“Don’t market to me.” This is a mantra of modern millennials. And it’s thrown the marketing world – including advertisers, business owners, and public relations practitioners – into a tizzy. Which isn’t a bad thing. The new media revolution has created a lot of jobs, particularly for millennials themselves, who might otherwise be known as “slackers.”
But is it really such a new attitude? For years, consumers have been tossing (now recycling) piles of unopened junk mail; ignoring print and online ads; hanging up on telemarketers (and now blocking them, until they start using new fake phone numbers); and more recently, thanks to my DVR, fast-forwarding through TV ads.
Pretty much no one is crazy about the barrage of advertising that’s taken over US media since the Mad Men era. The difference is that today’s clever millennials have invented new platforms for two-way communication. They want to be heard and to have their opinions validated. They’ve forced us “communicators” to reduce our pitches to 40 characters and use pictures instead of words. Hiding behind anonymous screen names and silly-looking avatars, they vent throughout cyberspace with little or no consequence, while demanding immediate responses.
Marketers continue to try to work their way through this minefield, because all businesses – as well as nonprofits, government organizations, politicians, and so on – need millennials to buy what they are selling. Social media engagement is unavoidable and necessary. Just about everything and everyone already has an online reputation. Businesses have to be proactive, jumping in and managing their online presence. This effort includes responding honestly and empathetically to both positive and negative online comments and reviews, and posting enough positive news and information to outshine the bad stuff.
The interactive aspect of social media can be time-consuming. The Twitterverse, for example, expects people and organizations to tweet only rarely about themselves, while spending much more time spreading valuable information by retweeting other tweets. Seriously? With half a billion tweets every day, they want us to retweet what other people are saying?
Well, yes, apparently, and if you spend enough time doing so, you can establish yourself as an online thought leader. Both Twitter and Facebook are happy to take your money, of course, to accelerate your achievement of such status by “boosting” and “promoting” your posts. If you go that route, of course, you will – ironically – run up against millennials’ “don’t market to me” mindset that helped spark the social media revolution to begin with.
So what works? First, techniques that are creative, new, different, and fun. More on that later. Second, something that millennials and people everywhere say they hate: data mining. Just like that scene in the 2002 movie Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise’s character is bombarded by real-time ads selling him his favorite items and brands at nearby locations, data mining enhances marketers’ ability to provide customers with exactly what they want and need. By doing so, and by making it incredibly easy (like Amazon’s one-click checkout option) to obtain those goods and services, marketers greatly increase their chances of getting consumers to buy. But – and here we go back to the beginning – what do consumers want? What makes them choose one purchase over another? It’s still up to businesses to help them make those choices. Without “marketing” as we used to know it.