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Marketing to Millennials

Pay attention to the generation that can make – and break – brands.

In today’s media-obsessed world, marketing to one of the most relevant – and powerful – populations is different than ever before for businesses. “Marketing to Millennials is very different from the way we used to approach previous generations,” asserts Kristi Bridges, president and chief creative officer of the Sawtooth Group in Red Bank.

For starters, Millennials expect businesses to be completely transparent and communicative. They expect honesty at all times, and they also expect to be part of the conversation. “Talking at Millennials is not going to be very effective,” Bridges adds. “They have opinions and they expect you to care about them, but they also care about what you stand for as a company … beyond just what you’re selling.”

That means businesses shouldn’t be afraid to share their values, from social issues to environmental causes. “You need to get to know and understand them on a very personal level,” she adds.

Of course, that also means that businesses should be cautious about the information that can be distributed among potential customers. “In the 1990s, if I wanted to know if a particular product was being tested on animals, I’d have to call an 800-number and try to get someone to call me back … but today, I can find the answer in seconds via Google, and if I don’t like what I see, I can create videos and start petitions and post about it on Facebook,” says Tina Wells, founder and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group in Haddonfield. “Needless to say, technology has created an interesting relationship between brands and consumers.”

However, thanks to technology – and the media clutter and fragmentation it causes – the marketing messages for Millennials are more important than ever. “Everything needs to be relevant, interesting, actionable and – ideally – shareable,” says Chris Sullivan, vice president of media and marketing strategy for Princeton Partners. Businesses should also take steps to optimize their marketing to multi-platform environments in which media is distributed and consumed.

“Programmatic planning and buying – serving the right message to the right person with the right intent at the right time – is a data-driven, technological force that marketers are using to optimize their media investments,” Sullivan explains. “When you combine first-party, data-like audience personas and custom audience creation with third-party data, the level of targeting soars.”

Needless to say, businesses should also be aware of the importance of making digital media their first line of attack when targeting this particular generation. “Millennials understand the concept of marketing; this is a generation that’s clued in, and they genuinely want businesses to connect with them,” Wells explains. “I think a lot of businesses are still focusing on traditional marketing and how they can incorporate technology, but for this generation, you have to start with technology and become digitally fluid … and then you can layer on everything else.”

This doesn’t necessarily mean the state’s businesses should just start posting incessantly about their products or services on Facebook and Twitter. “You have to have a plan, you have to be strategic, and you have to think about how you’re behaving on social media. A person’s Facebook or Instagram page is their personal space, and you can’t just jump on and tell them they need to buy something,” Bridges says.

Although Millennials do watch television on multiple screens, and also use digital mediums at an incredibly high rate, she adds that businesses still have to meet them where they are with the right message for that medium. “When it comes to social media, it’s best to use it to start a conversation with your customers or show your support for a cause,” she advises.

Businesses should certainly use Facebook to their advantage, but they should also be sure to have relevant insights and ample content to ensure that the Millennial population is receiving appropriate messages in the appropriate places. That means an increased need to constantly shoot, edit and create new content. “Content has to be constantly updated, and we can’t have only one or two assets. We need to be constantly creating and reacting,” Bridges notes. “However, you don’t want to just become entirely consumed with writing another blog or shooting another video; it has to make sense for you and your audience.”

Even if businesses do everything right, Millennials have always had access to tools that allow them to skip information that isn’t relevant – and they know how to use them. “Thanks to the proliferation of ad-blocking technology, DVRs, skippability and shrinking attention spans, content with inferred and embedded marketing messages are preferred,” Sullivan explains. Among the best ways to reach a Millennial? Shared content from friends or trusted experts that’s personally relevant.

Like all other generations, Millennials fall within a wide range of income brackets. Fortunately for the state’s businesses, today’s array of media options allow them to build net worth and income directly into their audience targeting.

The successful business will market to Millennials in terms of how their product or service will truly provide value or meaning in their life. As a whole, Millennials tend to value experiences over things, such as going to restaurants or taking memorable trips. “For a while after the recession, there was an idea that Millennials just wanted to collect stuff … but they value their dollar,” Wells adds. “Whether it’s a $700 phone or spending $20 to pick up a few items at Target, every single thing they buy has to have value for them.”

Despite the challenging economic and job market conditions that they’ve had to overcome, Millennials remain an aspirational and mission-oriented generation, and seem to be particularly loyal to brands that are honest and genuine. “If marketers can align and effectively communicate their brand values with this audience, it will be the start of a mutually-beneficial relationship,” Sullivan adds.

Most importantly, businesses should take note that Millennials have the power to influence previous generations. Simply put, everyone wants to feel younger, and people of all ages are connected via social media and technology. “Everyone wants to be like Millennials – and they can be. Therefore, more people talk about causes and values and brands than they did before,” Bridges concludes. “This is a generation that brands should be paying attention to in a big way because if they love you, you’ve become part of their identity. They are powerful and influential. They can make brands … and they can also take them down.”


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