If you want to engage millennials, don’t call them ‘millennials’If you want to engage millennials, don’t call them ‘millennials’

If you want to engage millennials, don’t call them ‘millennials’

Written by Axonn on 16th Jun 2016

Gen Y is rejecting the nickname the world gave them in the early 90s for the same reasons they’re restructuring the way society interacts: the generation hates conformity.

There is no doubt those born between 1980 and 2000 are impacting every industry, but according to a Pew survey, only 40 per cent of people born in the 80s and 90s actually identify with the term ‘millennials.’ Those born in the early- and mid-80s were found to identify more with Gen X, not having grown up around the same digital technologies as younger millennials. While individuals categorised as Gen X appear to feel they align with their generational identity, millennials have shown they don’t and, furthermore, they don’t want to.

This research led me to consider that brands need to create content that engages a smaller demographic, while still approaching the broader audience. Doing so makes a brand look flexible and mature, appealing to the personality behind the demographic instead of merely grouping together those of a similar age or income and assuming they will all be attracted by the same tactics. This approach also shows audiences the brand is insightful and creative with the kind of content it is open to delivering.

Here are five ways to successfully approach the today’s largest generation from a ‘millennial’ herself:

  1. Understand content is more than “tone”

Jake Dubbins, managing director at Media Bounty, recently spoke to Figaro Digital about creating an authentic brand. His opinion was that authenticity comes from “deeds,” not “tone,” and that an authentic brand consists less of eye-catching digital campaigns and more of communication about what goes on behind the scenes. In a sense, that authenticity is more about what you do and less what you say. Brands do need to make sure their content is an accurate portrayal of their true colors, but they should automatically be doing that. I have to disagree with the way Dubbins put tone in the background. Content is a deed, not a tone. Content is a way to inspire conversation – an act, not a facade. It is a journey and, if done well, has an engaging destination. Sometimes, that includes a snazzy campaign.

  1. Go small or go home

Build a persona, build a smaller persona, build an even smaller persona, until you’re targeting a very small group of people. Create content for that. Seek individual stories then reflect how they could relate to your brand. These don’t need to be monumental insights, but daily doses of unique information can go a long way.

A Goldman Sachs report has shown digital conversation is the immediate response to communicating about a product or service after searching online. Some may shake their heads at the fact that face-to-face conversation is dying out, but there’s no way around it. The digital realm is beginning to have a tangible, emotional connection to younger generations. Take advantage of this and make an impact that’s long-lasting.

Humans of New York, for example, explores simple, but impactful stories that are relatable to a wide audience across social media platforms, while digging deeper with a smaller demographic of social impact-seekers. The account uses passion projects and emotional interests to make more worthwhile connections than hashtags and filters.

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Image: Humans of New York via Instagram

Starting from a simple photography project in 2010 to share fellow New Yorkers’ stories, Brandon Stanton ended up creating a brand that now has two New York Times best-selling publications, over 17 million Likes on Facebook, 425,000 followers on Twitter and 5.4 million followers on Instagram. Talk about #inspiring.

  1. Collaboration is key

Constantly find ways to be innovative within your own area of expertise, but look for pros in other arenas as well for inspiration. If someone’s doing something amazing in a completely different field, see if there’s a way to make it compatible with what you’re doing. Diverse content allows a brand to expand its network, knowledge and influence, while becoming a thought leader that inspires conversation and keeps it going.

Claudia Malley, National Geographic’s chief marketing and brand officer, shared how the brand has become a leader in social impact: “Collaboration is critical.” For National Geographic, this meant a collaboration between science, exploration and photography that allowed it to hone in on the power of visual. The good thing about collaboration is that it can happen at any time, and in scope can land anywhere from a couple of people to a few countries. It’s really a limitless tool.

  1. Build depth first, then breadth

Younger generations may be fast-paced, but they still want depth. This doesn’t just mean writing longer content, but also writing content that explores news topics by digging deeper into what’s already there. Be sure the content does actually have depth and does not merely scratch the surface of an intricate topic. It’s worth the extra time and money because rich content encourages loyalty and consistency. Interest pieces make more of an impact and allow for more meaningful interactions. Otherwise, your content would be completely forgotten after the cat video that follows it on Facebook. Just be sure you’re clear whether you are starting the conversation or joining it.


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For an example of how to really dig deeper into your audience interests to create insightful content, consider NextGenDonors. There is a relatively small group of Gen X and Gen Y who are going to inherit $40 trillion, most of which has been designated for philanthropy. NextGenDonors would probably have more money to travel but also be more inclined to put their charitable mindset to work while abroad. Thus, impact travel.

Just writing about Fathom Cruises, Carnival’s new cruise line that lets travellers work on development projects while popping around to third world countries in the Caribbean, probably wouldn’t appeal to NextGenDonors who might have a better understanding of sustainable impact. Therefore, dig deeper. Philanthropy is a big subject, but it’s not useful for a travel blog just write about “charity” traveling. An environmentalist engages differently than a civil rights activist. Create content for one. Dig even deeper if you can. For the environmentalist, organic farming abroad is completely separate from ecotourism. Don’t lump them into one piece, write about each one separately.

  1. Don’t be obvious

If you do speak to a specific group of Gen Y-ers, don’t make it obvious by saying you are or giving them a label (sometimes this may work, but test the waters with it first and see if the audience responds well). In my opinion, individuals in my generation enjoy belonging to diverse, yet overlapping, groups that reflect their interests and passions. We never want to feel as if we can’t be part of something – it seems socially outdated.

Keeping with the travel example, if you’re creating content for a philanthropist, keep it open to others by not directly saying so. There could be a spa-loving traveller sitting at his or her desk engaging with your content – that is until it’s apparently not for them. Digital platforms have allowed brands to reach more individuals without specifically targeting them or spending extra resources to reach them. Allowing content to connect to one demographic, while still remaining open to other personas allows the brand to maximize the benefits of digital capability by circulating content to more audiences.

If ‘millennials’ dislike conformity, they absolutely detest any sort of divide. How we are different is important and insightful, but we aren’t unique to be divided. My generation has grown up in certain environments, but we aren’t limited to them. Although I grew up in Middle America, my knowledge is still influenced by events and people from all over the world, so it becomes unique knowledge, different than anyone else’s. This diversity in influence and environment leads to innovation and mutually beneficial conversation that spreads across interests (and geographic boundaries) to connect people on a deeper level.

Bottom line: Don’t speak to all 18-to-34 year olds at once. You never will and you might end up hurting your brand more than you are helping.

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