To Reach Millennials, Be Facebook-Savvy: Mr. Youth

Mr. Youth is a boutique agency specializing in marketing activities geared toward millennials, including word-of-mouth, experiential marketing and social media. Clients have included American Express, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Nike and Procter & Gamble. This year, Mr. Youth launched Crowdtap, an on-demand participation network used by more than 50 brands and agencies. Matt Britton, the agency’s founder and CEO, spoke with eMarketer’s Tobi Elkin about millennials’ media usage patterns, attitudes and preferences and how marketers can successfully engage them.

eMarketer: How do you define millennials?

Britton: I see millennials as basically ages 14 to 34. Ages 16 to 28 is the sweet spot.

eMarketer: Mr. Youth released a study that looked at 5,000 incoming college freshmen, the Class of 2015. What were some of the more compelling findings?

Matt Britton: First, we found a loss of innocence due to 9/11 and the financial crash. This is a group that saw their parents not knowing how they were going to pay the bills. This manifests in how corporations talk to young people and the idea that the brands you own are less important than your ability to express yourself as an individual and be creative. The whole notion of using a brand as a badge is less valuable in the context of using that badge to show off how much money you have or how much you spent.

We found kids are into brands that know how to respond on demand. They also like the upgradeable/downloadable aspects of products. They have an expectation that whatever product a company is going to release, they’ll get the most up-to-date version of it.

eMarketer: How does this demographic view social media?

Britton: Social media is like dial-tone. Facebook is not necessarily a strategy anymore. It’s sort of like ground zero in terms of reaching this audience.

“Facebook is not necessarily a strategy anymore. It’s sort of like ground zero in terms of reaching this audience.”

A lot of brands target someone on Facebook by how many friends they have and assume all of their friends will “like” something just because that person does. It doesn’t necessarily work that way. This generation has grown up with Facebook. They’re entering college having these vast social networks that are pretty mature at this point.

eMarketer: What can marketers learn from these findings?

Britton: One of the keys with this generation is you’re not going to be able to force your message onto them and you’re not going to be able to interrupt them. That’s been true for a long time, but more so now because this generation has the lowest TV penetration of any generation.

They’re simply not watching and consuming television content, which is where 60% percent of ad dollars are still spent. They’re consuming their video content via Hulu, Netflix, iTunes and on mobile devices. And they’re pirating content.

The same goes for radio—they’re not listening to radio the same way anymore. They’re listening to Spotify and Pandora. They’re also consuming online content differently. Marketers can’t rely on the massive bucket of broadcast media dollars to reach this generation. They need to rethink the way they talk to this generation as a whole and ask: “What are the need states of these consumers? What are they looking for?”

eMarketer: Can you explain more about these need states?

Britton: We’ve identified several need states and one is utility. So how can a brand provide true utility to somebody? How can you help this generation accomplish something that they’re trying to do online or offline? How can a brand become the facilitator of that experience?

Marketers need to ask whether they can play the role of entertainer for a consumer. It’s very hard to do. Can a brand reward a consumer for sharing content, and can that reward be in the form of virtual currency? Can it piggyback on a FarmVille execution, or can it get involved in social gaming? There are ways that brands can look at consumers and gauge their needs and figure out how to feed one of these needs.

eMarketer: What are some specific media consumption habits/trends among this group?

Britton: Facebook is kind of a given. They’re flocking to Twitter now, which was not the case last year. Twitter has gone mainstream with its audience. It’s going to be an important source of how they’re getting their news. They’re not that into checking in and location-based stuff yet, although the ones that do check in don’t mind sharing it with their friends.

eMarketer: Does their lack of involvement with checking in surprise you?

Britton: No, because I think foursquare is still something that people in the media and technology world know, but if you’re not in the media or tech business or married to somebody who is, you might not know about it. It’s just not a habit.

eMarketer: What are you seeing with respect to devices?

Britton: College students aren’t buying desktop PCs anymore. They’re buying laptops, tablets and smartphones. What they have in common is that they’re all location-enabled. There’s no distinction between mobile and interactive anymore, and it was a big distinction for a long time.

Whether you’re reaching somebody on their iPhone, an iPad or a laptop—which may go away as well—every device is going to start to look more and more like a phone. It might just be a bigger version of it for a bigger screen. That’s where we’re headed.

“[E]very device is going to start to look more and more like a phone. That’s where we’re headed.”
eMarketer: What are the most popular digital channels millennials use to interact with brand marketers?

Britton: They’re sort of channel-agnostic. They have all the devices and will use two to three at one time. They could be watching TV and tweeting on an iPhone and checking on their fantasy football team with their iPad. They could be doing three different things at once and if a message intersects those activities in a way that’s powerful on any of those platforms, the way they react will be similar.

It’s more about what a brand is interacting with them for. If it’s “buy this product,” they’ll be immune to it. And that’s if a brand can even get that in front of them.

Brands need to provide utility. Take the Bonnaroo Music Festival, for example. If you’re a water brand and it’s a very hot day, people are going to appreciate that you’re giving out water and they’ll tweet about it.

We did a program with Microsoft’s Bing where you pick five of your friends on Facebook and they form your online shopping squad. They help you select gifts for your friends. That’s a utility and Bing is behind it.

eMarketer: How do young men in particular respond to brands on Facebook? Is Facebook commerce a factor for them?

Britton: Facebook commerce is very nascent right now. Facebook is starting to roll out its credits platform but most people are not purchasing anything over Facebook. However, I do think that Facebook is going to be the No. 1 shopping portal over time simply because brands will have the ability to enter conversations with the right people at the right time. The data-mining
capability in that space will offer advertisers something no one else can really match.

But within Facebook, brands need to understand that people don’t want to be friends with a toothbrush. If a brand’s goal is to get as many people to click “like” as possible and then flood them with marketing messages, the brand won’t win. Brands that use all the data that’s available to them to provide utility to the Facebook experience will succeed.

eMarketer: What’s the preferred method for brand contact?

Britton: They don’t really have a preferred method. They don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I want to hear about the newest car.” When they want to buy something, they’re going to go online and try to get the cheapest price possible. They’ll use tools like Etsy, eBay and craigslist, and find ways to get vintage stuff if they can.

“Brands have to provide content or utility that consumers love in order to get them to care.”

If the brand can enter their lifestyle in a way that adds value, then the brand has won. That’s the biggest way marketing has changed: Brands have to provide content or utility that consumers love in order to get them to care.

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