Can you teach an old dog new tricks? My seven-year-old yellow lab Bailey just learned to roll over after many valorous but failed attempts in the past. (Though, those doggie treats in the back pocket probably didn't hurt.)
What about older, more established brands? Can they learn new tricks to help stay relevant to Millennial-aged consumers who are turning up the dial on their consumption habits to the tune of $200 billion in direct buying power each year?
In conducting research for my "Marketing to Millennials" book, I came across several brand examples that unequivocally point to yes. The tricks? Here are the top three lessons learned from these best-in-class examples.
Tip No. 1: Mine the data and be ready to roll with the changes
When MTV President Stephen Friedman first took the helm of the company in 2008, he noticed that something was amiss.
While MTV's programming was still doing well and dominating with its target demographic, there was a little softness in the ratings, enough to make Friedman want to dive a bit deeper to understand what was behind the dip.
"If you look at history of MTV over the last 30 years, we do [these studies] every few years as the generation changes. [MTV's] model, from the beginning, is always changing," explained Friedman. "But 2008 was kind of the loud message it was time once again. We saw these profound shifts, some really big differences between Gen X and Millennials. We realized our programming was not as reflective as it should be for what Millennials were asking for. That year started an overhaul of pretty much everything -- our programming, marketing our logo, our social media strategy. We went through a massive reinvention that we're still in the middle of."
One key finding that MTV acted on immediately: Millennials, unlike Gen X, actually like to be around their parents.
"When Gen X was growing up, you just didn't see adults on popular teen shows. You certainly never saw them on MTV," said Friedman, as quoted in "Marketing to Millennials." "Suddenly, we were finding that our main audience -- the Millennials-aged audience -- is best friends with their parents."
This finding led to MTV's decision to green-light "16 and Pregnant," a show that features the critical role parents play in helping teen children prepare to become parents. And no surprise, based on the research MTV had conducted, the show was a hit and is currently gearing up for its fifth season.
Tip No. 2: Make a connection today, even if the payoff isn't clear
"If I asked customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses," Henry Ford famously said.
When devising a marketing strategy for Millennials, this principle still rings true for the Ford Motor Company, even though recent research says that Millennials aren't even interested in owning a car. Indeed, almost half of teens say that, if given a choice, they would rather have internet access than a car, according to a 2012 Gartner survey.
But, says Ford's Sheryl Connelly, manager of global consumer trends and futuring, the company cannot afford to ignore this large generation of consumers that will hopefully be its consumer tomorrow. "The population is very large in terms of scale and influence. It's the only generation that is bigger than Baby Boomers," said Connelly, as quoted in the book.
So the challenge for the company when it comes to marketing to its next generation of consumers is clear: Ford must figure out an effective way to connect with consumers who don't think they even need a car today in the hope that they'll choose Ford tomorrow. "It's complicated and tricky because you can't just ask customers 'What do you want three years from now?' Most people can't say what they want three weeks from now."
How did Ford go about building this connection? It began a conversation where many Millennials can be found today -- on Facebook. Indeed, the company successfully launched one of the car industry's hottest Facebook apps -- the Ford Mustang Customizer -- which allows its millions of eager players the chance to trick out their dream Mustang in competition with their fellow car enthusiasts. Not only did it start a conversation by engaging and exciting these players about the Ford brand, but it also allowed the company to gain useful insights into what matters most to Millennial consumers -- information that can pay off when developing the next line of Ford cars.