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[Insight] Are brands simply trying too hard with millennials?

Here’s the secret to winning them over.

For marketers, the consumer segment tagged as “millennials” represents a mammoth opportunity. Youngsters from this generation (roughly born between 1980 and 2000) are either moving into their prime spending years or are on the cusp of doing so. According to Goldman Sachs, the millennial generation is “the biggest in US history—even bigger than the Baby Boom”. This generation, apart from its sheer size, is loud and proud, active on social media, and wields major influence over popular culture worldwide.

So what’s the secret sauce for local advertisers and marketers when trying to charm these youngsters, and bring them on as brand ambassadors?

‘Speak human to humans’

Ryan McManus, executive creative director at digital agency NATIVE VML, says that for a start, one shouldn’t be approaching any “constructed consumer segment” – be it millennials or any other – with one rule or approach in mind.

“As soon as we think of people as collective nouns we’ve already failed,” he explains. “Within any constructed consumer segment there are many demographic, psychographic and socio-economic factors that shape individuals – individual people with hopes, dreams, passions and beliefs.”

In his view, if there is a golden rule for effective, creative marketing, it’s this: make sure that it is born out of a human truth – a real insight.

“Based on real people…and these need to be searched for, worked out and tested,” says McManus. “Once you have that, the ideas are easy. Speak human to humans. And when you understand who you are talking to, you can do so with respect and clarity. So the golden rule really is to be real, and human.”

The mistake many brands make, he cautions, is taking a patronising approach.

“Sometimes I feel the brand is the dad who arrives at a party of 20-year-olds and tries really hard to be cool, or use the lingo that the 20-year-olds are using. It’s embarrassing – for everyone involved,” adds McManus. “I’ve seen so many ads with forced-in skateboards or un-waxed surfboards – and they stink. It’s trying to buy credibility without authenticity and young people smell it a mile off – particularly those with influence. And in youth culture these are the people who could create the tipping point for the brand.”

Locally, he cites Adidas as having done well to connect with culture-makers, and Jameson with The INDIE Channel – co-creating with people or funding their projects.

“Internationally Nike is fantastic,” he says. “They always remain relevant, yet never stray from their core values.”

A ‘surround sound’ approach

Gugu Nkabinde, senior strategic planner at Joe Public United, says that one of the most important things to remember about the generation Y’ers is that they have a “different wiring to the younger, more tech and media savvy market who have always had tech, digital media etc.”.

“So keeping things single-minded in thought before applying to the different channels is crucial,” she says. “They are also learning the power of their voice on social media – providing an instant way to tell brands yay or nay.”

Nkabinde asserts that brands need to dig a little deeper in understanding the stories and themes that resonate with millennials – and use a storytelling approach to pairing rich media that will unpack a brand story.

“Call it a ‘surround sound’ approach if you will,” she adds. “Balancing TV vs. social sedia, vs. OOH and channels that are mobile, will capture them (when engaging and simple in nature).”

She notes that the biggest myth is that this generation is “fickle”.

“Nothing is further from the truth because they have been at the centre of driving popular opinion – without becoming slaves to what brands say to them,” she explains. “As connected as they are (I mean, millennials invented social media) they want a personal touch and authenticity in brand communication. They want to feel like they have a personal relationship with a brand  – but perhaps the only truth to the ‘fickle’ myth is that they will quickly reject any brand with a slight whiff of generalising them without giving them much of a second chance. So they evaluate and weigh interactions as individuals first.”

Authentic conversation

Samantha Wright, sales and content manager at Webfluential, highlights the importance of “authentic conversation” with millennials.

“Many a time, brands attempt to engage with them by being funny or trying to incorporate humour into the messaging, no matter what,” she says. “Being clever online doesn’t work for every brand and the segment is quick to see through this.”

She adds that millennials are part of an “always on and always connected” generation.

“They’re constantly communicating with their friends online or via their smartphones. Allowing millennials to create content for brands is an ideal strategy to ensuring engagement with other millennials.”

Wright says that internationally, Disney has “led the pack” when it comes to targeting this segment.

“Building up to the launch of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, they specifically led their plan with influencers on Snapchat (a new social platform growing in popularity) before leading in to the more traditional platforms. Influencers were used to disseminate new trailers and toys while also creating their own content around this merchandise. Locally, Vodacom and King Price, ironically both in industries that really wouldn’t be considered ‘cool’, have found fun and innovative ways to enhance their digital strategies to better target millennials.”

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