Sunday 20 October 2019

Katie Byrne: 'What NOT to do when marketing to millennials'

Modern Life

Kim Jong-un. Photo: Reuters
Kim Jong-un. Photo: Reuters
Kim Jong-un. Photo: Reuters
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Another day, another brand shamelessly pandering to the 'unique needs' of the millennial generation. This time it isn't an airline, hotel group or banking organisation trying to curry favour with this lucrative portion of the market. No, it's a 400-year-old temple in the Japanese city of Kyoto.

In a bid to "reach the hearts of people today", the Kodaiji temple unveiled a robot version of the Buddhist deity of mercy. Developed at a cost of Y100 million (€790,000), 'Mindar' will deliver daily speeches on the Heart Sutra in accessible, colloquial language.

It's hard not to imagine the marketing meetings that led up to this invention. Like the thousands of brands that are desperately trying to connect with the elusive millennial market, the temple elders obviously decided they had to raise their tech game and water down their message to attract the custom of the Instagram generation.

The trouble, of course, is that these tedious tactics don't always convert millennials into loyal customers. If you're one of the many brands trying to get a slice of the millennial pie, here's your timely guide on how NOT to market to them.

Don't panic

It was around this time 20 years ago that big business got swept into a panic over the so-called 'Millennium bug'. Their systems had to be Y2K-ready by the stroke of midnight on December 31, 1999, or else there would be long-term blackout, nuclear meltdown, rampant looting and whatever you're having yourself.

Something similar is happening today. Just as unscrupulous Millennium bug 'consultants' made millions out of telling businesses that they needed to prepare for the apocalypse, a group of self-described 'millennial experts' are charging big brands €20,000 an hour to show them how to use emojis.

The moral of the story? Companies have to make the transition into a new era, but they shouldn't be fooled into thinking their businesses will implode without the services of a soi-disant Snapchat expert.

Learn the language from a native

It's easy to spot the brands that employ the services of these aforementioned consultants. All of a sudden their brand marketing is peppered with emojis and painfully contrived attempts at internet slang. This style of marketing works well when it's driven by actual millennials who understand the subtle nuances and ephemeral nature of buzzwords and memes. Just look at ASOS and, to a slightly lesser degree, Revolut. On the other hand, it fails abysmally when it's Hillary Clinton asking her Twitter followers to tell her how their student loan makes them feel "in three emojis or less", or Taco Bell's CEO Brian Niccol explaining to investors that 'on cleek' means on point. Yes, really....

The takeaway? If you really feel it's important to speak to millennials in their own language, make sure to consult a native speaker first.

Don't piggyback social justice issues

Millennials are really no different to any other generation when it comes to spotting the brands that care about social and environmental issues - and the ones that disingenuously tackle social issues with their bottom line in mind. Likewise, they know the brands that challenged the status quo by sponsoring Dublin Pride in earlier years, and the brands that embraced rainbow capitalism in more recent years - largely because they didn't want to be the odd ones out.

'Millennial experts' tell brands they need to be sustainable and socially conscious in order to connect with this hard-to-reach generation. What they forget to tell them is that these brand values need to be authentic.

The lesson? Don't hop on the social justice bandwagon by pledging your support to #trending social issues. Consumers - young and old - can smell insincerity a mile off.

Ditch the one-size-fits-all approach

Before you start marketing to the stereotype of the avocado-eating, beard oil-owning, tech-addicted millennial, it's worth remembering that this generation makes up a quarter of the world's population - a demographic cohort that includes everyone from Kim Kardashian to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Kim Jong-un. Put simply, marketing to millennials on the basis that they all eat avocados and use Snapchat is akin to assuming that all older people play golf and bridge.

Irish Independent

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