A version of this article originally appeared on PR Daily in November of 2017.
Marketers have a millennial problem.
According to a study by the McCarthy Group, 84 percent of millennials don’t like or trust traditional advertisements.
Sean Foster, CEO of marketing platform Crowdtap, spoke about the situation during a panel discussion at Social Media Week. “Fundamentally, our relationship with consumers is broken,” Foster said.
In today’s fast-paced world, millennial consumers navigate an onslaught of messages. They are slow to respond until marketing connects with them on a personal level, yet they judge very quickly.
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For example, Dove joined the battle against the objectification of women through its “Real Beauty” campaign, hoping cause marketing would do the trick with millennial consumers, but the pitchforks came out immediately after it released a series of six body wash bottles modeled after the shapes of women’s bodies.
Another example is the firestorm Bud Light ignited when it launched its “Up for Whatever” campaign. The effort was meant to appeal to a young demographic, but the pitch soured when the brand declared itself “the perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary.” The campaign created a PR nightmare with critics accusing Anheuser-Busch InBev of tacitly endorsing date rape.
For Bud Light and Dove, previewing their campaign with focus groups from their audience could have been the difference between angry mobs and happy customers.
Here are four questions for testing your millennial outreach campaign:
1. Does your message connect with your audience?
There is no better way to know how millennials (or any target audience) will react to your marketing than to ask them directly. When Progressive Insurance wanted to home in on its message, it used online insight sessions from the iResearch platform to test storyboard concepts.
This approach is quick and affordable, and allows you to leave your corporate bubble to reach millennials where they are: online. In a focus group session, keep the conversation flowing and customer-focused. Don’t debate participants who don’t like your message—find out why it bothers them and whether others feel the same way.
2. Is your message different from everybody else’s?
Millennials can’t stand cookie-cutter brands. According to research by the University of Southern California, 85 percent of them prefer personalized goods and services. Not every message can be personalized, of course, but they all should tap into a relevant emotional niche.
An example is Pedigree’s 2007 “Dogs Rule” campaign. The company donated funds from every purchase to shelter dogs across the country find their forever homes. Consumers appreciated the company’s commitment to the cause, helping Pedigree’s advertisements become 40 percent more effective.
3. Is your messaging consistent?
Millennials crave consistency. You might be able to deliver stellar results every now and then, but Millennials want brands to consistently connect with them.
Differing messaging or visual branding between different messages can undermine trust in readers who receive both, and trust is the bedrock of loyalty. You might blanket social media with compelling posts and flood email inboxes with heart-wrenching messages, but that effort will be wasted unless your messages are consistent.
Consistency also leads to authenticity. Companies with major followings— like Apple—incite passion because they’re better than competitors at establishing trust. That trust can lead to big sales as customer loyalty can mean consumers are five times more likely to buy a product or service. They’re also more likely to try a new product and refer others to the brand.
4. How are you measuring the campaign‘s results?
It takes years to establish trust with consumers, but good will can be lost in a flash. It’s crucial to follow up on qualitative research with a quantitative survey. Smart researchers know that quality and quantity aren’t mutually exclusive—they should work in tandem.
Just as with all other marketing, the key to reaching your audience is dialogue. Millennials may profess to hate advertisements, but what they really can’t stand is being left out of the conversation.