Commentary

Millennials Crave Mobile's Missing Piece: A Voice

Millennials: the toast of many a successful campaign, the subject of secret cabalistic meetings, the cause of premature baldness for retailers nationwide. Why?

Because they have, or soon will have, a ton of money: $1.4 trillion in spending power by 2020, according to some estimates.

And they like technology. It’s a match made in heaven!

Despite how many trend pieces I see about marketing to millennials, and the hype and hyperbole around mobile ecommerce and millennnials, I just can’t help but feel — with feelings backed by hard, emotionless data, which are the only kind of feelings I can feel anymore — that the differences between generations are subtle.

They revolve around the refractory period of communication and the embrace of technology.

By both of those metrics, millennials are as different from Generation X as the Gen Xers were to baby boomers. Through all tech advances, the way people spend their money hasn’t changed. According to a recent survey called “Marketing to Millennials: Do they Really Shop Differently Online than Gen X and Baby Boomers?” by Adroit Digital, marketers might be better served by segmenting consumers based on behaviors rather than demographics.

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The survey asked 1,000 U.S. and Canadian consumers ages 18-35, and 500 US and Canadian consumers 35+, questions regarding the influence of digital advertising on purchase. Citing previous studies, Adroit Digital notes that millennials consider price, value and quality before buying things. A good portion still rely on word of mouth.

The study also shows that different generations have  similar buying habits, regardless of gender or age.  The majority browse in-store, they pay attention to online reviews, and agree that one-click purchasing makes a difference in their likelihood to buy something.

The rise of mobile has consumers craving a more immediate and personal experience with marketers. But so many marketing campaigns seem to be based on the same creepy tactics a fedora-wearing neck beard might use to get a girlfriend: “I saw that you liked Norah Jones one time on Facebook, so I made you a mix tape and left it in your mailbox. And in your friend’s mailbox. And on your pillow. Love me.” It’s a facsimile of personal.

Marketers are sometimes blind to the fact that technology flows both ways. Yes, you now have access to more data than ever about various marketing segments, but millennials have the capability to learn just as much about you. They can know if a product is made in sweatshops, or isn’t sustainably farmed, or contributes to deforestation.

Most marketers hope consumers will just get used to the new status quo, while a small few try offer something more genuine. Mobile is more than a smaller, portable version of desktop.

Millennials want a trusted source that shares their values, to tell them what’s good and what isn’t: friends and family.

This is where mobile marketing could be much stronger. I spoke to Oliver Roup, CEO of affiliate marketing company Viglink, which helps publishers monetize content. He mentioned that a single tweet from a shoe enthusiast Viglink works with, who has 100,000 followers, netted a major shoe retailer $600,000 last year. The enthusiast received nearly a 10% commission.

Obviously, that’s an outlying case. Monetization in the manner that Viglink encourages can be a hard sell on mobile, as links are easily missed or ignored on a device. Many retailers also have a terrible UX for purchasing on mobile. The mobile Web is dying, and traffic is converting to apps.

But the ingredients are all there for a really remarkable marketing strategy based on trustworthy, though brand-tangential, individuals.

Roup’s work is a prognostication, a potential sales model of a digital cadre of trustworthy reps paid entirely on commission. Of course, it’s only one facet of any marketing strategy, but it bears emphasis: Real people wearing, touching, feeling, reacting to, and recommending a product, and you achieve personalization without invasiveness.

Attach those videos and reviews to location-based targeting and offer discounts on the product and you encourage consumer trust, in-store and digital engagement. All of which is exactly what millennials want.

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