The unprecedented potential of Millennial marketers

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Millennials have embraced digital communications and made them an essential part of their work, social, and personal lives. Rapid growth in media use and the simultaneous move away from traditional media has created a digital perfect storm for the advertising and marketing industry. Marketers are learning to navigate these new, choppy waters as they implement unfamiliar tools for building and sustaining brand connections with empowered Generation Y consumers. 

Gen Y currently makes up 35 percent of the workforce, a number expected to grow to 47 percent by 2014. Its influence as a consumer group is already being felt in the automotive, education, technology, and food and beverage categories. Soon these consumers will be the primary market for everything from diapers to travel. Nearly all are already of driving age and within a few years the majority will be over 21.

It's practically a truism that Millennials love brands but reject advertising or marketing. But is this true? Actually, it depends how you ask the question. Talk to them as I do, in research projects or the classroom, about their favorite sports team, athletic shoe, website, or gadget and they often come alive. I haven't met a young adult who doesn't love talking about the new Kindle ads or the Coca-Cola Happiness Machine viral video. They understand the meaning of brands even as they say brands don't matter to them. Here's how Jason Potteiger put it in a recent blog post:

"We are fluent in brands. We know the symbols, their messages, and the communities associated with them. We speak a language of brands; we can easily construct other and larger meanings through the combination and layering of brands. (e.g. Someone wearing a Red Sox hat, Converse shoes, North Face jacket, Starbucks coffee -- add or subtract any element here and their brand equation or association map changes, and so does my understanding of them)."

Some Millennials are leaning into marketing, rather than away from it, and finding they are being embraced by an industry that desperately needs their input. Ironically, the uniqueness of their subculture and the difficulty in reaching Gen Y consumers has created unprecedented opportunities for entry-level marketers.

We laughed last spring when the word "twintern" appeared to describe a new kind of content manager. Now Gen Y interns, digital strategists, content creators, and community managers are regularly being tapped to help shape experimental programs designed to reach their peers.

After all, who knows better how to reach a Millennial than another Millennial? The reality is it's nearly impossible to create an effective program without including them in the process. These "super consumers" are the future of our profession and they are already changing the way marketing is being practiced. 

Last week I asked some of these super-consumer Gen Y marketers what they think of the marketing profession and their role in it. Everyone I spoke with is part of our Millennial Marketing market research community. Most work full time in digital agencies, PR firms, or brand marketing companies. Others are interns, undergrad marketing students, or grad students.

Here's what we wanted to know:

  • Are Millennials being listened to by marketers adequately?
  • What developments or tools for reaching Millennials do you think are being undervalued?
  • What would you change about the way companies are trying to reach Millennials?

To my surprise, and contrary to the negative articles about Gen Y in the workplace, Gen Y marketers feel pretty comfortable with their roles. It appears that marketing may be unusually receptive to this generation because it needs them more than other industries. Over half said they are listened to "most of the time." Several said that being a member of Gen Y actually gives them even more of an opportunity to get an audience for their ideas.

Anne: "I actually feel more empowered being a Gen Y marketer. And being more able to understand Gen Y, that gives us an advantage. Plus, being more fluent in emerging marketing tools."

Kelsey: "I completely agree with Anne. Being a millennial is an advantage. For me, I don't know what's been tried before or what's failed before. I can think of a new idea, flesh it out, and be given the go ahead."

Jonathan: "I think they're getting a fair shake, it's essential to learn how to incorporate social media and the new ways Millennials are consuming info."

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