Marketing to Millennials:
6 lessons from an expert

La Werkstadt, a coworking space in the bilingual city of Biel/Bienne, hosts regular workshops put on by its members. Last Thursday, Martin Zingg, a 17-year-old student and business owner, gave an insightful presentation about marketing to millennials (check out his LinkedIn profile here). The audience, full of people from Generations X and Y, learned six lessons taught through "fails" that Martin selected and analyzed with help from his classmates - all millennials and therefore, experts on the subject. 

Why is it important for all businesses, big and small, to be aware of these lessons? According to Martin, it's important because millennials now have purchasing power and will continue to be your customers. Essentially, millennials are the future. Here's what you need to know - and what you shouldn't do - when you create marketing and advertising material for Generation Snapchat. 

social media pics.jpg

1. There's a time and a place for humor - know when to be funny and when to be serious. 

To teach this lesson, Martin used a video created by 147, a hotline for kids and teens who need advice or help with family problems, addiction, school, friendships or sexuality. They created a video with three teens rapping about 147 and how the hotline helped them. The problem is that 147 is trying so hard to be "cool," that it loses its authenticity. The topics 147 helps young adults through are serious, and should be addressed in a way that reflects that. Martin explained that being serious doesn't mean being uncool. This act of trying (but failing) to be hip makes millennials feel like they aren't being taken seriously, and this will make them turn away from your product. 

2. Stick to what you do and what you know.

For this lesson, Martin used a print ad for Manor, a Swiss department store. The ad focuses on a new back-to-school collection and tries to appeal to millennials by using a hashtag: #backtoschool, with the S and C crossed out so it looks like #backtocool

manor ad marketing to millennials.jpg

Martin and his classmates considered this ad a fail for two reasons: first, they felt the models were stereotypical and fake, they couldn't relate. And second, they believe that it's not Manor's job to make school cool - they're fighting a losing battle and this is what stood out to their target audience, not the clothes or school supplies that Manor was trying to sell. 

3. Know your strengths and your weaknesses. (or: not everyone is a rapper & you probably aren't.)

Another video that Martin showed us was created by a church that wanted to attract younger members. Unfortunately, they went down the rap path as well. The video stars a middle-aged man in an oversized suit rapping about the church and its youth group, and at the end goes as far as saying the n-word. Not only was this man unaware of this skillset - rapping should not have been on the list of things he does well – but the video was rude and inappropriate as well. The second lesson learned here is that it is vital that you test your campaigns before launching them. Martin said that getting feedback from members of your target audience, preferably millennials who don't know you or rely on you, is a key step that will steer you away from doing or saying something embarrassing. 

4. Use slang like cinnamon. 

Yeah, cinnamon makes food yummier... but as soon as you go overboard, you look like one of those people doing the cinnamon challenge on camera. That's how millennials react when you try to use slang, or what you think is slang. Martin's example for this lesson was a dictionary that started adding a new, popular word each year. However, their selections made it clear that they were not aware of the words and phrases that millennials were really using. Again, doing actual research here goes a long way. Martin said that using slang can be effective, but it has to be done correctly if you want to appeal to and hook the millennials you're addressing. 

5. Do your research.

A few years ago, DiGiorno Pizza failed hard on Twitter when it casually used a hashtag meant for a campaign that brought awareness to domestic violence. After posting something about pizza with the hashtag, #whyistayed, the pizza company had to back-track like crazy, offering personal apologies to everyone who responded to their original tweet. The lesson here is obvious... look before you tweet. Spending a few extra minutes to click on the hashtag to see what it was all about would have saved them lots of stress and bad press. 

digiorno twitter fail.jpg

6. Don't use social media for the sake of using social media.

The final lesson falls a bit into the previous category, but also highlights the complex world of social media. To teach this lesson, Martin shared an example of Ubisoft using a YouTube influencer who was completely wrong for its gamer audience. It appeared that they selected the first influencer they found without considering how the individual would come across to their key customer base. Martin's message here is three-fold: 1. social media makes a lot of things possible, but using it just for the sake of using it is wrong; 2. know when to use it; 3. before using social media, ask yourself if you even have content to share, and if you do, do your research (see previous lesson). 

Key take-aways?

> Be authentic.

Be yourself, or let your brand be itself. Know what you do and who you are. Millennials value authenticity and they can see right through you when you try to be something you're not, which is a huge turn off. As soon as you try to be cool, or whatever you think cool is, it comes across as obviously forced.

> Dare to try something new, BUT be aware that there is a fine line between being bold and staying true to who you are as a company or brand. 

Millennials are familiar with all forms of marketing... and they ignore them. They're immune to everything that exists already, which means that to grab their attention, you have to find a way to stand out. This is where things get tricky because you have to be brave and try something new, while staying true to yourself. Martin encourages businesses and brands to take the chance on creating witty, entertaining, relevant marketing... as long as you do your research. 

> Evolve the way apps and social media do. 

At the end of the presentation, a member of the audience asked Martin about which social media channel he should use to reach customers. More specifically, this man had a business in the wedding industry, and he was wondering if it made sense to post and share content on Snapchat so that he could reach an audience  who might be getting married and use his services in the coming years. Martin explained that though millennials are known for their brand loyalty (think: Apple), their preferences do adapt. As channels, networks and apps evolve, so do they, and so should businesses who have a social media presence. Martin's advice for this particular business owner was to start with what is here now - yes, be active on Snapchat - but evolve your social media strategy and the content you share as the apps and channels evolve. This way, you will be able to keep up with the audience you are connecting with. 

> Keep learning. 

Read and follow. See what's trending. Click on the hashtag. Check Urban Dictionary for alternative meanings of words/slang that you want to use in your campaign. Review your strategy and how that comes across in your campaign. Hire a professional writer to work on your copy. Test your marketing before it goes live. Keep an open mind. Learn from your mistakes and the mistakes of others. And as a bonus tip, admit you're not a millennial and connect with those who actually are. No, you're not old, just old-school. 

What has your experience marketing to millennials been like? Do you have any lessons or tips?