Branding

Marketing to Millennials: Move Beyond the Stereotypes

Millennials doing HIIT workout Photo by Thinkstock.
The millennial generation spans more than 20 years, so generalizing how to reach this market is not recommended anymore than generalizing marketing to any other generation. Instead, you must segment this generation as you would any other.

It’s no secret that brands today are making a concerted effort to get in the good graces of a previously shunned generation — millennials. But why?

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. For years, millennials have been labeled with disapproving nicknames and negative stereotypes. The “Me Generation” that is supposedly lazy, entitled and lacking work ethic. Yet, this generation — diverse in age, lifestyle choices and purchasing habits — represents a unique majority of America’s current consumer base. And if you think the workplace is immune, it’s good to understand that millennials are expected to make up more than 50 percent of the global workforce by 2020.

With their diversity in mind and the rapidly evolving “new normal,” it may seem impossible to develop an exact formula for connecting with this generation.

The truth is, even though future shifts are imminent, by listening, keeping up with generational norms and formulating organic relationships, brands can continually adapt their marketing plans to best engage this ever-changing and important audience.

To better understand how to effectively market to millennials, let’s take a holistic look at digital marketing’s evolution.

The Early Days of Digital Marketing

In the early days of digital marketing, it was simply a matter of claiming and branding your profile page on relevant platforms such as Facebook, Yelp, etc. Then came the phase of posting interesting and keyword optimized content — blog and social posts  — to engage your core audience and drive earned media impressions. Although these both still hold relevance, it is not that simple anymore.

Somewhere along the way, social platforms realized that they could monetize interest and started restricting views (and engagement) through sophisticated algorithms. As a result, many brands started to pay to boost content and acquire larger organic audiences.

Although this is largely the cost of doing business today, many brands have still not initiated these basic concepts.

The Current Landscape

Digital marketing has diversified as the number of social platforms have increased. Today, the role of influencers and experiential marketing (pop-ups, virtual reality, etc.) is gaining significant traction. Implementing experiences such as these require a more sophisticated approach to marketing and a greater commitment of resources: time, budget, creativity and manpower.

The most important thing to keep in mind is, whether it be through an experiential engagement or influencer strategy, millennials are more focused on a relationship and conversation versus a pushed message.

How to Irk Millennials

In the interest of developing the right formula for a strong millennial marketing campaign, let’s take a look at the marketing tactics that are sure to leave a bad taste. Brands should avoid:

1. Overgeneralizing. The biggest mistake is casting a single stereotype across an entire generation (millennial or otherwise). People who are between the ages of 18 to 34 years old represent a wide range of lifestyles and priorities. Companies need to narrow or segment millennials into relevant subgroups and adjust messaging accordingly. To be clear, 75 million people spanning a nearly 20-year age gap is not a segmented audience.

2. Skimping on authenticity. Using a tone that is not authentic to your brand is another common mistake many marketers make, and not surprisingly, it usually falls flat. Did you hear about the Microsoft recruiter who sent an email to college job candidates with a subject line of “HEY BAE INTERN! <3”. Uh, yeah, it happened.

3. Overusing emojis. This mistake isn’t exclusively owned by our parents — many companies have also embraced the emoji as a barometer of coolness. This rarely goes over well. Emojis have a limited place in the marketer’s toolkit. Know it, appreciate it. Don’t overuse it.

4. Respect the direct and text message. Millennials (and most consumers) regard their text message stream as personal. Without explicit permission to engage with consumers on marketing messages via these channels, you’re violating their trust (and probably breaking the law).

Who Is Doing It Right

Although it would be easy to point out the slew of brands who have botched connecting with millennials, some brands offer inspiring examples of doing it right. Amazon continually re-defines the concept of frictionless user experience and has created the standard against which every brand is being measured even if Amazon is not considered a competitor in the traditional sense. Surprisingly, Cadillac is also doing a great job of reaching millennials. In 2015, they launched a 10-year plan to rejuvenate the brand and engage a younger generation. Their “Dare Greatly” and “Don’t You Dare” campaigns featured young people’s stories of inspiration and innovation where they only mentioned their product in the last few seconds of the commercial. They have followed that campaign with “Book By Cadillac,” a subscription-based car service available in New York City. It’s a great story to watch unfold.

Key Takeaways

Although developing an adaptive and unique marketing strategy that resonates with millennials is no simple feat, below are a few key takeaways from my experience in building out millennial fitness-focused brands:

1. Think community. Brands must stand for more than profit. What is your brand’s greater purpose, and how do you share this story with your audience?

2. Create a seamless experience. A frictionless brand experience is a must. Think of millennials as a co-creator/ambassador of this experience. The traditional customer journey and life milestones don’t apply to millennials, so you should consider creating a non-linear customer experience that still creates value regardless of entry point.

3. Strive for balance and diversity. Both are important to millennials. Know your brand’s “sweet spot” and don’t push for more or you risk turning off your most loyal customers.

4. Disrupt and innovate. Millennials appreciate brands that embrace this mindset, even if it fails. Create a brand architecture that promotes these concepts and note that this goes far beyond marketing. To be successful, you’ll need cross-functional alignment from operations, human resource and IT, among others.

5. Be authentic. Although this is the easiest recommendation to implement, it’s often the most overlooked. Sincerity is key when it comes to messaging, tone and voice.

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Why Racially Tone-Deaf Marketing Keeps Happening

by Stanley Lumax

“Have you lost your damn minds?”

That’s what The New York Times columnist Charles Blow asked H&M after the brand became the latest case study in racially insensitive marketing.

H&M’s product listing featured a young black child wearing a sweatshirts that read, “Coolest monkey in the jungle.” Before that, Unilever’s Dove ran an ad including a black woman who had been “cleaned up” to have white skin. A Nivea ad—which also ran last year—promoted a face cream that offered “visibly lighter skin” for black women. Gap and vegan brand Tarte Cosmetics also ran ads that proved problematic for minority audiences.

Yet such brands seem to face no significant short-term business repercussions. It’s not like their sales just fall off a cliff.

While the initial reaction is to question whether these brands have lost their damn minds, the bigger issue is whether these decisions were all made with sound minds in the first place. We aren’t dealing with start-ups that lack the experience, time, or discipline needed to facilitate best practices.

If the decision-makers are not crazy, then we must ponder if this insensitivity is deliberate. In this age of hot takes and attention-driven controversy, I, for one, wonder whether these marketers somehow write it all off as a case of all press being good press.

With each of these branding faux pas, there is plausible deniability. Someone loses their job, an apology is made, and after a week (or less) we move on.

If these acts are not deliberate PR stunts, then one must turn back to the industry’s ongoing struggles with diversity: Just 6.6% of those employed in the ad industry are black versus 12.7% of the U.S. population. Hispanics comprise only 10% of the industry versus 17.6% of the general population. And just 11% of the world’s creative directors are women. In many cases, there is clearly no one involved in the process who thinks to stop, assess the cultural impact of an idea and ask, “Do you realize how that might be interpreted?”

There’s no easy fix for this situation, but hiring a more diverse team at your ad agency is an absolute necessity. I know from experience that if you are the only African American on staff, you will often be asked to speak for every black person in the U.S. That means you go from being just another account guy to the voice of 37 million people. Black America is not a homogeneous population; no cultural group on earth is.

You can’t say, “Stan saw it, so it’s okay,” and assume that it’s been vetted. That’s not how life or advertising works.

What’s the Solution?

Start with championing holistic diversity initiatives and hiring practices that are sensitive to race, gender and class. By doing so, you create an environment that is not only diverse in demographics, but also in terms of perspectives and life experience. Such diversity allows for a healthy debate and the opportunity to learn from and educate one another.

Brands also have to take on the challenge of destroying toxic, pressure-filled environments that produce groupthink. We have to create a space where all viewpoints can be aired and valued equally. This includes listening to and discussing ideas that we don’t like and might even deem offensive, in an effort to learn, teach, and grow.

As creative professionals, honest and open dialogue is a must. That’s the only way we can create work that positively impacts our culture.

 

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