3 Things Brands Must Do to Reach Millennials Online
Nick Parish is the North American Editor of Contagious, a London-based intelligence resource for the global marketing community focusing on non-traditional media and emerging technologies.
Whereas yesterday’s concept of convenience was all about value and location (e.g. the 24-hour 7-Eleven store), today’s convenience is about getting what you want, when you want it, whatever that may be. This applies to content, customer service, and experience in equal measure.
In part, we can blame this shift on the Millennials, that quixotic generation marketers are still struggling reach. But Millennials’ style of empowered consumerism is beginning to have an effect on our expectations of brands and the places we expect those brands to be present.
A good example shows up in how they source new products. A recent survey by Edelman found that 87% of people born between 1980 and 1995 (referred to by the company as “8095ers”) go to multiple sources before buying a new technology product; 31% looked in seven or more places; 86% looked in multiple places before selecting a more commonplace product or service. They’re not afraid to shop around and actively contemplate purchases.
With this in mind, here’s a look at some of the core competencies marketers should have in place if they hope to reach this important demographic.
Provide Exceptional Social Media Customer Service
Good service, and the ways in which a brand can best meet the needs of its customers, lies at the heart of this new approach.
Glen Parker, research director at Universal McCann, whose team conducted the agency’s Wave.5 social media survey and interviewed more than 350,000 people, found that respondents really only had one thing in common when it came to online expectations from brands:
“Most (brands) inherently aren’t social, but users are expecting to see them in the same places [the users] are in. For all customers, the one thing they all want is good service, but in all other aspects they are completely different.”
This isn’t as easy as waving a magic wand and saying “Twelpforce” three times. Each solution will be different. UK retailer Debenhams, for example, appointed six in-store sales associates as “Twitter Assistants” to monitor a designated hashtag during its four-day New Season Spectacular. One roamed each floor of the department store, fielding questions about the products, offering to meet customers and show them where things were located, and generally answering customer queries.
The store had an average of 10 inquiries every hour during the course of the experiment, and it led to an interesting follow-up. The store is now inviting product designers to respond to customers’ questions. For example, you can ask the person who designed the retailer’s bedding range which loveseat and throw pillows would match, or query a clothing designer for fashion advice.
Do Good, Even When It Challenges Your Interests
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent indictment of social networks as not carrying enough weight to promote meaningful change has resonated with brands that want to provoke consumers to take action. Social good initiatives may not always be a boon for sales, but they are a great way to lock in brand loyalty with a demographic that cares about connecting with causes online.
Volvo has taken what some might consider a counterproductive approach to marketing with its “‘Fight for Your Right to Clean Air” campaign, which emphasized the number of premature UK deaths due to poor air quality linked with fossil fuel combustion (approximately 50,000, according to the campaign). The automaker, taking some responsibility for those deaths, worked with cleangreencars.co.uk to develop an environmental rating system which they hope to implement for every vehicle on the road. It’s also launched petitions to lobby the government, and developed an iPhone app to help you choose the most emissions-neutral car.
According to some automotive insiders, in a few years, Volvo’s cars will be topping these ratings, and the company is essentially building a framework that it’s going to excel in — that is to say, seeding a need. It’s a marketing campaign cloaked in public concern, with time before the tech comes to market. Indeed, earlier this year, Volvo contracted with a company called Clean Air Power to develop diesel-methane dual fuel applications on some tractor units.
Brands have to be able to offer more than just value. Addressing customer desires as they arise, anticipating the media channels in which they’ll arise, and pre-empting those desires with genuinely useful products and services are just a few ways to stay relevant.
Be a Smiling Omnipresence
If the consumer-facing proposition is one of ultimate convenience, then brands must be seen everywhere as a do-good enterprise.
We’ve recently seen this omnipresence in several campaigns. For instance, Wheat Thins’ widely seen “Crunch is Calling” effort rewarded a hungry fan who voiced her disappointment about running out of the snack food on Twitter. The brand went and delivered a pallet to her door. It’s an interesting way to use sudden response marketing to connect online consumers to real-world products — a “surprise and delight” strategy for the real-time age.
It’s often tough to be responsive and off-the-cuff when it comes to planning for this kind of eventuality, both in developing fairly open strategic frameworks and executing once the time seems right. But talkable stunts possess the power to transform into a sustainable marketing campaign, generating PR (such as national press, in Wheat Thins’ case) in the process.
A New Zealand bank has been using social media and online chat to revive face-to-face banking in an attempt to connect the old branch manager relationship style with the new reality of faceless online banking.
ASB Bank developed a Facebook-based “Virtual Branch” that offers a confidential online chat service between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily. The idea is, why would you head all the way to the bank on your lunch break when you can just chat directly with a representative, on your terms? The service is available to all, whether you have an account with the bank or not. There’s a sweepstakes element as well, where customers interacting can win one of 10 laptops in the give away.
Ultimately, these new conveniences is predicated on brands being preemptive and attentive beyond the checklist of a tidy media plan. Brands need to be actively scouting out new locales to interact with customers, both present and potential. It’s time to start giving the people what they want.