Swipe Right: Lessons on Marketing to Youth

What is it about youth that generates such obsession over it?

In marketing and communications, this answer is simple: buying power.

Every generation studies the one that follows it, especially in marketing and communications, for its burgeoning buying power and all the nuances that surround it. Which is why, earlier this year, Ketchum coined the term “GenZennial” and published research exploring the new trends and patterns within this this powerful microgeneration (39 million in the U.S.).

What’s interesting about this next wave of youth is that it is shape-shifting by the second. So when PR Week recently hosted its annual conference in New York, called “Swipe Right,” it focused the entire day on understanding this newly-formed generation. My colleague Christine also attended and recently shared her perspective through an earned media lens. Here is my take through a digital lens.

The conference was packed, and the sessions ranged from panels of teenagers talking about influencer marketing to major brand CMOs talking about how they have reconfigured their teams to be more agile and, therefore, youthful in their thinking.

Here are a few other highlights, and my perspective on why they’re important.

Look Past Gen Z… to Gen We:
Now that we’re all just coming to terms with marketing to Gen Z, behold, there’s a new generation in town. Introducing “Generation We,” those who are currently five to 21 years old—and have distinctive traits and communications habits we should pay attention to as we consider marketing to them.

Here are a few ways in which we think about Generation We…

  1. They’re less idealistic then their Gen Z and millennial older siblings. They feel the weight of the world on their shoulders.
  2. They’re gender-agnostic, given the era of increased exposure to diversity in which they are being raise.
  3. They have a more global mindset, been raised with digital and social platforms that have brought them stories of people from around the world.
  4. They are highly influential, even influencing their parents when it comes to purchasing decisions and technology use.
  5. But, they have a love-hate relationship with technology. They are technology natives, but they have greater concerns about privacy and security.

When it comes to brands, and brand affinity, here’s our observation: they use brands to build their own personal brands. So keep that in mind when building your brand’s awareness or equity with this audience. How can you gain their authentic buy-in?

Contentpreneurism is a Thing:
Gen Z and millennials are becoming entrepreneurs at unprecedented levels. They’re also creating tons of content as they build. That content is scrappy, real and authentic. As brand marketers, we’re competing with this, but also trying to mimic it.

The biggest lesson? Don’t be fake. And do not, I repeat, do not attempt to use teenage slang in your marketing copy unless you’re actually hiring a bunch of teenagers to do your copy-writing. Read: Nothing about your brand should ever be “on fleek.” This has the same effect as a mother accompanying their child to the prom, trying to dress the part, walking them all the way into the dance, chatting up friends, and staying too long. This place is not for you.

The attempt will immediately be seen as inauthentic and fake, leading to loss of trust by that audience. “It’s actually offensive,” said Brenden Maher, the 17-year-old co-founder of the Millennial Ad Network, a company that was started by four high-schoolers.

So, while competing with the deluge of content, just keep it real.

Influencers are the New Media:
Influencers aren’t going anywhere any time soon, and they’re getting more and more influential with each passing year. Some are even overtaking media outlets in terms of reach and engagement.

So, start treating them like the media, especially when it comes to pitches. Get to know them before you pitch. Read their websites, check out their Instagram feeds, and have an understanding of the type of content they publish. Trained journalists might be used to press releases, but influencers require a much more personalized approach to get in their sights.

Believe it or not, the biggest shift might come from your email subject lines. When you’re trying to grab an influencer’s attention, be smart about your emails. “If your pitch headline says ‘Timely Business Story’ I will undoubtedly delete it,” said a panelist on the subject. “But if it [suspiciously] has no subject line, I will open it.”

Also, don’t expect influencers to simply write about your brand. More than major media outlets, they expect an experience attached to the brand. Plus, when you give them an experience, they will develop more authentic and powerful content.

Take, for instance, a large financial institution that we represent. Instead of asking influencers to simply talk about their services, we got them on planes and sent them to “cover” the brand’s conferences as a “reporter.” That not only yielded more content from them, but more in-depth and engaging content, to boot.

Consistency and Channel Customization is Key:
The days of publishing social to drive clicks to a destination are long gone. Now, it’s a must for brands to serve content where people are consuming it, and how they’re consuming it, especially when it comes to reaching younger generations.

Refinery 29 does this expertly, tailoring content by platform: for Facebook, the content has to evoke an emotional response; for Instagram, it’s a celebration of the aspirational; for Pinterest, it should make things attainable.

While Refinery’s model is one to envy, the lesson here is to not interrupt people, but integrate into what they’re there to see. The hub-and-spoke model has shifted to something much more linear and integrated.

“Youthful” Teams Provide Perspective:
For brands or agencies to develop authentic content, they have to structure their teams to think and function with speed. Agility is key—your experts should be able to flex in and out of core teams with ease. And agile leaders beget smart, agile behavior from their teams.

Winning Over ‘We’:
At our agency, we have the vantage point of working with globally leading companies across industries. Each one of them is approaching their marketing to Generation We slightly differently, but there are a few things we advise all of them to keep in mind.

  • If you are true to your brand, this audience will sense it. Testing and learning nuanced expressions of your brand is a good way to find this out.
  • Do not try too hard. They will sense this immediately too.
  • A balanced reputation is more important than ever. Successful brands will be engaging, but also responsible. Fun, but also secure.

What is your brand doing to shift its structure or marketing perspective to the next generations?