Marketing to Millennials: Old-School Mass Media Marketing With a Twist

Jan 09, 2012

Article Image

The following is the second in a series of eight articles on Marketing to Millennials (aka, Digital Natives), and is an excerpt from a chapter in the book, Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That's Transforming the Way Business is Done. The full chapter is titled: "Adapting Old-Fashioned Marketing Values to the Needs of the Digital Native" and is written by Michael P. Russell. The book is available through AmazonBarnes & Noble, and other retailers in e-book and print format. See the end of this page for previously published articles in the series.

It is helpful to keep in mind a simple adage coined by Ray Krok, the founder of McDonald's: "Look after the customer and the business will take care of itself." This is true for any generation (or population for that matter). Understand your customers, what motivates their demand, and meet those needs. The fact that Millennials now use multiple means to obtain and share information creates both a challenge and an opportunity. For a long time, marketers took a broad approach, as the channels available to them were geared toward a mass market strategy. The message could be targeted, but the medium reached the masses. Contrary to some current beliefs, those avenues are still available.

As far as what is creating media buzz among digital natives, television shows beat the web as the most frequent media conversation topics. In its 2009 report "How Teens Use Media," the Nielsen Company found that once an ad connected with teen viewers, their recall of an advertised brand was 44 percent higher than among older viewers. The research also showed that teens tend to like TV ads more than adults, making them an audience that is winnable through this old-school medium.

While an increasing percentage of TV show-viewing takes place via PC, this is not the case where cell phones are concerned. My current research on this market finds that males 18-24 are the most interested in this possibility, but little actual activity is occurring due to price, network speed, and device size. The highest number of viewing minutes per day that I have found is 15 in South Korea, where there are more established players and customers are more accustomed to the service. Even there, though, service providers are not earning significant revenue. The mobile TV/video market is only about 1 percent of the total market of potential users and has not generated the forecasted revenue.

More than half of Millennials indicate that print magazines help them determine what's "in." When digital natives go online, their internet use looks a lot like their parents'. According to Nielsen's "How Teens Use Media" report, both groups access many of the same categories and sites. Even billboards continue to catch young consumers' attention. John Erik Metcalf, a Millennial-aged blogger, posted a piece on his blog Think27 about a billboard campaign that he had seen. He was quite put off by the approach. The message on the billboard read, "Represent yourself like you present yourself. Pull them up," a reference to those in the younger population who wear their pants purposely sagging low. Metcalf viewed this as an attempt to push conformity, which he felt would not work as a way to influence his generation. Instead, he wanted to see a positive, uplifting, simple message/story, which, from his perspective, would be a much better way to convey the objective.

In effect, however, he demonstrated how an old-school means of advertising and communicating had not only gained his attention but motivated him to discuss and distribute the sponsor's message to a much wider audience. His reaction was to use the means and the channel that he had available to him -- his blog -- to convey his opinion to others. He broadcast his thoughts to all who had an interest, which could very well have included the sponsor of the billboard as well as the message's intended audience. By placing an old-style stationary and static message in his blog, he circulated it to a far wider audience.

There's no telling how effective the campaign was in decreasing the appearance of sagging pants in the area, but it apparently worked in getting people in the target demographic to talk about it and voice their dislike of sagging pants. While I agree with some of what Metcalf wrote about preferring a "pull" approach instead of a "push," his dismissiveness misses a key point: The billboard got his attention. It made him think. It also motivated him to talk about the issue, and he spread the word to others about it, as he showed the billboard in his blog. Digital natives may know how to use technology and expect companies to deliver messages via these technologies, but they're not immune to effective traditional advertising.

In addition to television and billboard marketing, there are other tried-and-true marketing outlets that continue to resonate with the native. Event sponsorship to introduce or promote products has a long history as an effective marketing tool. Digital natives want to see that companies are aware of their interests, of who the popular artists are, and of what the latest hot activity is. Visibility in these venues may provide an effective introduction to a product, which the digital native can then immediately find out more about through a personal mobile device, for example. It also offers the opportunity for potential customers to opt in for mobile advertising, a program that digital natives are more open to than any other demographic.

Although they have grown up in a much more technologically oriented environment, digital natives are actually not so different from you or me in terms of their life goals or the means by which they want to be introduced to messages and products. Using positive stories in marketing products is not a new concept. (Let's see, cave paintings may have started this trend.) And despite the recent hyperbolic overload on the topic, viral marketing is not a new phenomenon: In the '70s, Faberge Shampoo hoped that you would tell two friends, who would tell two friends, and so on, and so on.

Photo courtesy of r.f.m. II, Flickr Creative Commons.

Related Articles

There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty about how to tap into the digital native (the Millennial generation) market. Take a breath -- the task is not as difficult or as different as some would have you think. Digital natives may be a new crop of potential customers, but many of their core drivers of demand are similar to what motivated previous generations. It's important to remember that when establishing a marketing strategy, the first step remains the same: Start by understanding what it is that the market is looking for.
A number of companies have taken the "we know our market" approach by using a simple demographic definition of the market, as opposed to defining the market based on an understanding of the drivers of demand. Knowing these drivers offers far more insight when establishing a market strategy.
A global study conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), titled "Maturing with the Millenials," claimed that more than half of the executives polled had not yet developed a way to target, attract, or retain Millennials as customers. This is a significant insight, since this generation is and will continue to be a formidable purchasing body. They are just beginning to graduate from college, enter the work force, and establish lives of their own. With those life steps comes the need to make purchases, including the most basic ones such as a car, furniture, and food. Digital natives didn't just appear on the horizon, and it is surprising to see that companies are, to a great extent, still up in the air about how to go after this audience.
With the emergence of digital natives, companies are questioning how best to gain brand awareness with this sizable new group. As Celia Goodnow of the Seattle PI noted in her article "Millennials Thrive on Choice, Instant Results," Millennials are the second-largest generation in U.S. history after the Baby Boomers. They are coming into their own and companies want to determine how best to market to them and generate sales from them.
Digital natives have a heightened expectation of immediacy in their desire to gain information and be able to react to it now. A key element in gaining and keeping the attention of this generation is to regularly modify and update your product and message. Don't be stagnant. Keep the message simple and to the point. Accustomed to the rapid evolution of the tools that they use, digital natives want something fresh from companies trying to market to them.
Millennials are a driving force for mobile services and will increasingly be so as they move into the world and take on more responsibility for their own lives. According to Nielsen's 2009 "How Teens Use Media" report, 77 percent of teens in the U.S. already have a mobile phone. Wireless communication, a constantly evolving space, presents a big opportunity for companies. Mobile marketing and its promise has been hyped for a number of years, but only recently has it shown signs of delivering on that promise. There have been a number of hurdles holding back mobile as an effective channel: privacy concerns, the expense of data plans, ease of use, speed, and consumers' not wanting spam on their mobile devices, to name but a few.
In the information circulating about digital natives, there are many references to the idea that older generations always think the upcoming generation is different from previous ones, but that this generation of digital natives really is different. They have more communication devices at their disposal. They are much more comfortable with them and much more adept at using them. Having grown up in a tech-heavy environment, they are quick to pick up on new technology and expect improvements or new offerings to come rapidly.