Brands need to start earning the attention of the world’s most valuable audience

So your brand wants to reach Millennials? Get in line. These days, it seems like everyone is clamoring to capture the attention and loyalty of Gen Y’ers, who fall between the ages of 18 and 34. 

It’s easy to see why: With $200 billion in annual buying power, Millennials currently reign as the biggest influencers in the world. They’ve already squashed Boomers and Gen X’ers in terms of population size, according to Pew Research Center. And with the likes of Taylor Swift and Mark Zuckerberg leading the way, their ability to shape the marketplace is only going to increase with time.

Which leaves one main question swirling in the minds of marketers: What’s the best way for brands to gain traction with Gen Y?

As a marketing strategist, I like to say that there are several “do’s” of millennial marketing and one big “don’t.” The latter, which many brands tend to resist, is don’t advertise.

Like it or not, advertising’s time for forced attention is up. In recent years, the converging forces of social, mobile and digital have single-handedly obliterated the efficacy and relevance of ads. Ads simply aren’t worthwhile when people have the ability — and knee-jerk tendency — to avoid them with the flick of a finger. There are other factors working against advertising’s favor, including overabundance of information, high expectations for content, and a refusal to listen to brand messages that are self-serving in nature. This is true amongst almost all audiences, but none more than Millennials who intuitively understand that brands are not vital, but incidental to what matters in their lives.

With advertising approaching the verge of irrelevance when it comes to connecting Millennials, brands must turn their focus to authentically earning attention through engagement. And here’s my take on the new ‘rules’ of engagement, which increases the likelihood (doesn’t guarantee) that your messages will reach and matter to young adults (let’s also decide to kill the term Millennials, okay?). For your consideration…

1. Be human.
To Millennials, you look like a faceless company. Change that perception by showing them your human side. Strive to be subversive, clever, ambitious or refreshingly honest. If your brand has a distinct personality, don’t be afraid to flaunt it.

2. Have a strong position (not a positioning).
Stereotypes be damned — many Millennials are actively involved in the social, economic and political issues of the day. If your brand can demonstrate that it’s tuned in to big issues and courageous enough to take a stance on them, Millennials are more likely to respect or take interest in you.

3. Find your common ground.
Seek uncommon ideas, but look for those that fall on common ground between your brand and your consumers. To put it slightly differently, this is the shared space between what people care about and what your brand stands for.

4. Get behind a real [engagement] idea.
To shock and awe Millennials in the best way possible, challenge your brand to develop ideas that are breakthrough and distinctly unique and earn engagement. Don’t be afraid to take chances. This may require some intestinal fortitude, but the potential rewards make it a worthy endeavor. Move them. Don’t just annoy them.

5. Create something that adds value.
In the old days, brands marketed to people. Today, brands need to create marketing that’s for people. It’s not enough to just have a good idea; that idea needs to translate into something that’s valuable in people’s lives. “Valuable” can mean a lot of different things, from providing utility or information or delivering entertainment or an experience. Strive to create ideas that create memories, have a positive impact and serve a meaningful purpose. Become what interests them.

6. Write their story — not yours.
Tell stories about the people that surround your brand instead of stories about the brand itself. Acknowledge that your product or service is incidental in people’s lives — even if that goes against your marketing instincts — because that’s usually how Millennials see it.

millennials being millennials

7. Get out of the campaign mindset.
Don’t approach millennial marketing in terms of campaigns, which can create artificial constraints that stifle creativity. Instead, think of your relationship with Millennials as a courtship that takes sustained effort. Develop a suite of creative ways to earn their attention and distribute those engagement tools over an extended period of time. Brands and sustainable business results are built over time.

Finally, take a long-term view on attaining your branding goals. The new marketing landscape is akin to the tortoise/hare race — and Millennials aren’t going anywhere.

This article was originally published in Target Marketing Magazine.

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