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Are you trying to reach an audience of 17 to 34-year-olds? They're "Millennials" - those who came of age in a post-Internet world - and they're unlike the consumers that came before them. Millennials can sniff the hard sell, and they won't buy it. The way to win over these digital natives is to add some value, provide utility, entertain, acknowledge their individuality and get friends involved.
Most importantly, be mobile - it's less a tip than it is a must. Millennials grew up on the Internet, and they're extremely connected. On average, they have 2.4 devices, between smartphones, tablets, laptops and Wi-Fi music players. They're more likely to research a product on their mobile device than Gen X, and they're pretty much always connected. Intent to purchase desktop computers is falling, and smartphone penetration is on the riseexpected to hit 38% by the end of 2011, making mobile even more of a priority for this demographic.
So, if you want to market to millennials, here are six tips for reaching and converting them.
1. Cater to Their Needs
Utility: Millennials are multitaskers. They have 15 tabs open in their Chrome browser while their iPhones push Twitter alerts and their Facebook feeds are blowing up. They don't want their time to be wasted, so you're best suited by offering tools to help streamline their day, as opposed to adding one more thing to check. Britton cites the Urban Daddy app as a great tool - it's a branded app that helps millennials figure out their "next move" by inputting various factors like location, day of the week and desired "scene." This functional app positions Urban Daddy as a useful tastemaker for the millennial lifestyle.
Entertainment: The average YouTube user spends 15 to 25 minutes per day on the site - we like being entertained. And since traditional media consumption is being turned on its head by streaming services, brands need to find a new way to get in front of their audiences and entertain them. Britton says Intel's Museum of Me App is a great example of branded content that's entertaining and interesting, all while appealing to the narcissism of the "me generation."
Information: The Internet has put a ridiculous amount of information at our fingertips, and one huge reason we use the web is to find more of it. Therefore, brands can play a huge role in content creation, using platforms like Tumblr to build a brand and publish content, as if it were a media company. Britton cites the French Connection YouTube channel's webisodes as a stellar content series. The webisodes features videos "as told by" French Connection apparel - the magic dress (above), the jumper, the blouse - to show off the season's pieces. The videos are quirky and entertaining, but most of all, they position French Connection as a fashion-forward and digital-savvy brand.
Rewards: Who doesn't love swag? For millennials - who are either in school or haven't amassed much savings yet since they're relatively new to the workforce - swag is valued social currency. But rewarding is most effective as a retention tool, and not an acquisition tool, Britton says. Offering a prize to your 10,000th follower might get you a few more fans, but they're only there for the free stuff and not because they love and live your brand. On the other hand, rewarding your existing fans is a great way to bolster their connection to your company. Whether you're offering first-to-know content, an exclusive coupon or a prize, be sure to reward the existing fans who got you where you are today. These are your loyal fans who are most likely to stick with you, unlike a fair-weather swag junkie.
Recognition: Be appreciative of your fans' interest and support of your brand (it doesn't have to be monetary - even a "thank you" will go a long way). Branding isn't just important for companies - millennials are all building their own personal brands, too. If they get a shout-out or their work is selected in a UGC campaign, that's going to help them build their brand. Getting a nod from a well-respected brand - like when Honda mowed a fan's name into the lawn at headquarters as part of its "We're fans of you, too" campaign - goes a long way toward fan retention. Britton says recognition of this nature is "a longer path" that will lead to more brand loyalty over time as deeper relationships are formed between consumers and brands.
2. Don't Be Conventional
That 30-second spot during primetime TV isn't going to get you many millennial eyeballs. This demographic is increasingly reliant on DVR (if they even have a TV) and streaming services, like Hulu and Netflix (well, less now than before). With a laptop, a smartphone and a tablet, digital natives won't be paying much attention to traditional commercials.
Millennials have grown up in an ad-infested world. They know when they're being marketed to, and they don't like it. Your marketing has to be clever. It has to evoke emotions. Google held out to do commercials until the 2010 Super Bowl, but once it did, the company nailed it with spots like "It Gets BetterDear SophieJustin Bieber" and "Lady Gaga," all of which have millions of views online and are chill-inducing and emotional accounts of the power of the web. They're part of Google's largest-ever offline ad campaign, and they're at once entertaining, inspiring and beautiful, especially to the always-connected millennials who don't even know what the world was like before the Internet.
3. Gamify With Friends
In the 1990s, gamers were stereotyped as basement-dwelling, anti-social types. Then games like World of Warcraft let gamers play with others - though they couldn't see them and didn't know them personally. But Zynga and games like Words With Friends (see the tribute above for proof that people really like this game) let you play with your friends, serving to strengthen bonds, foster friendly competition and help people keep in touch. Gaming has evolved from a solo activity to a fun and engaging group activity, and game mechanics are key to capturing - and keeping - the attention of digital natives.
It's important to realize that there are "game-y" games, like FarmVille, and there are real-life games, which add game mechanics to the real world. All it takes to gamify is to offer points or pit friends against one another with a leaderboard, like with SCVNGR and its spinoff, LevelUp. Through LevelUp, brands can offer the "$10 for $20 worth of food" kind of rewards that, when redeemed, unlock the next "level" of even more savings, thereby enticing the consumer to become a repeat customer - it's a "the more you play, the more you win" model that can quickly become addicting.
"LevelUp turns the daily deal space on its face, turning value to the consumer immediately, which is very much a millennial characteristic - now, now, now," says Chris Mahl, chief brand alchemist at SCVNGR.
Millennials love competition and crave higher levels of engagement, so if you throw some competition in the mix - look at fantasy football engagement - you'll get a highly interested and focused audience.
4. Give Them Ownership
Millennials tend to be brand-loyal, and they want to have a stake in the company as a sort of reward for their loyalty. They don't want to just consume content, they want to participate and create content. Just look at Doritos' user-generated Super Bowl ad and SCVNGR's create-your-own-challenge aspect, which Mahl says is a great way to engage millennials and lets them become authors of the game.
"Millennials are creators, not followers," says Mahl. "They're not about being told to do something - they're about creating it themselves."
5. Let Them Discover
Digital natives have big egos - they want to be the first person to talk about something, which might explain the generation's propensity to share on social sites. This inclination toward early adoption and discovery is part of why sites like Pandora and Spotify are so successful. Spotify's Facebook integration is seamless - you can play and pause songs on Spotify through Facebook - which makes it easy to use, but the coolest part is that you can also see what your friends are listening to at that very moment. Want a listen? Press play in Facebook and the song will start in your Spotify. Spotify spots trend amongst your friends, basically saying "Look, this college friend and this high school friend have both been listening to Portugal. The Man." It's a noninvasive and seamless way to share your music library with your friends and to discover new bands from your friends' libraries, not to mention promote Spotify.
As mentioned above, Pepsi could get away with Britney Spears sipping from a can in front of a massive Pepsi sign ten years ago. But for Pepsi's millennial sibling, Mountain Dew, that unabashed advertising just wouldn't fly. Piggybacking off the notion that millennials crave finding things first, Mountain Dew created an in-house record label, Green Label Sound, to simultaneously market the drink and help up-and-coming artists break through.
"We don't want to be on what's hot right now, we want to be on what's next," says Hudson Sullivan, the GLS brand manager. GLS broke Matt and Kim, the Cool Kids and Chromeo, and the label prides itself on finding people first so GLS and its audience can "discover" the artist and become a part of the early journey to fame, says Sullivan. GLS fans get sneak peaks, first listens and the aforementioned sense of ownership that comes with being a part of something; in this case, it's embracing the unknown indie artist on his path to success. Mountain Dew doesn't hide its association with GLS, but GLS events are more GLS-branded than Dew-branded, helping GLS seem less corporate and more indie - the attendees often don't even realize they're at a Pepsi event. And unlike a lot of corporate marketing, there seems to be a deeper, more genuine relationship between GLS and the artists (whom Sullivan says have come back to GLS for more partnerships) than in the traditional brand-spokesperson relationship. And because GLS music is not an overt advertisement for the soda and offers entertainment, millennials respond better.
6. Be Everywhere
A photo on the Threadless Instagram feed
New research shows that when consumers are contemplating buying a product, search is the most important factor. Make sure your SEO strategy is well executed, and make your website pop - it should embody the personality of the brand and house all relevant brand information, including links to social pages. As with all marketing, it's important to have a presence on major players, like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but you should experiment based on where your segment of millennials are spending time and where you want to go as a brand. Fashion brands, for instance, are experiencing great success with Tumblr and Instagram. Just remember that no one platform holds the key to millennial success - "the channels are only as good as the ideas," says Britton.
What other tips do you have for marketing to millennials? Stay tuned for our upcoming posts on marketing to baby boomers and kids.
Series supported by Oneupweb
The Behind the Social Media Campaign Series is supported by Oneupweb, a relentless digital marketing agency focused on search, social, and design for mid-to-enterprise level brands. Download our free digital marketing magazine, The Merge, for ideas to ignite your strategy sessions, and our bonus one-of-a-kind digital cookbook, Drinks and Grub from the Digital Hub.
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This article first appeared on Mashable.com.