Marketing to millennials: Focus on values, not channels

Science & Technology Writer

Dunkin Donuts received attention for its summertime push to reach millennials through seven social channels. Why the social blast? Scott Hudler, the company's vice president of global consumer engagement, told Adweek that the company felt it needed to cover all its bases.

This example speaks to the confusion that CPG brands feel when marketing to millennials. They're eager to reach these 80 million consumers ages 18 to 34 because they are still young, and brands that win their hearts now may be able to keep their loyalty for the next 40 years.

But marketing to millennials isn't as simple as flooding social media. A survey by Battery Ventures debunked some common assumptions: Sizable percentages of millennials don't have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. For this reason, it's important for brands to use analytics to identify which social channels are lucrative marketing outlets and figure out how to appeal to millennials' values across digital channels.

1. Uncover authentic influencers

Influencer marketing, where brands partner with popular social media users, is the biggest trend for companies marketing to millennials, according to Adweek. This cohort trusts advice from peers above all else; 48 percent of college students said word-of-mouth was the top factor driving their product purchases, reports eMarketer.

To use this information to their advantage, brands pay influencers to produce original content that offers honest opinions about products or services. For instance, snack subscription service NatureBox worked with mommy-blogger Joanna Goddard at A Cup of Jo. Goddard mentioned the product in a pictorial post about a family outing and garnered 1,677 comments, many of which were positive and expressed interested in the service.

However, as competition for the support of social-media stars gets more intense, influencer marketing requires more finesse. By using tools for data analysis, model development, visualization and forecasting, marketers can uncover potential brand advocates, according to The Future of Customer Engagement and Commerce. Companies can use predictive analytics to deduce that even though a potential influencer "may not have talked about baby strollers, but they might be in the market for one in the future because they talked about baby formula and pediatricians."

2. Provide technology as an enabler

Digital natives like when they can get things done using their smartphones. The millennial generation is most likely to engage with companies via apps, reports Website Magazine. Additionally, the technology a brand uses is equally as important as the brand name, according to The Wall Street Journal. More than one-third of millennials believe technology adds value to a brand, which is why brands should enable and enhance their offerings with mobile technology.

Taking cues from these trends, Johnson & Johnson provides more than 12 branded apps, according to Hathway, including Healthyday, which provides neighborhood-level information about outbreaks of the flu. When using this type of strategy, it's vital to analyze metrics beyond downloads and app opens. Data analytics can reveal how an app is performing against the brand's key performance indicators (KPIs) and identify issues causing users to leave the app, according to Publ. Analytics can also identify buttons or items in the app that could be more prominent or interactive.

Further, segmenting customers according to KPIs like frequency or lifetime value lets brands customize offers within the app. This is especially appealing to millennials, who prefer content that's authentic and tailored to their interests, according to Bulldog Reporter.

3. Use predictive analysis to drive strategy

CPG manufacturers have access to historical sales information and shopper card data, and they should use predictive analytics to gain insights from this data, according to Manthan. Millennial shoppers research products before they shop and often check their smartphones in stores, so CPG brands should add data from as many touchpoints as possible to their analysis. This will require advanced strategies for organizing and analyzing structured and unstructured data from multiple sources, Manthan explains.

When leveraged correctly, predictive analytics enables marketing strategies like sending in-store-only discounts to the phones of millennial shoppers, 82 percent of whom use shopping apps while in the store, according to eMarketer.

Marketing to millennials may require a shift in a brand's approach, but the efforts are worth it to make your campaigns resonate with the younger generation.

Shape your marketing strategy by leveraging IBM's Solutions for Consumer Products.