Engaging Youth In An Evolving Online Environment

Anyone trained in sales or marketing knows that a personal story and a common interest can tighten a connection. Today, the biggest challenge in marketing to the youth demographic is the rapid pace in which trends change and the competing need to keep brands fresh.

This challenge is compounded by a youth market that is increasingly product-savvy and informed on the many choices available to them. In order to meet the demands of an increasingly informed youth market, brands must establish authentic connections to best engage young consumers.

More than 10 years working closely with the youth market has provided crucial insight into what strategies best succeed in mobilizing young people and generating buzz for brands. The most important principle to follow when marketing to young people is to never pretend to be something you're not online, as the young are the first to see past quick-sale attempts.

Here are four golden rules for keeping your brands fresh and building long-lasting connections with the youth market:



Get personal
Involve your customers in your campaigns and create a community of advocates; who better to learn from? It's a noisy, often impersonal world: On average consumers are hit with two marketing messages a minute. Nothing helps break through all of that like engaging your audience in a respectful way.

Too often companies pay lip service to customer collaboration, only to develop products the customer really doesn't want.

Experiment with unconventional platforms
You can't ask teens questions in sterile forum environments or expect them to sit in front of a two-way mirror for an hour-long focus group. An element of entertainment is key to engaging with youth, as their world is a combination of information, communication and entertainment. You need to create an interactive environment with breakthrough creative that actually engages.

Take Amazon's Mechanical Turk tool: it creates a dialogue and surrounding community by allowing people to post problems for others to solve in a compelling way. Imagine building audience loyalty with a similar tool that enables fans to provide feedback directly on a movie script or video game plot.

Integrate your online with off-line campaigns and go mobile
Create ongoing connections where and whenever young people are engaging. According to a recent OTX Research study, anywhere from a third to half of teens say mediums such as TV, magazines and advertising in general are still among their most important influences. Additionally, young people are exposed to images daily just by utilizing public transportation and traveling around their city or town.

This understanding of the ebb and flow of humans on a given day was behind the Halo 3 viral campaign that included a group called "The Society for the Ancients" handing out seemingly innocuous flyers on city streets. But Halo-savvy passersby picked up on some visual clues and ended up a website that took the story deeper.

People don't exist in a vacuum or rely on a single medium. The power of an impression builds with the number of different types of ways it's disseminated. Repetition, in a variety of media, can be your best friend.

Kids are increasingly communicating on mobile devices, whether it be through IM or Twitter. Smart campaigns leverage the communities and immediacy that those mediums offer.

Leverage new social networking tools
Millions of people spend time on social networks daily; YouTube serves more than 1,110 videos a second, the same time it takes for two blogs to be born and 1,200 Twitter messages to be sent.

As the Web becomes modularized through the use of widgets and gadgets, there's an opportunity to use those technologies to spread a community virally in the social-networking world. A band's latest songs, for example, can be packaged in a widget and spread to many different audiences. A clip from a new movie, made portable through YouTube embed codes, moves quickly among the youth market and can become fodder for additional mash-up content.

Building a social-networking environment can be a very important technique not only to build community but enable a new type of connection that leads to increased WOM, better products and services and a more engaged customer base.

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