Sara Kowal: How To Engage the Millennial Generation on Digital Media

Hello World’s VP of Innovation on how the word “millennial” has become one of the most sacred, albeit misunderstood, terms among marketers today

Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, now outnumber baby boomers in the U.S. As such, the word “millennial” has become one of the most sacred, albeit misunderstood, terms among marketers today.

While there is a lot of chatter surrounding Gen Y’s role in the consumer market, few companies are properly engaging millennials on their preferred digital channels.

When it comes to brand marketing, this generation demands to be spoken to directly and engaged with via personalized messages that are informed by their behaviors. The days of blanket advertising are behind us– the individuals in this demographic have certain expectations, and brands only have one chance to make a proper first impression. As a marketer, if you don’t establish a connection when a millennial consumer chooses to engage, they will quickly move on to a competitor.

To effectively engage this powerful demographic, marketers must expand their digital tool box and offer personalized offers and messages to consumers. Here are some “do’s” and “don’ts” to keep Generation Y consumers hooked from the beginning.

VIDEO: Eyes on Your Brand

The average young adult will watch over 500 videos online this month, choosing from over 75 billion videos available online (Comscore Video Metrix 2014). Aside from those run during the Oscars and the Super Bowl, broadcast TV ads are not being seen by as many young people as they used to be. These days, Millennials mostly watch things on demand or are recording programs to watch later, so it may be in your best interest to shift ad spend from general broadcast ads to digital ads or promotional online video content.

Millennials are savvy enough to understand that most content is sponsored by someone, but if the content is informative, humorous or insightful, they are okay with it–and if it’s good enough, may even seek it out. For example, Chipotle released an original comedy series called Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous that explored the outrageously twisted world of industrial agriculture – while poking fun along the way. The content was sponsored by Chipotle, but because it was fun and informative, millennials were willing to engage with it and share it across social channels.

DO: Keep in mind that any content you create will need to be relevant to the channel it’s published on in order to resonate with your target audience: a video on Vine, for instance, should occupy a different mental space and aim to achieve different results than one on Youtube.  Be sure to keep updated personas and up-to-date demographics of consumers to select the channels where consumers are most apt to engage.

DON’T: Put the same product and sales content across all social channels. Posting a Vine video and an Instagram post with the same copy will exhaust your audience: instead, use the language and behaviors associated with the specific channel for each individual post. Mass producing the same message with little regard to channel norms comes across as inauthentic and runs the risk of audiences socially shunning your brand altogether.

MOBILE: Location, Location, Location

Although Millennials frequently research products online, they still take the time to visit physical stores. Of course, their smartphones are never out of reach when they do–as such, smartphones are increasingly being woven into the in-store experience. The days of standing in a store hovering around a written shopping list are over. Consumers now rely on devices to cross reference recipes, find coupons and compare prices in real-time.

DO:  Embrace these new technologies and behaviors. Brands should optimize their content for mobile, be easily accessible and use appropriate, timely tie-ins with their consumer. Schwan’s Tailgate At Your Place did a great job tying in the annual football tailgating season with recipes to celebrate the games, all while being easily accessible via mobile.

DON’T:  Overburden and over-connect. While beacons and proximity-based technology provide customers with valuable real-time content and offers, there’s a fine line between being informative and being annoying. If a consumer feels like push notifications are helpful and relevant based on previous purchases and in-store location, they will respond positively. However, while real time discounts and information can be beneficial to the consumer, they’re best kept at a minimum. According to an inMarket study, sending shoppers more than one push notification per store visit caused a 313% drop in app usage.

SOCIAL: Who Are You Speaking To?

People tend to forget that Millennials span over three decades, and there can be a tremendous amount of variety within the group. The Millennial generation is not a homogenous group–while some are stressing about the SATs, others already have families of their own. When developing your social strategy, it’s important to remember the amount of variation that exists within the generation. While most Millennials, regardless of age, understand the benefits of engaging with brands, their preferred language and platforms will vary based on their age (among other factors).

DO:  Acknowledge that Millennials grew up interacting with brands online and are comfortable with exchanging personal data for targeted offers. While older generations refrained from digital engagement, Millennials understand the symbiotic benefits of sharing their preferences with marketers.

DON’T: Assume that when you talk to Millennials, you are always speaking to tweens or college students. Produce and publish content that’s relatable across ages. While IHOP is known for its boisterous Twitter presence, equipped with hip-hop slang and spirited Twitter contests, it also caters to young families on a budget, sharing tweets with more conservative text and links to seasonal, kid-friendly menus.

Millennials are constantly searching for the next best thing, and what’s popular today may not be popular tomorrow. To ensure they’re meeting Millennials on the right channels and staying on top of trends, brands should adjust their budget to allow experimentation. A good rule of thumb is that 75-80% of a brand’s budget should be dedicated to channels with proven ROI; however at least 10% should also be set aside to try new mediums. Budgeting to accommodate room for experimentation will allow companies to stay up to date and find effective new ways to engage with Millennials, wherever they may be.

Sara Kowal leads the Product Innovation team for HelloWorld (formerly ePrize), a company that provides a rich engagement platform for marketers to better engage with consumers. Along with her team, she focuses on developing HelloWorld’s product and service capabilities, evaluating and studying emerging technologies and ensuring the company can provide digital solutions for its clients through all channels. 

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