Marketing to Millennials: As the Banner Dies, Content Thrives

06/14/2016 02:37 pm ET Updated Jun 17, 2016
Millennials don't care if the content is sponsored, they just care if it is good.
Millennials don't care if the content is sponsored, they just care if it is good.

A common myth about millennials is that they hate marketing. Thankfully, for us in the profession, that statement is just not true. The reality is that millennials are digital natives who spend a large proportion of their time online, especially on mobile. They crave authenticity, so  marketing that fails to connect and provides little or no value will end up being ignored. All of this has led to the death of many old forms of marketing, like the banner ad. The majority of banner ads provide little value, with the primary goal to take from the user rather than to give. When was the last time you heard someone say, "I really love that banner ad"? Never. The unfavorable creative coupled with that fact that banner ads simply don’t work on mobile due to limited real estate, has led to their demise. With 60% of mobile banner clicks being accidental, brands need to realize that even if they get the click, they aren't getting the connection, and that in the long run is far more valuable to any brand. A clear signifier that millennials aren't happy with traditional display can be seen in the rise of ad blockers. PageFair reported that ad blocking grew 41% in a year and millennials downloaded over 40% of all ad blockers.

Just as the mobile millennials are a key contributor to the upcoming decline in traditional display, they are also the reason for the rise in content marketing. Good content marketers are creating engaging content which is optimized for multiple platforms. This gives value to their customers, as opposed to the banner ad that just takes the click. Publishers have also jumped in, transitioning out of banner ad monetization and into creating engaging content for brands. Many pubs have quickly become experts in branded content by utilizing their editorial expertise to create engaging content. At StumbleUpon, we can see how different demographics react to content. Engagement amongst millennials for quality sponsored content is 52% higher than any other demographic. They don’t care if the content is sponsored, they just care if it is good.

For marketers, creating engaging branded content that gives more than it takes is more important than ever. Those who do it right are reaping the rewards and connecting with millennials on a level much greater than a simple impression.

Since creating authentic, engaging content feels more daunting than creating a 320x50 message, I enlisted 3 experts whose content has performed extremely well on StumbleUpon to offer up some tips:

Ryan Harwood, CEO and founder of PureWow, a national publication that reaches over 15MM users, states:

Square Peg, Round hole does not work for branded content.  You must be thoughtful about the user experience, design, and marriage of voice and brand to be successful.   If you don’t, readers will eventually turn a blind eye the same way they have with banners.  Branded content should take into consideration whether a brand is trying to accomplish brand awareness vs brand lift vs purchase intent vs sales.  We approach all of this very differently and create content from the ground up accordingly.”

Josh Peters, Social Discovery Video Lead at Buzzfeed, observes:

“The crux of branded content is being useful in a way that relates to your brand and leaves people feeling good about your brand after they interact with it. Video works especially well in relating these ideas and feelings because it's multi-sensory and when it's natively uploaded to a platform like Facebook you can leverage the sharing mechanisms built into that platform.”

Melanie Deziel, formerly editor of branded content at The New York Times's T Brand Studio and now founder of native ad newsletter, "The Overlap League," explains:

“Unlike regular editorial content, branded content doesn't come with a built-in audience. It doesn't automatically get listed on the host website's home page or shared by the publication on social media. To make sure people see the content you worked to hard to create, it's vital that you create a distribution plan to get it in front of a the right audience, and social media is a big part of that. Social channels allow you to select the scale and targeting of your distribution so you can ensure your content gets the desired amount of visibility with your target audience.”

Millennials don't hate all marketing, but they do hate when marketers waste their time or disrupt their experience. The key is creating a connection. Focus on providing value and creating an experience that your customers will enjoy. Content marketing, when done right, is an incredibly impactful opportunity to reach and retain millennials.

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