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Marketing to Millennials: 4 Tips for Your Brand

It’s hard to believe how drastically social networks like Facebook have evolved since their debut. I’m dating myself here, but, when I first created an account on Facebook, it was only designed for college students. In fact, not every college or university was even involved at that time. We all know how the network has transformed itself to include multiple generations today. However, as the demographic gets “grayer,” the youngsters are less involved.

According to eMarketer, the 65+ demographic will increase more than any other demographic on Facebook through 2016. Interestingly, as this trend happens, the 18-24 crowd will decrease on Facebook. Intriguing data, huh? This chart from Sprout Social shares even more insights into Facebook’s demographics:

Sprout Social Chart

What’s happening is the Millennial Generation, also known as Generation Y, is getting their social media desires filled on other networks. Pew Research defines this age group as the 18-34 group. Some of this shift is probably due to the fact that their parents and grandparents haven’t made it to these new channels yet.

Still, these trends pose quite the challenge for marketers, especially since activities of the upper and lower ends of the millennial group are likely very different. Some marketers may think they’re in the clear and that they don’t need to reach this crowd since their products and services are for older age groups. Not to be the bearer of bad news, but in a few years, this millennial crowd will be your target audience, so it’s important to do your homework and be ready to capitalize when the time is right. Otherwise, negativity could be associated with your brand leaving you with even bigger problems.

It’s a competitive game, but connection and engagement are possible. The following tips should help:

1. Think before You Speak

A prominent characteristic of the millennial crowd is its strong ability to be heard. For the past ten years or so, we’ve been hearing how blogs, forums, and social networks are outlets for ALL voices. Marketers have embraced and encouraged a two-way communication channel in order to engage, gather feedback, and ultimately, be better marketers.

But, these voices mean that we, as marketers, have to be on our A game. Hasty doesn’t work. Somewhat relevant content will not do you any favors. And complete misses will be damaging. These reasons are why it is of the utmost importance to take a breath and think through what you’re posting before you hit “Enter.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t piggyback on a relevant newsy trend, but it does mean that you have to apply smart marketing. If you don’t, the voices could come back to haunt you.

2. Don’t Be a Friend Instead of a Parent

Who remembers a parent in school that tried too hard to be a friend? It doesn’t work, does it? You can be a cool parent without crossing over that line. The same logic applies to brands connecting with the millennial crowd on social media. Don’t be the brand that uses “wicked” methodologies to try to connect with your audience, because it won’t work.

A brand can be relevant and current without forcing it. By being true to your brand, you show credibility and consistency. If you do this, the lingo and pop culture reference will happen naturally.

3. Be Short, Sweet, and to the Point

Do you ever wish for a simpler life? I’ll admit that I do. Unfortunately, for the majority, life has us on the fast track. In other words, you have very little time, if any, beyond fulfilling your needs and maybe dabbling into your wants. This means that, even when you have a minute to play on social media, you don’t want to take the time to read a paragraph from a brand or watch a 10-minute video. You want something quick and easy to digest that provides a solution, answers a question, or that is just helpful information.

This is where marketing skills really come into play. If you have a lot of information to share, tease it. Give your audience a reason to dig further, which is what you want anyway.

4. Don’t Lump Millennials Together

This is a serious mistake that marketers tend to make since the millennial age group covers quite the range of ages. At the lower end, this group includes people still college. And at the upper end, it could include people who are married, with children, and with a decade+ experience in their careers. Simply put, you need more in your toolbox than just emojis.

It requires you to do market research and segment within this audience. There will be times that there will be crossover, which will make your job a little easier, but often, the content will need to vary and be customized per segment.

In summary, marketing with social media channels was never easy, but it has definitely gotten more challenging as society, businesses and consumers have evolved. Today, consumers, especially millennials, are complex. Yes, this means marketing is tough, really tough. But, it’s not impossible. Brands like Ford, Pepsi, Doritos and more are doing it wonderfully.

If you think about this evolution, that many of us marketers advocated by the way, the expectations of millennials are not surprising. Millennials want more than a logo, they want human elements, and they want to be part of your brand experience. Isn’t this what marketers preach all the time? Sounds like we need to step up our game to practice what we preach.

What Can Be Learned from Taco Bell’s Marketing?

Up until recently, Taco Bell’s marketing efforts were rather rocky. The popular food chain pushed the mantras of “food-as-fuel” and, of course, “Think outside the bun.” Despite many consumers’ addiction to bean burritos, these tactics did not work. What’s more, the company was hit in 2011 with a lawsuit alleging that Taco Bell’s “seasoned beef” did not consist of meat.

All these issues combined resulted in three years of flat sales and a 1.4 percent sales decline at the end of 2011.

“We were letting [the brand] become too much of a punchline,” said Brian Niccol, Taco Bell President.

However, Taco Bell has turned itself around and credits a variety of factors including social media. In fact, the company is making such an impression that it was named Ad Age’s 2013 Marketer of the Year.

The company created a new tagline of “Live mas,” introduced the Cantina menu in conjunction with Chef Lorena Garcia to promote healthier options, and is testing a Power Protein menu and breakfast.

The biggest driver for the company’s 8 percent increase in same-store sales in 2012 was the launch of Doritos Locos Tacos. Although it took three years to produce the right product, Taco Bell sold 100 million Doritos Locos Tacos within its first 10 weeks. The jackpot idea continues to grow as Taco Bell introduced the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Tacos earlier this year along with the Fiery Doritos Locos Tacos just last month. As long as Doritos are around, could the possibilities for Taco Bell be endless?

On the backend, the company also refined its marketing message. Taco Bell now strives to reach the “millennial” customer. Social media really became critical with this shift as well since the company did not simply run to Facebook and Twitter. Instead, they utilized social networks such as Vine, Pheed, and Snapchat first. This, in addition to offering exclusive peeks and deals to social media followers, only helped Taco Bell connect with the target market it wanted to reach.

The Good News

On the positive side, it’s always good to see a brand turn itself around. We’ve seen companies such as GM and Domino’s reinvent themselves after many attempts. Apple, of course, is probably the best example of successful reinvention after Steve Jobs returned to the company and made it not only into an extremely valuable brand, but also developed a sense of status to accompany it.

So, the good news is that it is possible to turn a brand around. It just takes a lot of hard work and creativity.

The (Potentially) Bad News

Although the story doesn’t always end badly, failure is possible. This is why it is of the utmost importance to think carefully about new brand messaging. There are, of course, cases when planning could not have predicted the outcome, such as with the BP oil spill. But, creativity and advertising cost money. Beyond this, it could cost a brand its image, which is sometimes irreparable.

As for Taco Bell, it seems to be putting its eggs in the Doritos basket. The question is, is it sustainable?

While this remains to be seen, other brands need to strategically approach new branding and messaging. Although innovation is good, creating a fad is not. No matter how much it may seem like it at times, marketing is not a game. Learn this lesson early before you harm your brand.