For agencies and in-house marketing teams, our excursion into the age of small screens, short attention spans, and information at our fingertips finds us asking an increasingly daunting question: "How do we advertise to millennials?"
The honest answer? DON'T. The 75 million of us 18- to 34-year-olds grew up during the rise of computers and the Internet. And while we have learned to decode all of the mysteries of PowerPoint, navigate the most intricate of interfaces, and seamlessly adapt to all emerging digital devices, we have also been bombarded with more and more advertising from the day we were born. Businesses and brands that expect to stand out, capture our attention, and gain our loyalty will need to step away from traditional methods and consider integrating the following menu of millennial favorites into their marketing and advertising strategies.
1. Be Authentic
Our generation doesn't mind hearing what a brand has to say. In fact, we are actually quite interested. The problem for many of us is that what we hear or see often lacks authenticity and a certain genuine quality that enables us to say, "I believe you, I understand who you are, and I am willing to be your customer."
The first step in grabbing our attention is to craft messaging that is consistent with the values your brand actuallyrepresents and can manifest in the form of products and services. Don't stick a green leaf on your logo and expect a millennial to believe that you are making efforts to reduce your impact on the environment, especially when your business isn't known for or reasonably likely to have any ongoing green initiatives. Instead, show us how or why your brand is doing something, and how it relates to your business and us as potential customers.
2. Be Mobile
Nearly 90% of us own a smartphone, and we use them for almost everything. We can check the weather, listen to our favorite songs, manage our bank accounts, research products and services, and respond to emails. And according to research from SDL, we turn to our phones for at least one of these reasons an average of 43 times a day.
To reach us in our native digital habitats, create a mobile-focused strategy to convey your brand's message in the places it will be seen, heard, and have the greatest potential of really being noticed. Whether through social media visibility, responsive website design, or a handy mobile app that's relevant to your business or industry – these factors play a huge role in the way we perceive your brand and its credibility on the mobile stage.
3. Use Video
Nothing engages us online more than short and entertaining videos, and they are just about everywhere. According to an article from Hubspot, online video accounts for nearly 57% of all mobile web traffic. By 2018, this number will increase to 79%. For advertisers, these videos are share-worthy and have the potential to create positive brand associations in a viewer's mind that can influence perception and loyalty.
When I'm roaming my local Wal-Mart or Target and remember my nearly empty shampoo bottle at home, I'll often think of Old Spice's ongoing series of viral videos and commercials that are able to make me laugh and display the brand's personality in a way that I can appreciate. Am I a loyal customer? Not really – but you can be sure I'll pay attention to what Old Spice has on the shelf.
Remember to avoid being "sales-y" by comparing your product or service to the next. Instead, use your video to tell your brand's story and highlight the brand's essence in a way that's unique, interesting, inspirational, or just plain funny. Some more great examples are GroPro's "Red Bull Stratos" commercial and Chipotle's "The Scarecrow".
4. Be Cause-Oriented
Say your brand has produced a new shoe. It's made of canvas and costs around $50. Most millennials and I are likely to say, "So what? I can find something better and cheaper somewhere else." Tell us that for every pair we buy you'll donate a pair to a child in need – now you have our attention. This is exactly what the extremely popular shoe brand TOMS did to penetrate the market by taking advantage of millennials' interest in corporate social responsibility. Our generation seems to firmly believe that we can make a positive impact in the world, and this belief influences the types of brands we end up talking about, engaging with, and purchasing from.
According to a 2014 survey from the MSLGROUP, 69% of millennials want businesses to make it easier for them to get involved with societal issues. Sponsor an association or create a program to give back to the community, then let us know about your efforts through social media, produce an engaging video – and make sure you stay relevant to your brand, product, or service.
5. Make an Offer
While our generation was accruing student loan debt in college or becoming established in our early careers, the US economy suffered the greatest downturn since the Great Depression. To add to the fun, the 2014 "American Community Survey" by the US Census Bureau found that this age group makes less money (average salary of $33,883), is more likely to live in poverty (almost 20% of us), and has lower rates of employment (around 65%) than any recent generation before us did while at the same age. Let's just say that we now understand the value of money.
Because of this, we respond extremely well to offers from brands that give us a little extra breathing room. Whether it's the chance to win a trip, a 40% off coupon, or a free download of your life-simplifying app, offers like these are what we have come to expect for choosing to be your customer. That's why when Noodles & Company uses regular email campaigns to send me "Buy 1 Get 1" offers or free meal coupons for my birthday, I always make a visit. As long as your brand upholds the importance of customer service and providing a high-quality experience across all touchpoints, then you may have yourself a loyal millennial.
It's Not About Advertising, It's About Connecting
When we say that we hate advertising, what we really mean is that we don't like being talked at. The brands that win us over and turn us into customers all have something in common: they connect with us at an emotional level in our everyday lives. Instead of telling us who they are and what they do, they show us why they do it. Through videos and other digital content that we regularly absorb, these brands inspire us, help us, make us laugh, spark our curiosity, ignite our creativity, or teach us something new. You could say it's just content marketing, but to the average millennial, it's more than that. It's showing that beyond profits or publicity, your brand has a purpose, and one that somehow aligns with ours.