We say it all the time, and we’ll happily repeat ourselves here: The end user is everything!
When you understand them, it’s easier to connect with them - and when you can connect with them, you can stimulate their interest, provoke more meaningful engagement, and develop more compelling products and services. Your end-users can make sure your brand stays vital and up-to-date. It’s an easy enough idea to grasp, but when it comes to the newest generation of consumers, it becomes harder to put into action, because, for many, millennials still remain something of a mystery and this makes it much more difficult to form an effective brand strategy. They remain, to some extent, unknown. Now, don’t mistake this for the standard guff you hear about new generations from the generations that came before. Nobody at Catalyx is interested in empty generalisations about millennials, not least because it’s already been done: they are variously indulgent layabouts and hardworking go-getters; politically apathetic and committed to political protest; the smartest and the stupidest cohort of adults in the history of mankind. Millennials aren’t different because of who they are: as with any other demographic, you’ll find all sorts – good, bad, annoying, handsome, weird, and every other adjective you can think of. No, millennials are different because of the world they grew up in. And if there’s a reason that brands aren’t connecting with this audience, it’s because they fail to understand how a millennial seamlessly navigates through this data-driven, technologically-enabled world – a world where choice, independence, and variety are as important as loyalty, convention, and regularity were to the worlds of before.
Clearing the millennial mist
The difficulties brands are having certainly aren’t exaggerated. It isn’t related to being big or small. It also isn’t related to sector. The reality is that some just seem to get it, whilst others just don’t. Small companies struggling to get a leg up, large, multinational conglomerates looking to maintain their dominance and every other kind of business you’ll find in between are having issues engaging with their millennial audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a software firm, a chain of auto dealerships, a financial services organisation or an FMCG wholesaler: the generational problem will invariably rear its head. It can’t be avoided: the mark of success is how you deal with it.
Look at McDonald’s: a mainstay of international fast-food that can’t seem to reconcile its offering with an audience that is simultaneously more health conscious than ever and more emboldened by choice. The company’s attempts to rectify the situation have, according to some experts, caused a severe drop in US sales and alienated its remaining audience.
Then look at Subway, with their ‘Eat Fresh’ tagline promoting the brand as a healthy option, they are going from strength to strength with this generation. McDonalds wanted a piece of this, however, instead of engaging with their customer base, they simply mimicked Subway with ads trying to convince parents that Happy Meals aren’t going to block their children’s arteries and creating salads that in reality have more fat that a hamburger.
The truth is that just as you need to understand their slang, their signifiers, their fashion sense, and their TV preferences, you also need to understand the wider context: the world they grew up in, and the way it’s shaped and influenced their motivations and preferences.
The millennial mindset
The worldview of millennials - and thus, their attitude to marketing - has been coloured by their formative years. This generation grew up amidst a global financial crisis, the advent of high-speed internet, the introduction of social media, the election of the first black US President, cloud technology, the effects of global warming, smartphones and Netflix - to name but a few. There is a tension in the world they know: it’s far harder to get a job but easier than ever to set up a business. They are the most connected generation and yet the loneliest. They get bored and dispose of goods and services quicker than any other generation yet they care more about what we are doing to this planet: 61% of them consider themselves to be worried about the world, and that making a difference is their responsibility.
The lives of millennials are defined by an interconnected ecosystem of apps and platforms. Where online socialising and dating were once behaviours associated with oddball shut-ins, they’ve become hallmarks of the current generation. Modern technology, social media, and the smartphone in particular, have come to influence every facet of daily life: romance, friendship, shopping, entertainment, financial management - even exercise and dieting have become regulated by their handsets. ‘Analogue’ methods have become entirely outmoded: like trekking to the well when you have access to clean running water. The rapid advance of digital tools has empowered them, and dramatically impacted the way they make choices and the way they live their lives.
They live lives that are more open than ever before. Social listening on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms can supply essential insights into their preferences and behaviours. Some consider millennials mysterious, but in some respects, it’s much easier to get to know them: their digital activities leave footprints that can be studied, scrutinised, and turned into actionable information. Sometimes we mean ‘footprints’ quite literally: Nike, for example, incentivised users to upload their daily running results, compete with their friends online, and even sing a song during their morning jog - all in the name of promoting the company’s Nike+ app and its new line of ‘Free Running’ shoes. In the background, the campaign leveraged the power of social listening to provoke new signups, generate buzz around their products, and gain access to valuable, accurate customer information for future product and content development.
Millennials and marketing
Millennials can be mistrusting of marketers, and not for no reason. Remember, all the communication channels that are now firmly integrated into their daily lives – YouTube, Spotify, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. etc. – started off completely ad-free. Millennials are not used to the three minutes of advertising that older generations have been trained to accept, and thus perceive certain forms of traditional marketing as intrusive and annoying. It interrupts all the cool stuff: it’s the thing they have to sit through before they get to the thing they’re really interested in. The first thing to do is to overcome this perception and tailor your marketing to their preferences. For example, where a millennial user might see a conventional advert as nothing more than an interruption, they might be more accepting of a push notification - which allows them to find out more about the product relatively quickly if they’re interested in buying, and to dismiss it quickly if they’re not interested. The choice is theirs and not the marketers.
Overcoming the negative perception of less integrated advertising methods is also possible, but it can only be done when your marketing material truly speaks to them and is conveyed correctly. They crave authenticity, they don’t respond to ploys, tricks, or attempts to pander to their demographic, and if your product doesn’t interest them, platforms like Google and Amazon have given them the power to immediately find something else that does.
So how can you impress them?
Look beyond your company
This idea that you can wave a shiny offer at your millennial audience and they’ll immediately lap it up and buy your things, dates from an age of more conventional, outbound advertising.
Old marketing tactics such as TV ad campaigns are losing their effectiveness as time passes and thus are having to evolve – not least because fewer and fewer people are actually watching TV. According to Deloitte, 72-83% of millennials consume streaming content, and 66% claim that the commercial-free nature of this content is a major selling point. Interestingly, despite the fact that the commercial-free nature is a selling point, the fact that the main character in the Netflix series walks down the street to their Lexus, wearing Adidas shoes, drinking Evian water, whilst making a call on a Samsung and will pick up a coffee from Starbucks later, is perfectly accepted.
For some brands the shift towards digital media has been painful but others have taken the time to do the research to understand their target audience and have used digital creatively and with excellent results. Subway launched an online comedy series called “4 to 9ers” hosted on Hulu. The show originally consisted of six, ten-minute long episodes but after receiving more than five million views it was extended and Hulu even gave it its own dedicated page on the service. It wasn’t their last foray into streaming entertainment either, with future collaborations with NBC and Disney in the works. Subway chose the right platform, produced the right content, and the result was great feedback from their target audience.
Part two of this guide, which looks at just how far honesty can get you, will be with you shortly.
To discuss your millennial marketing needs, contact Catalyx’s team of experts today.