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Marketing to Millennials - Social Media Matters

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The Millennial Generation, or Generation Y as they are sometimes referred to, has grown up. By "grown up," I mean there are now 72 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 who work, buy houses, have children and purchase things, lots of things, just like their parents, grandparents and generations before did. However, HOW they buy things is entirely different than ever before. They do not read newspapers (at least not the paper kind) to see the ads or watch television commercials. They are oblivious to billboards, telemarketers and any other type of traditional marketing. They would rather text or Facebook message you than talk in person and, if you do talk face-to-face, it is likely to be your virtual face using Skype or a Google+ Hangout.

If you are a marketer, should you care? Only if you plan on staying in business. You see, Millennials have, by sheer numbers, become the largest generation with the greatest combined purchasing power ($2.45 trillion worldwide by 2015) in history. That means that brands and retailers do not have the luxury of ignoring them and instead taking their messages and their products to more fertile fields. They must crack the Millennial Generation marketing riddle.

So what do you need to do to sell to Generation Y'ers? Dan Schawbel recently wrote a great piece including 74 interesting facts that paint a collective portrait of this group. They have a combined $1 trillion in student debt, and 16.3 percent unemployment rate. 63 percent know someone who had to move back in with their parents for financial reasons. However, do not let those numbers fool you. By 2025 they will account for 75 percent of the global workplace. In other words, even though they are financially burdened now, it will not be long before they control the global marketplace.

Now for the really good stuff! 65 percent saying losing their phone or computer would have a greater impact than losing their car (wow!). 63 percent stay updated on brands through social networks. 84 percent say "word of mouth" is the primary influencer for their purchasing decisions. Finally, 41 percent say that they have made a purchase using their smartphones.

Have I mentioned recently that I am glad I am in the social media business?

Back to the question: so what do you need to do to sell to Millennials? If you are a marketer, and plan on staying one, you must realize two things. First, traditional "push" marketing does not work. Millennials consume brand and product information when they want to. They would rather find and discover things using the tools they feel comfortable with (i.e. - smart phones, social media sites, reviews, blogs, forums, etc.) than the ones you want them to use (television, print ads and billboards). Second, you, Mr. Marketer, no longer control the message. It belongs to the throngs of your customers who have tried your products and spread their collective opinion about it across the globe on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a hundred other places.

How should you react? Yes, you should have a Facebook Fan Page and be on Twitter. Write a blog and form a Google+ Community. Make your website value-based and not just a digital billboard. In other words, build a true digital strategy and make sure it includes an extra helping of social media. Also, know this; just being there is not enough. You have to interact with and respond to your online community. Acknowledge the compliments and respond immediately to the problems. If you do not, the problems will still be there. You just will not know about them and what was once a mole hill will quickly become a landslide.

Let me see if I can paint the picture a little clearer. A friend of mine, Jay Baer, recently published a book called YOUtility. In it he talks about how, in today's social media-influenced world, the successful brands will be the ones who make themselves useful to consumers. By useful, I mean provide them information and incentives in a time and manner that is convenient for them. His research shows that on average, consumers gather 18 pieces of online information before visiting a dealership to buy a car. Your goal should be to be in and positively influence as many as those 18 impressions as you can.

So, has your company or brand gotten the message and made a shift in the way it markets to Millennials?