80M Reasons for Brands to Get It Right

So I was invited to be on an industry panel focused on marketing to a certain demographic, which happens to like entertainment, look for good value, and is health conscious, heavily influenced by peers, and socially responsible.

A cinch – but would the Brand Activation Association/Association of National Advertisers actually be putting together a session on marketing to people like my mother?

Well, they’re also tech savvy, huge social networkers, and collaborative shoppers. They place importance on status and success, seek two-way engagement about the brands they consider, have lots of tattoos – about one-third of them – and, oh yes, there are 80 million of them.

Surely if I said anything reasonably intelligent about marketing to anyone, chances are some of my advice would pertain to those 80 million. Be general, be specific, be serious, be funny, be short, be comprehensive, blue, red, Trump, Hillary.

And therein lies my problem with marketing to Millennials, or any group that claims 80 million members. There are perhaps only 20 countries that claim populations that large. It’s like saying we have a marketing project where our target audience is anyone who lives in Germany. (First tip: say it in German.)

Much has been made of this powerful buying generation, the seeming unlimited potential to sell them something, and the parallel obsession of understanding them and figuring out how to get through to them. Rather than try to sort Millennials into young or old, rich or poor, country or rock, I think marketers have to first consider the client and its specific objectives, and work from there.

It’s also important to understand how Millennials think about and use the media in which you are marketing to them—not just what the medium offers advertisers. We did a survey a while back on how Millennials respond to radio messaging. We weren’t looking to break new ground in scientific research, merely poll a random base within this category, provide some food for thought, and continue the conversation. Our investment garnered a few hundred responses – not 80 million.

We already knew that they listen to radio – over 90 percent of them, in fact, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau. That wasn’t the point. But what they told us about how they process radio marketing messages was fascinating. As a result, here’s our advice: If you want to reach Millennials on radio, do not do what the vast majority of radio spenders does – put together a traditional spot commercial. Based on Millennials’ responses, most of them pay little attention to spot commercials. As for commercial stop sets (the land in which one after another after another of these spots generally resides), 70 percent said they don’t even make it through the second spot before they tune away.

Instead, they prefer things like branded custom content, engaging contests, and real feedback from real people like themselves. This kind of approach builds better brand affinity and consumer relationships, creates opportunities for meaningful multiplatform extensions, and, when done right, gets placed away from commercial stop sets and into the heart of programming. It’s advice that seems logical for any target base, regardless of its size and shape.

That was the type of information we presented at the BAA panel. It was based on what we knew as a marketing company and what our own research confirmed. Over the years we’ve applied our knowledge to a variety of successful radio campaigns that sought out Millennials.

We were able to make the drab subject of insurance a bit spicier with an on-air advice series from Allstate Renters Insurance about tips for summer rentals and first-time apartment seekers, along with a contest giving listeners the chance to win Ikea gift cards for furnishings and even six months’ free rent. We’ve helped the Navy SEALs attract 18-to-28-year-olds by getting radio personalities to participate in the rigorous Navy Seal Challenge and chronicle their progress on air. We’ve placed autos like Fiat and the revived Dodge Dart at station appearances in cool locales to give Millennials first-hand experiences with the vehicles’ features and styling.

The BAA panel went well, and hopefully attendees came away with a new idea or two, if not from me then from the other panelists, who were a very insightful bunch. We even pondered the day when this generation finds itself bogged down in mortgage payments, car pools, and therapy bills. As long as we keep our eyes on the prize of holding their interest and delivering the type of content that increases their chances of considering your product, then who’s to say your customer base can’t hit 80 million?


Jim Alkon
Marketing Director