Generational Awareness: Why Age is More Than Just a Number in Online Marketing

Kids these days…

In the nearly thirty years since Al Gore invented the internet (source: The Simpsons) we have seen many mutations of what started out as a glorified FTP platform, into the world consuming, social platforming, e-commercing second earth that we have today. These mutations are without precedent, one of the reasons that Mad Men does such an adept job of capturing the feelings of trepidation and resistance to the new medium of Television, is likely in part due to their own mediums steady march towards the grave due to the rise of something new.

The Millennial Generation, defined as those born between 1977 and 1995, are forecasted to have record-breaking purchasing power: 1.4 Trillion US by 2020 (less than six years away)

So just like the major shift in the sixties, advertisers, marketers and business owners alike are still struggling to adapt. I find myself enjoying the retrospective that this particular article requires, in large part because of the parallels that I am able to see within different generations. My father was the youngest of eight children and in a few short years will be fifty years old. He is often on the receiving side of playful jabs from his older brothers and sisters regarding the fact that his entire life was spent with the luxuries of indoor plumbing and television! The television was held in such high regard by his siblings, that my grandmother’s decision, to relinquish the naming rights of my father to his siblings, resulted in their favourite television character becoming a permanent fixture in the Killoran household, Dennis.

I on the other hand have a dumb name, you should see what google asks me what I meant, when I do the standard millennial vanity exercise of google searching my own name. This however, was not due to the introduction of a new medium; although, my life like the other people of my generation would also be dominated by an ever-evolving box, the personal computer.

The advent of the personal computer and ultimately the internet would not only change the way that the world conducted their business, but for those like myself that grew up with the technology, and are now becoming the most powerful purchasing segment of the population, it completely changed how we even approach decision making. Sure other generations have adapted to these new purchasing processes, but for those of us in the tail end of generation x and the early millennials, it has become as innate a tool for finding an answer, as counting on your fingers was for simple math. For online marketers who get this, they can enjoy efficient online brand growth and prosperity for years to come; however, for those that choose to take the old method to the new medium, well, they may quickly find themselves in the same boat as newspapers, radio and soon to join them, television.

Of the 17 hours that persons born from 1975-1995 spend in contact with media, 5.4 hours are spent exclusively with User or Peer Generated Content.

The Generational Shift

A key difference that online marketers, businesses and even self aggrandizing commentators like myself need to realize right out of the gate, is that the internet provides the user with one major hurdle to our own objectives, almost limitless choice. Microsoft decided to characterize their search engine Bing as the decision engine for a reason. People today have near limitless options through only a few key strokes or mouse clicks. This decision overload has created the concept of Decision Fatigue. As a response, the generations that view their iPhone and iPad as a mere extension of their hand, create their own means to defer this decision process into a formula, online brands that understand this formula are enjoying not just initial success, but increased customer loyalty and advocacy.

Ipsos has done some amazing work studying this area of the market, and earlier this year published a study entitled Social Influence: Marketing’s New Frontier. Ipsos went out searching for what was the chief influencer for that oh so desirable millennial demographic, in the end it turns out that the influencer in itself is a mutation, previous generations reliance on peer recommendations and consultation has not disappeared, instead, it has morphed into a new animal called User Generated Content or U.G.C.

30% of millennials’ media time is spent with content created by or curated by their peers. – Ipsos: Social Influence Research Paper March, 2014

Influence, Decisions, Trust, Conversion

Influence is something that becomes exponentially weaker the more options for influence a person has. Do you share some of the same mannerisms as your parents? Have you noticed in small towns, people often drive the same five brands of cars? All of this is at least partly due to limited exposure, or super saturated exposure. There is a reason that people who move across the world, or kids who get facial piercings are considered rebellious, it’s not because they are doing something no one has ever done, they are just breaking a cycle of influences by making a decision that their other cohorts simply don’t trust. Those examples are exceptions to the rule. In marketing, we more or less want to appeal to as many in our target audience as possible, so here are some of the trusted sources or influencers for Millennials in 2014, according to a recent Ipsos study.

2014-06-24_14-40-11

As you can see there is an increasing appetite for user generated or peer reviews on products. The brands that are experiencing success in this field have found a way to engage their audience beyond posing questions, and are now less instigators of their brand identity, but passive moderators and curators. What this means for the common marketing foot soldier, is that as the Millennials squeeze out the remaining baby boomers and Generation X’ers, in the struggle for market power, it will be increasingly crucial to facilitate the creation of this user generated content that has a high level of influence over the most profitable segment of the population.

First Steps

Of course a strong digital strategy is crucial if you want to see any fruit from your efforts to tap into this up and coming and titanic market. Conversation Curation is a term that is finding more and more usage (or variations thereof). Essentially the core effort is to start defining your brand as something that should be discussed, this comes back to the old tradition of seeking out consumer advocates, but in a nuanced way. Finding places where your target market spends it time, it could be on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest is a great first step in getting the conversation going. Making your content easy to share, and also to have some kind of benefit for the audience if they share it are huge components to any type of effort in this battleground. Selecting the correct medium for your brand is also crucial, as certain platforms are better for certain mediums than others.

In short the effort needs to be made to deliver the right content, in the right format, to the right platform, and encourage distribution. The last part might mean that you don’t get to put the sell into your branded content; however sometimes the buzz is worth the effort. Awareness breeds trust. A great example is Vans “How to do Everything in the World”. This piece of content went super viral, and doesn’t mention Vans once, except for the ad at the beginning and end. It was shared and discussed enough that I would venture to guess that Vans saw an uptick in traffic and overall brand awareness because of it. Where you can really make hay with branded content, is when you can factor in some product reviews from your customers. It’s all about starting the conversation because this millennial generation will be drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.

Conclusion

Well I hope this post helped you understand the most powerful purchasing generation in the world a little better. In a few short years they will have the vast majority of the purchasing power in the market and they are building their brand loyalties and advocacies right now. So get out there, start those conversations before it’s too late and you are trapped in a lonely room talking to yourself, with old radios, TV’s and land line telephones.

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