While there’s no shortage of marketer interest in Gen Y, or of strategies meant to woo them, many brands are still struggling to make a genuine connection with Millennials. Jeff Fromm, EVP at Barkley, an ad agency in Kansas City, Mo., and author of the forthcoming Marketing to Millennials, weighs in on what he thinks marketers are missing when it comes to courting the youth market.
Q: You use the term “participation economy” when you talk about this group. Could you explain?
A: It’s what is truly unique about Gen Y. They want to co-create everything, including the experience of the customer journey. They want to co-create the marketing. The really big winners with Gen Y know how to create genuinely share-worthy brands.
Q: So what are some of the best brands, by those terms?
A: Warby Parker is one example. It’s totally disrupted the category for buying glasses. It’s inherently share-worthy and participative. Dollar Shave Club is another. Here's this guy, himself a Millennial, with practically no budget, and he’s created a video with something like eight million views. And again, he’s disrupted an entire category.
Q: Are there categories that are easier than others for reaching them?
A: Yes, apparel. Any brand that tends to win in apparel is likely winning with Gen Y, so that’s no secret. And healthy brands.
Q: Whoa! You just did a presentation for the National Retail Federation with your client, Krispy Kreme. Not a health food!
A: No, but it’s a very authentic brand. (Besides, one original glazed doughnut has 190 calories. Less than a Snickers bar or a bagel with a little cream cheese.) Authenticity matters. Krispy Kreme doesn’t try to pretend to be something it isn’t.
Q: You say their thirst for adventure is surprising. What kind of adventure?
A: Well, right now, they may not have a lot of money, but the desire is strong to visit all 50 states, for example. They are especially looking for affordable adventures. Skydiving. Car trips, especially national parks. Shopping at TJMaxx.
Q: What else is surprising?
A: Their connection to tech. Everyone thinks they understand this, and of course, we all know they are early adopters. But what’s surprising is how far down the road they are in that acceptance, and how intrinsically connected they are to technology. For retailers, that’s especially important.
Q: What’s your best advice for brand marketers, to form a strong bond with this group?
A: First, look at the intersection between your brand today and what younger consumers want. Are there things your brand already does that that would resonate? What are the common threads between your brand’s personality and Gen Y values? And second, marketers should invest in more, smaller tests. Are there loyalty programs that might especially resonate with this market, for example?