational expert, author and public speaker. He has spent 17 years in consumer insights, media and youth marketing and is currently Chief Strategy Officer of Engage Youth Co. He is co-author of “The Gen Z Frequency: How Brands Tune In and Build Credibility“