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Marketing to Millenials: Relevance, Authenticity and Calculated Risks

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Yes, today's students are incredibly media savvy, but they are also receptive to well executed brand engagements. Many marketers describe 16- to 24-year-olds as skeptical about advertising when, in reality, they are more in tune and receptive to marketing communications than previous generations. But brands need to be relevant, authentic and take the right risks to reap reward with these influential consumers.

Chegg, the online student hub that's helping to transform education by connecting students to other students, educators and services formed a partnership with Rock the Vote, the nonprofit focused on building youth political power. The goal of the partnership was simple: reach college students with a creative and compelling campaign before Election 2012. The ultimate desire was to empower students to participate in politics and provide them with a greater understanding of and bond to the two brands.

The overarching campaign theme is giving a voice to student goals and concerns for the country as they contemplate their future, and was aptly named "The Student Voice." We are capturing student opinions online and offline about the future they want to see for themselves and their country. Using virtual and actual postcards, a branded bus experience that was at the debate in Denver, and Rock the Vote registration kiosks online and offline, we are combining digital and experiential tactics to engage this elusive audience. Providing easy voter registration, creative content and an outlet to talk to today's politicians, the #studentvoice campaign theme has, thus far, been a home run.

Not surprisingly, many students are listing the cost of an education and availability of jobs as important issues, but many are providing passionate positions on foreign policy, healthcare and taxes. Founded by students, for students, Chegg wanted to help students participate in this important election -- not only by registering, but also by amplifying their perspective. The great thing about working with students is that they tell you instantly and passionately what they think! What we have learned in the last five years building our own brand with students is that it is essential to:

Be Relevant: Students can be your best brand advocates -- they are extremely influential with peers, friends and family. When messaging is relevant and helps bolster their "status" in their community, they will activate their networks on your behalf.

Stay Authentic: Stay true to your brand and allow your competitive strengths to shine through. Students distrust brands that try to alter their image or approach to cater to perceived youth hot buttons. Whether choosing a brand of toothpaste or purchasing a car for the first time, students want to understand the benefits of buying.

Take Risks:
It is important to be authentic with your brand, but that does not rule out taking risks to present your value in ways that engage and activate students. Get on campus and talk to students. Give voice to students and embrace what you hear. Consumers 16 to 24 want to actively participate in their emergence as empowered consumers and they reward brands that are not afraid to participate.

Getting a message in front of students today has never been easier to do in light of their significant time with media, but it is harder than ever to have meaningful engagements with this audience. The right combination of relevance, authenticity and risk taking will yield significant returns with students.