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The big conundrum these days is how marketers and advertisers can actively appeal to the coveted millennial demographic.

These days, the millennial holds the power. They are the ones who set trends, spend money, and boost brands, and the difficulty of properly engaging with them lies in how fast paced their demographic is.

Brands are increasingly finding that it’s difficult to keep up with a group whose tastes are constantly in flux. The millennial is notoriously snarky and cynical, but it's not negative. In fact, they have a great positive energy that they share via social media through good-natured self-deprecation and a knowledge of pop culture references. It isn’t enough to have a great website or a killer campaign. If you don’t engage on social media, you simply aren’t part of the conversation, and you don’t exist.  

Brands have to provide shareability and value to their user base and even create a platform for the content creators to leverage. Movement campaigns such as Always’ #LikeAGirl are a great example. The ALS #IceBucketChallenge was another. Allowing the content creator a measure of personal expression while also providing branding guardrails such as the appropriate hashtag and the rules of engagement (hold up a sign that says #LikeAGirl or shoot a video of an ice bucket being poured over your head) gives your audience the power to engage their own friend groups, which ultimately (and ideally) sets off a viral chain reaction.  

The Types of Social Millennials

There are three subsets of millennials:

"Likers" will get behind a movement and show support, but rarely do they engage their peers. They represent the majority of your following, and the end consumer that you must ultimately engage to see ROI.

The "sharers" take their engagement one step further. They will not only engage but also encourage their peers to do so, which in many cases is key to a viable and successful social campaign. This particular subset represents a smaller percentage of your audience, but they are the ones that exert influence on the larger groups and therefore, are integral to said campaign’s measure of virality.  

Finally, the content creator or influencer is often a popular millennial figure that has their own social media engagements. They stand as a pillar of taste-making among the rest of their community and the world at large depending on their reach. This particular subset may include your brand as part of their lifestyle in an organic way, which really has a tremendous impact on their following (and ultimately that of the brand). Many of these content creators have “sharers” of their own, so they represent the highest rung of the pecking order.

However, engaging all three is critical to brand dissemination in today’s millennial culture. A brand’s ability to do that is the perfect gauge to potential success down the line.

Brand Authenticity in the Face of the Millennial

Nobody can sniff out a fraud like today’s millennial consumer. They are information bloodhounds and have access to every bad review, every corporate blunder, and every negative reference to you and your product. You can’t hide the facts, and to try to cover up your true colors only makes you look phonier.

The simple solution? Be truthful. Be humble. Be real. Don’t try to be “cool” or try to use popular slang if it doesn’t suit your brand’s image. The best measure of “cool” is whether or not you cringe when you type. Your brand voice will resonate if it stems from something authentic.

Digital marketers must understand that there is no magic bullet or secret sauce. The truth of your product must come through internally, and it should create a sense of pride in your own team. This will then shine through your marketing efforts. When you make a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Be genuine, and forge a real relationship with your user base on a person-to-person basis through social media. You may not realize it, but the person who cares enough to engage in a debate or comment on a social media post may represent dozens or hundreds of silent observers who are being swayed by your responses -- or lack thereof. Get into the conversation, and be very real to your own brand.   

This is essential in being able to create said conversation, and the best hypothetical analogy is the sort of person whom at a family function understands the importance of having a meaningful conversation with your twenty-something niece or nephew, rather than the standard “how’s the job and love life” line. Ask questions. Be vulnerable. Be silly, and don’t take yourself too seriously. And always have a purpose to your message that you remain true to. Have a set of beliefs, and engage in an upbeat dialogue that is pointed toward empowerment. We all ultimately want the same things, after all. We want to be treated with respect and to actually be heard, not just marketed to.

Being Tasteful to the Tastemakers

The concept of “taste” can most times be relegated to be something of a subjective concept. It’s difficult to put any tangible stock in the word, but when it comes to branding through imagery and visuals -- things millennials can really engage in -- the measure of “taste” becomes paramount. Visuals must be engaging and intelligent. The days of blinking, flashing “buy now!” banners and buttons are over.

No millennial wants to be hard sold. They want to feel like they are opting into a value proposition that gives them access to something. This opt-in process should provide a concrete value such as access to an early release of event tickets or a discount code on their purchase. Millennials, like most of us, realize that if your product is so great then you shouldn’t have to oversell it. In fact, you should be exclusive about who purchases the product and use the law of supply and demand to drive up demand by limiting access to some degree.

For example, of my 21,000 Instagram followers, only about 7% to 8% regularly “like” one of my posts and even fewer comment. This is relatively high since the average Instagram feed has less than a 5% engagement rate. I attribute that discrepancy to the fact that I comment back and write to each person who takes the time to comment on my posts. It’s most definitely a time-consuming task, but one that has my following feel that they are part of a group of like-minded friends, not just a faceless social media feed. That feeling is what separates a Starbucks from any other coffee shop. It is a feeling of inclusion -- of being part of something that a person can call his own. I genuinely like and appreciate my following, and I show them that on a regular basis. This is the key to the millennial generation.   

The inclusion concept can give the millennial a sense that they’re part of something greater, that they’re part of a story. It gives them a feeling that they’re helping to drive that story and that their part in doing so is a keystone to that brand’s success down the line. There’s a reason why you see a lot of narrative video ad content that depends on humanizing their ads to tell a genuine story. Chipotle’s “Back to the Start” or Epuron’s “The Wind” are perfect examples of ads that pull the viewer in and exploit an emotional payoff to drive home a simple message. The beauty of this is that the average millennial gets it. These are ad campaigns that seemingly do the impossible -- they get the group stereotyped as a very elusive and erratic demographic to sit down and watch.

It’s an interesting trend because you hear all the time that “kids today” are no good, have no values, no attention spans, and are spoiled. I don’t buy into that at all. I believe that these are children of the information age who are, by and large, very positive-minded and motivated people. They want to prop each other up, they want to find a sense of belonging, and they want to feel that they aren’t alone in being vulnerable. They’re aware of the hypocrisies of our modern age and are coming to terms with them as they forge an identity and value system in this changing social landscape. Are you trying to make a buck by hawking a product? Sure. They get it. So be transparent about that fact, and your average millennial will respect you for it. 

Originally published Oct 16, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

Topics:

Social Media Marketing