How to connect with Generation Y
Brands need to tune into the attitudes and demands of today’s tech-savvy Millennial generation.
At the tail end of the last Millennium, a couple of friends and I decided that we wanted to create a design consultancy that transcended distinctions between marketing, design and advertising disciplines. In our eyes what mattered was simply great communication. We set out to make that communication as rich, interesting and relevant as possible. To create stories for our clients that brought their Brands to life.
Over a decade later, stories are still at the heart of what we do at Uniform, although the social context in which they are now told is radically different and continues to evolve at an incredible pace. This shift in the methods, means and frequency of communication, between Brand and consumer, is redefining the stories that need to be told to excite people, and more importantly drive conversations between consumers. For many Marketeers this presents an uncomfortable transition from a traditional advertising model to something that feels more vague and undefined and therefore uncomfortable – but that’s a good thing.
The revolutionaries affecting this shift are opinionated, values driven and digitally native – the so-called Millennials or GenY. Born between 1982 and 1999, they are the youth of the developed world. With an average age of 20, they’ve grown up with Google in a period of unfettered growth, opportunity and transparency and up until recently pretty much everything has gone their way. As a result they’ve got strong opinions about products, Brands, the world and pretty much everything else in between. This manifests itself as a healthy cynicism, and distrust of what the media, and in particular what Brands tell them. With trusted Brands like BP photo-shopping images to make them look busier in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and Gap and M&S struggling to manage an ethical supply chain, who can blame them?
If their cynicism isn’t enough to make them Brand wary then a lack of cash probably is. A fifth of them are now in the depressingly acronymed category of ‘NEET’s: not in employment education or training, whilst 1 in every 7 graduates can expect to be unemployed on leaving University, which suggests that they’re going to be very careful with their pennies. Still, the doom and gloom of the economy doesn’t mean that they’ll stop shopping, but Brand owners need to work harder than ever to build relationships, and in turn loyalty, with consumers.
Talking at them doesn’t work, so just telling them stories has limited effect. They expect to co-write or co-create the narrative and Brands are expected to listen and respond. To drive Brand loyalty amongst the Y Generation Brand owners need to better understand how to initiate and support the dialogue and conversations between Brand and consumer.
Oil Productions interactive film, Keeping Keeley, for Lynx Twist is a great example of how Brands can create engaging, shareable content that the GenY audience will absorb, endorse and share. Keeping Keeley gives the viewer control over the fate of the lead chap in his mating test as he tries to keep Keeley interested until the end of the night. And the results speak for themselves, over half a million unique visits across YouTube, Facebook and Xbox and over half a million Xbox Live downloads, with 86% watching the entire experience to the end.
To drive brand loyalty among Generation Y, brand owners need to better understand how to initiate and support the dialogue and conversations between brand and consumer.
Brand owners need to navigate the vagaries of how to influence and be part of the conversations that consumers have between themselves. Recent research has highlighted how context affects purchasing decisions – whereby positive recommendations from people online increase the probability of a sale. If the products on offer have little to distinguish them, the social context becomes key. Increasingly our friends and family’s opinions and recommendations are replacing advertising schmaltz, providing a shortcut to navigate the often-overwhelming choice on offer.
A Facebook or Twitter comment can shift a consumer’s perception of a product at internet speed. Coupled with the rise of smart mobiles, this creates a scenario whereby consumers are connected and talking to each other all of the time. To counter that immediacy Brand owners need to work hard to recognise how consumers talk to each other and to become part of the stories they share.
Recently we’ve been employing user-centric design methods to enable our clients to better understand the themes that underpin those conversations. Once established, we help them to engage and involve their consumers, supporting their efforts to build shared narratives and in doing so sensitively establishing Brand ambassadors and foot soldiers. In developing these themes we believe we have created a model for Brand behaviour which will drive consumer engagement, and ultimately Brand loyalty.
Firstly, Brand owners need to identify and align with a relevant and current topic around which the Brand can develop a conversation thread. Secondly, equal focus should be given to the stories the Brand tells, and the conversations those stories create. The story must not only evolve, but involve, the consumer, giving those Millennials a sense of participation in, and influence over, the Brand. Lastly, it must be authentic and synergistic, from the issue, to the Brand values right through to the story itself, in its behaviour and in the way it communicates.
So the four principles of our model look like this:
- Identify and align with a relevant topic
- Create a story and enable conversations around it
- Allow the story to evolve over time, and allow the consumer to influence its evolution
- Make it authentic and synergistic
Whilst connecting with Millennials may be uncomfortable for some, we think Designers are ideally placed to help Brands uncover and articulate their stories in a way that invites their audience to engage with them, and ultimately build that much desired Brand loyalty. We’ve been doing it for years for a wide variety of Brands, big and small, from the Crafts Council to Unilever.
Brands are like stories, they take time to write, time to tell and need time to be enjoyed, they unfold and develop over time, creating a unique dialogue with each consumer – all vital elements in Brand behaviour today and into the future.
As part of our ongoing research we’re testing out the principles that we believe make stories more likely to be shared and in turn create an ongoing conversation with the consumer. We’ve embarked on a year-long project working with 250 twenty year olds, from across the UK, to define a clear picture of how to better understand them and enable our clients to connect with them. Along the way we’ll be developing new research methods to identify the kind of stories that Millennials enjoy sharing, and we’ll be sure to share our findings over the next few months in a relevant, collaborative and authentic way. If you want to know more, get in touch, we’ll make sure you’re sitting comfortably again.
Written by Nick Howe, Managing Director.
Published in Marketing Week, November 2010
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