I am a very old millennial. Born in 1983, I entered the world right in the middle of the most significant transition in modern human history: analog to digital. So, while I am still quite fond of things like paper products, I also welcome their imminent death. And, as the founder of a public relations firm, I’ve witnessed many businesses struggling to reach the millennial audience. Here are a few things I’ve learned as a marketer and millennial, as well as my advice for brands and businesses:
Millennials cannot be understood through data alone.
We know you think you know where we live, what we do for fun, where we work and whether we prefer tacos or burritos. We know you attempt to track our movements and data closely. And you know what? We don’t care, because by the time your data is compiled and presented to your board, we will have already changed our entire image, thought process, social status and belief system. Because, more so than generations before, we welcome constant change and embrace the idea of reinventing ourselves.
If millennials are constantly changing, evolving and improving at such a rapid rate, how can we possibly be reached, understood and sold to? If we are not stagnant long enough for you to gather your data and put us into a box to be analyzed, how can you make those multimillion-dollar marketing decisions with any certainty?
You can start by stopping. All of it.
One of the keys to successfully marketing to millennials is to listen, deeply. There are things you need to hear that you may not know. And when I say “listen,” I’m not referring to compiling social data into a report and isolating keywords to determine an effective search engine optimization strategy. I mean actually listen. Listen to your kids. Listen to their friends. Listen to our shows, our news, our art, our music, our politics, our passions and our pains. It’s all out there.
To tap into these listening skills, I’d recommend following millennial-driven news sites like Buzzfeed and Refinery29. I also suggest following millennial influencers on Instagram and spending some time on Reddit. Most importantly, try to get your millennial info from real-life millennials like me! We will usually be pretty straight with you.
Nowadays, there are more experienced millennial consultants around who can help a corporation or company to shift to a more transparent business model. The way I see it, companies that were founded 20-plus years ago are destined to fail in today’s millennial-driven economy. Employee retention must be taken into consideration, for example. Corporate communications and internal communications have taken a completely different form and must be rebuilt from the ground up. I’ve helped companies completely rewrite their identities, and while I can’t make anyone any younger, I can certainly instill a new millennial mindset into anyone willing and open to it.
Millennials respond to transparency and authenticity.
True transparency and authenticity cannot be faked. I am going to say it again since some of you think you do not apply to this rule: This cannot be faked! Just stop it.
When it comes to a brand, we want to know what’s in it, what’s on it, where it came from, how it was made and what your intentions are for the future of this planet. We know that unless we are transparent with each other, we will always live in a murky world. We love each other deeply and care for this planet. We can only make it better by being crystal clear with each other: in person, online, in the media and especially in advertising.
Transparency in public relations is all about presenting the story in a way that is factually accurate, plain and simple. When I first began my career, it was commonplace to “spin” stories to benefit your client. The objective was more about tricking journalists than educating them. If a product contained an ingredient that was potentially problematic, we would try to hide it rather than bring it to the forefront of the conversation. This tactic is just ineffective: Transparency means being open and confident about who or what you are and what you have to offer, even if some people will not accept you.
Transparency for brands and businesses can be intimidating, but ultimately liberating. Showing customers who you actually are — from all sides — will not only help them to trust you, but it will help you attract the right customers. Transparency actually allows you to be in full control of your business. If your product has a problem, admit it, correct it, learn from it and move on. This will always save you time and money in the long run, and people will like you more for it. And you can be open and transparent about your transparency! Our PR agency is crystal clear about the fact that we are crystal clear. There are no hidden agendas, secrets or magic to our work. We tell our clients everything we do so they can better understand the victories and challenges. When something goes right, we celebrate with great joy. When there’s an issue, we can identify the problem clearly and address it quickly.
Ultimately, if we all try to be at least a bit more transparent, a bit more honest and a bit more vulnerable, we will be a little closer to actually being able to trust what we read, see and hear again.