Always on: Marketing to today’s connected youth

At the recent YMS (Youth Marketing Strategy) Conference in London, Derren Sequeira from Facebook UK presented findings from a new Facebook study, Coming of Age on Screens.

The study was conducted in 2014 with 11,000 13-24-year-olds (also known as “millennials”) in 13 countries, not all of whom were Facebook users. The study underlines the importance of mobile marketing for education providers, and it also provides useful insights into the habits of a generation that lives online more than any generation in history.

The multi-screen generation

The Coming of Age on Screens study found that millennials are addicted to their technology gadgets, especially their mobile phones. Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72%) said they can’t leave their house without their mobile, and 60% would rather give up their TV than their phone.

Millennials’ preferred mode is to have their mobile phone – their must-have device and primary “screen” – at their fingertips as well as a second screen on the go (e.g., a TV). They flip between screens, social media channels, and entertainment sites and they chat with their friends and share links as they’re doing so. From the study report:

“To come of age today means to be constantly connected, to move seamlessly across platforms and devices.”

The report coins a new acronym – FOBO (“Fear of Being Offline”) to summarise the intense need millennials have to be connected at all times. Seven in ten (70%) of the survey respondents indicated that they like to be connected to the Internet wherever they are, and almost half (46%) agreed that they would feel “lost” if they couldn’t access social media.

Mr Sequeira told the YMS audience that because of their multi-tasking and the speed at which they do it, content that resonates among millennials is “bite-sized” and often image-heavy or presented via catchy videos. Millennials won’t spend very long on one piece of content because they need to move quickly to the next, so marketing messages have to hit their mark in seconds in order to resonate.

For marketers to have the best chance of connecting, they need to be on multiple channels, and to tailor their message according to the channel’s characteristics. For example, Twitter is good for announcements and news, quick blasts of necessary information that fit into 140 characters. With Instagram, photos take primary place but they require a snappy caption to prompt engagement. LinkedIn allows for longer-form pieces – for example blog posts – while Facebook is a great place to foster community and conversation.

The Facebook study advises the following strategy to leverage millennials’ multi-screen habits:

“Focus on strong content coupled with an integrated media approach to create ‘surround sound’ where a brand’s message, voice and identity are clear, consistent and recognisable across devices and screens.”

Entertainment, optimism, and good causes

Millennials expect marketers to be savvy on social media, and they will not stick around for amateur efforts. Savvy means entertaining: 72% of the Facebook study’s young respondents say they expect brands to share “entertaining” information. Readers might be interested in checking out a recent article we wrote on “gamification” when considering ways to increase the entertainment value of their social media outreach. Another recent post on Snapchat, the fastest-growing social media app for smartphones, also underlines the increasing expectation among millennials that brands’ outreach to them should be fun.

While millennials crave quick hits of entertainment from brands, that isn’t all they want. In fact, they are a generation that is often serious and earnest, optimistic, and looking for ways to be a positive influence in the world. The Facebook report segments the broader demographic into three groups:

  1. Young optimists (age 13-15): Family and friend-oriented, this youngest segment is optimistic and positive. They are open to sharing information and are technology-obsessed.
  2. Explorers (age 16-19): This middle segment is very focused on the future and planning, and over half of these teens are very image conscious. They are more aware of online privacy issues, and won’t share everything with everyone. This group is growing up, and in the process becoming more self-aware and slightly more insecure. Over half are globally curious and focused on education.
  3. Realists (age 20-24): The oldest segment of millennials is busy, using two and three screens at once. They are less optimistic; feeling tired with multiple demands, and pressured about time. Mr Sequeira likens this segment to Generation X, with the difference being the all-pervasive connection to technology among Realists.

An especially insightful section of the report urges marketers to consider the characteristics of the millennial segments, then think about what sort of social media they would be most likely to share, then create content and messaging on this basis.

In general, the report notes:

“People growing up today are inherently optimistic and value happiness above all. Consider sharing stories of teens and young adults who have defied the odds with their talent, innovation and entrepreneurship, and consider how the brand’s mission and products may align with encouraging this incredible optimism.”

The presentation of another speaker at the YMS Conference reinforced this advice. Baroness Sue Campbell, Chairman, Youth Sport Trust, talked about millennials’ outlook and then connected it to the way educators should try to connect with students.

In her work, she has had the chance to observe young people’s need for a sense of belonging and to be part of “something bigger than me.” She advised schools to move beyond a focus on what programmes they offer to show students experiencing life at the school.

Baroness Campbell spoke of typical questions prospective students have such as:

“What are you giving me? How will I fit in there? What experiences will I have?”

She urged, “Answer those questions in your marketing!” and noted some of the lynchpins around which successful campaigns and general outreach activities could develop:

  • Heroes and heroines: These are people who are not so far out of reach, and who are “role models” present in the current school population. Baroness Campbell encouraged the YMS audience to “find role models at your school and help young people connect with them.”
  • Sense of accomplishment: Baroness Campbell noted that contests enabling students to feel as if they’re on the road to achieving something, complete with rewards for progressive stages of the journey, can be helpful.
  • Fun and excitement, and a spirit of adventure: This is a globally curious generation; the Facebook study found that 75% of young respondents said they want to learn about other countries and cultures, and 55% feel their generation will change the world.

Make it shareable

Perhaps the key takeaway from Mr Sequeira’s and Baroness Campbell’s conference presentations is that millennials are driven by a need to share and be connected. They want information that reinforces their image of who they are and who they want to be, and if it does, they will share it. Sharing is one of the key proofs that a marketing message has engaged its intended audience.

It makes sense to end here with one of the young people quoted in the Coming of Age on Screens report. Marcus, age 16, from São Paulo, Brazil, says his likes are “studying English, travelling, and singing.” Furthermore, he says:

“I always post photos … of everything that I am doing. People go in and comment and so forth. If I go to the mall, if I go to some place or another I am always connected. My life is always well exposed to everyone online.”

For additional background on current research in the field, please see our recent related post on marketing to millennials.



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