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Marketing to Millennials: What Works?

Posted by Kate Seat on 5/28/14 11:00 PM
Topics: college store customer service, college retail, customer loyalty, Marketing to Students

Millennials are the college retailer’s target market—so how do you market to them successfully? This diverse group already has a reputation for being too savvy to be sentimental and immune to more traditional methods of advertising engagement.

Recently, a panel was held specifically to discuss the media habits of this influential generation and to help shed some light on the subject. The following excerpt is from an article about the panel, written by Perry Simpson for Direct Marketing News. Here are some of the highlights:

As millennials continue to grow in population and buying power, their disruptive behaviors and mysterious preferences have forced the entire business world to play catch-up. The shifting status quo, coupled with the rise of digital, has forced marketers to embrace content marketing; ever in pursuit of the coveted virility the Internet encourages.

The virility of this content is often less contingent on promotion or sponsorship than the will of the Web, so to speak. “This millennial group is all about the democratization of content. Anybody can make [content], but they're looking for quality,” Alvin Bowles, CEO of Grab Media, said during an Internet Week panel discussion about the media habits of millennials. “You have to make sure you're finding the right environment to tell the story, instead of taking that 30-second TV spot and throwing it onto mobile, then wondering why they didn't buy. You have to be specific to the medium that you're talking in and make sure that the message in your ad is germane to that particular avenue.”

Millennials' consumption of content was the major driver of conversation for the panelists. “Twitter is now my home page for news. Facebook is now the home page for publishers,” Thompson said. “The Atlantic gets more traffic from Facebook than we do from our home page. It's changed from institutions building homepages to people building homepages.”

Many brands surely relate, and with the rise of content marketing, marketers are doing their best to get their branded content to the right feeds and streams. Given the content bombardment inherent in the Internet, millennials have grown to engage only with relevant content, reducing some of the mass appeal brands hope for while enhancing their opportunity to gain near-perfect customers. “If you can connect passionate people with passionate content, we see consumption skyrocket. The Web was born for enthusiastic content,” said Schiller.

The panel also discussed millennials' preference for authenticity and the generation's presumed attitude toward native advertising.

“If you look at ads now, most don't look like ads at all. Do companies have to do this because millennials are so cynical that if it even looks like an ad they reject it?” asked Thompson. The panel, much like the marketing industry in general, split over the issue.

“When millennials smell inauthenticity, those things don't perform. If you shill for a brand and make it a commercial, it doesn't perform. People don't want to share it,” Schiller said.

Do you agree with the panelists? What ways have you found to keep your online content relevant to your student audience?

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