Millennials represent the rise of a socially connected, empowered group of consumers. They present themselves as both the most assimilated generation in history and, simultaneously, the consumer group needing the most individualized advertising targeting ever.
In this article, we'll examine four key truths for marketing to today's Millennials. In addition, we'll examine correlating examples of brands that are already doing a great job reaching so-called Generation Connected.
Experiences can happen online
The modern college campus has evolved. Smartphones, tablets, apps, wireless, and cloud connectivity play a central role within today's classrooms and dorms, and in some cases, are powering entirely virtual campuses. As a result, the campus bubble has burst. Students are receiving, interpreting, sharing, and creating information via media and methodologies that simply did not exist 10 years ago.
Online education models like Kahn Academy, edX, and Udacity are proving that online learning can not only deliver world class education, but they might be viable substitutes for the traditionally considered "in-person" only experience of a four-year degree. But education is not an anomaly. In fact, it's a late adopter. Technology's role in redefining traditional business models is very well documented. Just ask the music industry or the U.S. Postal Service. And email and mp3s were just the start. Advances in streaming video, the ubiquity of social media, and the ease of access to video on demand have accelerated the speed at which traditional "offline" experiences are becoming available as virtual experiences.
How can advances in technology create or duplicate experiences that were formally an in-person only engagement point for your brand?
Brands doing it well
State Farm: The company's sponsorship of Coachella in partnership with YouTube last April was a shining example of leveraging technology to offer consumers an online experience that was formerly available only "in person." Main stages were broadcast live via streaming concert footage, and State Farm integrated a real-time Instagram stream into its Facebook page to provide a glimpse of what it all looked like from an insider's perspective.
Barack Obama: Another great example is the Obama campaign's use of Google+ and Reddit to host an online hangout and an "Ask Me Anything" session with American voters during the campaign season. The virtual town halls connected the Obama brand directly with his audience and, in doing so, generated a lot of publicity coverage -- much more than traditional town hall forums gathered during the same period.
It's all about status
A generation ago, you were "popular" if you had 20 friends. You had influence if you started fashion trends or were able to get a last-minute reservation at the latest "it" restaurant. And while one could argue that those definitions still hold true, today's Millennials have completely redefined the framework of social identity.
As documented in AMP Agency's "Psychology of Social" study, the age-old human desires of connection, attachment, and identity establishment have not changed since the Stone Age -- but the process and manner in which they are achieved has shifted significantly with the rise of social media. We're now enabled to fulfill these basic human needs via our technological capacity to connect through social channels and communities. And it's become a part of everyday identity. Tomorrow's consumers will define themselves by the brands they like on Facebook, the songs they stream via Spotify, the places they check-in on Foursquare, the people they follow on Twitter, the photos they upload to Instagram, and the online identities that they establish early on in life.
Someone's social footprint is already a factor in how online daters find their mates, how employers screen potential employees, how universities evaluate applicants, and how record companies scan for the next Justin Bieber.
So what does it mean for brands? Social is no longer a vertical channel. It must be considered, and likely implemented, across everything a brand does. It is no longer enough to simply create a positive brand experience (a challenge in its own right). It's now about creating positive, shareable brand experiences for consumers while simultaneously helping to facilitate the social sharing of those experiences.
As brand identity continues to become an integral part of consumers' individual identities, brands should look for ways to facilitate evangelism and provide online and offline status perks to your customers.
Brands doing it well
Warby Parker: This brand has done a fantastic job aligning its brand with its consumers' social identities. When consumers receive their five trial pairs of glasses, they're encouraged to log on to Warby Parker's Facebook page and upload a video trying on their frames. Not only can they get feedback from their friends on which pair of glasses looks best, but Warby Parker's team will share a recommendation for which frames work best for that consumer's face. Select videos are featured on the Facebook tab as an additional shout-out from the brand.
Nike: Another brand that's done a great job extending social across all consumer touch points and engagements is Nike with its Nike+ ecosystem. The Nike+ Running app allows users to sync and share their fitness goals and achievements with their social communities, helping to not only track their performance, but also helping to keep them motivated. Nike+ FuelBand's integration with the Path social network takes things a step further by allowing Path users to map their progress against their daily activity goals. If people have trouble keeping themselves accountable, now they can rely on the motivation of shared competition (your mom ran more miles than you today?!?) or the pressure of public workout tracking (my girlfriend will know if I skip that workout today).
They are byte-size consumers
Millennials have been labeled "the cheapest generation" for their propensity to eschew large-scale purchases such as cars and houses. And while this generation might have a slight aversion to "putting down roots," that's but one influence in a much larger shift in consumerism. Yes, you can blame a bumpy economy for the change in purchase decisions -- or lack thereof -- but a bigger factor driving the shift in consumer behavior is the role that technology is playing in enabling sample-size purchases, access to shared resources, and pay-as-you-go models.
If your product or category allows for it, enable consumers to trial your product via sample-size engagements or short-term rentals. Despite the fleeting nature of brand loyalty, studies continue to show that brand affinity and advocacy start at a young age. And Millennials are still big spenders. According to the annual re:fuel College Explorer study, college students' collective discretionary spending was up 40 percent year-over-year for 2012 ($120 billion) vs. 2011 ($86 billion). So is this generation the cheapest? Or is it just the savviest as it relates to its spending habits? Plenty of brands are betting on "savviest."
Brands doing it well
Ford: In 2011, Ford partnered with Zipcar (recently acquired by Avis) and integrated Ford vehicles into Zipcar's university program. At an extremely low cost of entry, Ford was able to get tens of thousands of college students behind the wheel of its featured vehicles. And in addition to facilitating a large number of "test drives," the program showcased Ford's commitment to cause -- both via its participation in a car-sharing program and also via the associated "Students with Drive" scholarship program. So while Millennials might be delaying car purchases, many will now have fond memories of their weekend getaway or trip to the local wholesale supply store to consider when they do finally decide to purchase their first set of wheels.
Pretzel Crisps: This brand has taken a unique approach to its Twitter channel by leveraging it primarily for outreach and to motivate trial as opposed to outbound messaging. Through social listening, the brand interjects itself into relevant snacking conversations and offers to have samples of its product delivered by its local field marketing teams. It's a "surprise and delight" tactic that not only wins over new consumers, but also provides a strong motivation to share the experience across social channels, thus generating a significant amount of earned coverage with a very strong first-hand endorsement.
Media is on-demand
The reality of ubiquitous device presence, 24/7 connectivity, and an ever-present social layer of constant peer-to-peer sharing, commenting, and referring has revolutionized the way Millennials consume media and engage with brands. This generation's ability to turn on and turn off advertising is unmatched -- both based on their simultaneous multi-device usage and their "me-centric" consumer mindset. It's no longer just about what a brand has to say, or where it says it, but rather how the brand behaves (and adapts) as it is saying it.
For many Millennials, it is no longer a question of online vs. offline, but rather online vs. asleep. According to eMarketer, the class of 2016 is already consuming more television online than on a TV, and by the time they graduate, more than 90 percent of college students in the U.S. will own a smartphone.
More than ever before, consumers are in control of how, when, and via what device they will be exposed to your messaging. It's no longer enough to just be target relevant. Advertising -- both in message and in medium -- must now be meaningful to the targeted individual, or you risk being ignored. Brands must leverage native ads, contextual placements, and social referrals to break through the clutter and connect in a meaningful way. It's no longer about being target relevant; it's about being consumer-centric.
A brand doing it extremely well
Intel: The company partnered with Vice to develop "The Creators Project," a global network "dedicated to the celebration of creativity, culture, and technology." The project supports Millennial-relevant artists across multiple disciplines and invites them to share their creative processes and outputs first hand via blog posts, videos, an online community, and live experiences. At the core of all of these artists' creations is technology -- that happens to be powered by Intel. It's advertising through endorsement, and it's content marketing at its best.
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