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Friday, October 14, 2011

How Do You Solve the Millennial Problem?

*This will appear on the Philadelphia chapter of the American Marketing Association's website, I'll be blogging regularly for them, so feel free to check it out!

If you’re in the marketing world, you’ve probably heard a talk or read a paper about how to target the Millennial Generation. (The Millennial Generation’s dates of birth vary depending on who you ask, but I’m working with those born between 1980 and 1995.) I find the fuss over the Millennial Generation fascinating, both as a member and from a marketing standpoint. There seems to be a fear of this generation, as though we’re not flesh and blood people with thoughts, behaviors, and opinions, but avatars that sprung fully formed from Mark Zuckerberg’s head.

Some general characteristics: There are about 80 million of us. Most of us have never known a world without computers, are tethered to technology (how many people in this generation do you know that do not have a cell phone?) and the challenge of marketing to us comes from the fact that we are receiving ad messages all the time. We ignored ads on MySpace, and now we ignore them on Facebook. We block out product placement in TV shows and movies – we recognize it, shrug “Product placement,” and keep it moving. We install pop-up ad blockers and simply close the ads that get through without reading them. We know we’re constantly being marketed to so we simply tune it out.

So if Millennials are so onto us as marketers, how in the world can we reach them? 
  • ·         Appeal to their sense of individuality. Millennials have grown up hearing that they are special and that their opinions are valuable (as the product of a Quaker education, I’m intimately familiar with the “we are all winners” school of thought), and the internet provides an unfettered outlet for self-expression. Millennials feel like they’re a part of the digital framework – they’re business-owners on and eBay, they’re content-creators on Facebook and Flickr. Appeal to their senses of self. Apple’s customizable technology has been great for this (to say nothing of its cool factor).
  • ·         Social media. I admit, I was a late adopter to social media. I’m a private person, and I balked at the idea of putting my life all over the internet. But once I realized how customizable (there’s that word again) it is, I got on board. I choose what pictures are on my Facebook page and who can view them. I choose what I tweet about. I write about topics of my choice on this blog. And as my good friend noted, “Since I spend much of my time on the computer [for work and play], if the marketing doesn't have a heavy Web-component, then I don't know about it.” Browse sites that are created by and for Millennials. Start groups on Facebook. Give your product a Twitter feed. And following that …
  • ·         …focus on brands as communities. You’ll find that social media makes this easy. Make them something people want to be a part of. Obama’s campaign did this exceptionally well. The Millennial generation turned out in record numbers, and political ideologies aside, I think the message of change was a huge factor. There was a feeling of “We are all in this together” that was exciting. His website was customizable, inviting participants to share their stories and reasons for getting involved. In other words, his brand was about approachability as well as action, which fostered a sense of togetherness.
  • ·         Keep messaging consistent. Millennials receive so much messaging that a steady tone and message will stand out – and be noticed if it’s lacking. And again, a consistent message fosters community and trust.
Millennials aren’t scary, just different. We’re a savvy group of consumers, which means that when we choose something, we’re actively doing so because we know exactly how many other options we have. This can foster tremendous brand loyalty, so it’s a demographic to be embraced.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 99 Percent has 99 Messages

Without getting into it too deeply, I am the 99%. I am also a marketer. So when a friend alerted me to this, where an ad man and two women in PR rate the effectiveness of signs held aloft at Occupy Wall Street, I was immediately intrigued.

Right off the bat, I found myself agreeing much more with Ad Exec's critiques and grades than the PR Pros'. I found myself thinking "OK, but did they read the sign?" more than once, because the PR Pros tended to focus more on style and word count rather than messaging. Which stands to reason, based on my PR experience - PR is about getting noticed. The first slide is a perfect example - PR may well have read the sign, but she gives the impression that she stopped reading when she decided it was too long. The ad man read it, liked the content, but thought the sign itself was too slick for a grassroots protest (which I agree with on all counts). It's a much more inclusive critique. With the third slide, the ad man gets in a dig about a BA in Classics (my friend who showed me this has a BA and a master's in Classics, so that got a laugh from us) and wonders who the message will reach. Is it too esoteric? The PR folks think it needs more design. Which ... maybe, but also, does the message work? Slide #7 earns top marks from both: "I'm Just Excited to Be Here!" Simple, honest, and to the point. And I agree. We don't really know why he's excited to be there, and it doesn't matter. He's just happy. The protest speaks to him in some way, and he thinks that's cool.

What's interesting to me about this, about how differently the same signs are perceived and about the varying messages of the signs themselves, is that from my understanding, Occupy Wall Street (both the original in NYC and the offshoots that have sprung up elsewhere around the country) has many messages. There's "We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore"; there's "corporate greed is evil"; there's "protesting is effective and feels good." And all the messages are valid. The same way advertisers and PR agents look at the same signs and see different things - different intents, targets, levels of effectiveness - is the same way participants saw something in OWS that spoke to them, that made them "excited to be here." Just further proof of how, as we say, perception is reality.