Reaching millennials: Make it fast but keep it real

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • A new survey of 16-24-year-olds finds an increasing expectation of instant service among millennial consumers
  • This is driving marketers to reduce the time and effort required to connect consumers with a product or service, a strategy that has become an increasingly important source of competitive advantage
  • The survey also finds that millennials are highly engaged in global issues and embrace an international perspective
  • It also highlights that they are attracted by brand stories from relatable, inspiring people, a finding that reinforces the effectiveness and importance of student testimonials in international recruitment marketing

The on-demand, highly connected world of millennials opens the door both to new challenges and new opportunities for marketers – but you better be quick and you will need to be genuine. These are some of the key messages in this year’s Youth Trends Report from UK-based youth research firm Voxburner. The report is based on an online survey of 1,095 British millennials conducted between October and December 2015, and on a follow-up panel of interviews with survey respondents and industry experts. It was released last week at the YMS 2016 (Youth Marketing Strategy) conference in London.

“16-24s have a natural expectation that everything is available right now,” says the report. “This age of instant gratification has contributed to a shift in brand behaviour.” More specifically, it is driving brands and marketers to eliminate as much as possible the time and effort to connect a millennial consumer with a product or service. Whereas the emphasis even in recent years may have been on faster service, Voxburner sees a youth market where instant service is the new normal.

“Instant gratification is a by-word of the digital age – and yes everyone expects what they want, right here and right now. Similar to the notion of ‘why buy?’ when you can stream for free, people ask ‘why wait?’,” says Voxburner Youth Culture Analyst Liz Cheesbrough.

Millennials self-identify as impatient, and 70% of the Voxburner survey respondents described themselves as such. This explains in part the success of major new brands such as Uber, where so much of the friction of simply ordering a taxi – waiting on hold, talking to a dispatcher, not being certain when or if the car would arrive – has been replaced by a push-button mobile phone ordering system and a transparent countdown to the car’s arrival at your door.

It also explains the rise of text on-demand services, including online retailer Stefan’s Head, a “dealer of Things via SMS.” This self-proclaimed “first-ever, text-message-driven retail brand” sends curated product recommendations by text to subscribers and shoppers can order via a third-party payment system. Why SMS? “I hate talking on the phone,” says Stefan. “And email is for bozos.”

Just think about the implications of this for a moment for international student recruiters. If you are trying to generate leads and convert prospective students beyond the top end of your recruitment funnel, you need to move quickly. Whether its an initial auto-response by text or email, or even an attempt to serve students via live chat or Skype services, response time is key.

There are some real challenges to providing prompt and effective responses to student queries across multiple online channels and many time zones. But such responsiveness is also an increasingly important source of competitive advantage, particularly in light of some recent “secret shopper” experiments that show that a surprising percentage of student queries are not responded to at all. The annual ICEF i-graduate Agent Barometer survey continues to consistently find as well that quick response times are one of the most effective marketing tactics available to any institution or school.

Even so, “the ‘we want it now’ generation is harder to please,” acknowledges 21-year-old marketing graduate Nadine Ong. “Currently, information is distributed at an increasingly rapid pace, and is being generated by many outlets both online and offline. As the ‘we want it now’ generation gravitate towards whoever provides the fastest service, this saturated environment makes it harder to gain their attention, and makes it difficult to maintain their loyalty once we have.”

Taking a global view

“52% of 16-24s would describe themselves as a global citizen,” says Voxburner, a perspective which is also informed by social media and the ready ability to connect with others around the world. “Online we are not judged by our class, race or sexuality, but solely by the information we choose to share. I believe that the nonhierarchical, interactive and knowledge-lead nature of the Internet has lead the way for this generation to form their liberal and progressive worldviews and foster both business and personal relationships with everyone around the world.” says Tanya Korobka, a millennial blogger and marketing consultant.

Nearly nine in ten Voxburner survey respondents agree that social media is fueling global connection, but the researchers saw something else this year too: a willingness to use social networks to help drive change internationally.

Millennials are comfortable with brands creating content and campaign that speaks to important issues of the day, so long as it is done in a respectful and thought-provoking way. The report highlights the example of the UN’s #YouthNow campaign. “By using a powerful and memorable hashtag, Millennials worldwide have been able to unite on social and economic development, global poverty, conflict and gender rights. In just three months, #YouthNow reached over 1.9 billion impressions, highlighting to what extent the world’s youth revel in learning and talking about current affairs. It also shows how much they value being included in conversations where they can learn how these issues affect people differently depending on where they live, their culture and upbringing.”

People over brands

Another key takeaway from the Voxburner report is that, for millennials, “marketing content that involves famous faces no longer resonates. 81% of 16-24s relate to brand campaigns more if they use ‘real’ people as opposed to celebrities or models.” This harks back to some of our earlier coverage as to the importance of incorporating student testimonials in international recruitment, as well as the value of social proof strategies.

There is increasing evidence as well that the student search process is highly unbranded, and especially so at the early stages of research and discovery where the student is beginning to map out possible study destinations and institutions. Most students are not especially keyed to specific institutions at this point and so those schools that prominently showcase testimonials from relatable, inspiring individuals may well have the edge.

“Inspire this ever-inspiring generation,” concludes the Voxburner report. “Show these unique individuals you support and value their passion for activism… Show them you’re there for them by being accessible, no matter what time of day.” At the same time, “Don’t underestimate this intellectual generation – the new youth consumer uses knowledge as power and brands should take note. Standout future content should be witty, thought-provoking, and above-all intelligent.”



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