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New research provides fresh insights for reaching and engaging millennials

Youth research firm Voxburner has just released a fascinating report in conjunction with YMS 2015 (Youth Marketing Strategy), a conference they recently hosted in London. The report, Youth Trends 2015, includes vital insights for educators marketing to their most important demographic: millennials.

The Voxburner report is based on an online survey of 1,156 British 16-24-year-olds conducted between December 2014 and February 2015 and rounded out with follow-up interviews with some respondents. While it is focused on British youth its insights nevertheless shed light on younger, tech-savvy consumers in both developed and emerging economies.

Certainly the presentations at YMS 2015 – by 30 speakers from such powerhouse brands as Twitter, Facebook, Spotify, and MTV – indicate that the report’s commentary is echoed in the experience of multinational brands and organisations.

For educators, perhaps the most relevant takeaways from Youth Trends 2015 are these:

  • Millennials are more serious – about their careers and making a positive impact on the world – than previous generations have been. They see travel and work experience as integral to paving the way to successful lives.
  • They are looking for guidance that can help them achieve their goals, whether through brands, YouTube, mentors, or other sources.
  • When it comes to brands, they are discerning: they want ethical brands that do good things in the world, brands they feel are deserving of their time and loyalty in an increasingly noisy marketplace.
  • They see themselves as incredibly busy, and the pace of their lives is further sped up by the multiple content channels they access within the space not only of one day, but one hour…or even one minute. Brands have very little time to make an impact.

Earnest and motivated

Youth Trends 2015 notices a clear distinction between millennials (those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s) and their predecessors (Boomers and Gen Xers): millennials are looking forward even as they live in the present. They are planning next steps and considering who they want to be as they make their daily decisions, from what brands to associate with to which college they will attend. Young boomers and Gen Xers, by contrast, were more into the now – whatever the consequences – and spent less time thinking about their place in the world and what they might do in it.

In terms of priorities, Youth Trends 2015 respondents put financial stability at the top (83%), followed closely by “doing well in college/university” (80%) and working hard (73%). When asked about their “bucket list” (best understood in this context as activities they feel they haven’t experienced enough and very much want to do), giving to charity emerged as slightly more important than wanting to “party more” – notable given the young age of the respondents.

Voxburner calls millennials a “selfless” consumer group, and provides the example of skate and streetwear brand Vans to show how other brands might respond to millennials’ interests:

“[Vans] is offering US students US$50,000 to design an inspired version of their iconic shoe styles. This healthy prize amount won’t go directly to them however; it will be donated to improve their high school’s art department, which is exactly what these compassionate do-gooders would have wanted.”

Bexy Cameron, head of insight at communications agency Amplify, provided this quote for the report:

“This set of people are discriminating between brands by looking for ethical behaviour and sustainability. Seeking brands and companies with clear values. Which means that many brands are focusing their efforts on using innovation and social initiatives with genuine merit to tell their stories, and allowing social media to do the rest. This provides real, authentic stories for brands and a way for consumers to connect emotionally. This is also a good way to involve fans and influencers in campaigns.”

Of great interest to schools and agents with international student markets is the fact that the #1 priority for respondents thinking about their bucket lists was “travelling more” (88%). Six in ten (59%) millennials also put learning a new language on their bucket list.

As mentioned earlier, this demographic is looking ahead, determined to be financially stable. Nearly half (48%) are already saving money and more than eight in ten (83%) are studying in order to achieve a good career. The report included a compelling quote from a 20-year-old studying at the University of Kent:

“I put things that I consider more important at the top of my priority list, so things like finding work experience placements and doing my work as a member of student media will always come first as it is directly linked to my career objectives. University comes second and my social life comes last. I spend more time on things that are at the top of my priority list rather than at the bottom.”

Over the last couple of years ICEF Monitor has increasingly reported on the growing importance to students of internships and school-industry linkages, and the above quote is a good indicator of this.

Looking for guidance

Millennials have grown up in a world where they simply tap out a question on their laptops or phones and receive as many answers as they would like to the question. They are used to asking – and they are used to getting informed advice, fast.

In line with their interest in financial stability and career building, more than half (53%) of the millennials responding to Voxburner’s survey wanted more direction when it comes to money, and two-thirds (65%) wanted career advice. This underlines the relevance of new and emerging sources such as LinkedIn’s University pages – where students can research and chat with schools’ alumni as a way of predicting how successful they will be in a college or programme. More generally, it indicates that schools should be:

  • Investing in career guidance services for current students to improve their satisfaction;
  • Establishing industry relationships so students can ask questions of professionals in their field of study;
  • Activating their most high-achieving alumni to communicate with prospective students and their parents;
  • Posting measures of success (e.g., percentages of graduates employed, etc.) as widely as possible so students can feel confident their studies will yield a strong return on investment.

The Youth Trends 2015 report provided this broad takeaway regarding millennials’ quest for guidance:

“A brand’s support will speak a thousand words as the vulnerable youth consumer can momentarily gain comfort from a brand’s offering. We’re not saying that brands should take on the role of a parent, but acknowledging that you understand their woes and lows in life really will put you on their radar.”

One cannot help but think of all the ways schools and agents could demonstrate their empathy and support for students’ circumstances, from providing video how to’s (e.g., what to include in an admissions package, how to prepare for study abroad) to pictures and social media proof of how happy current students are in their choice of study destination.

Video testimonials from current students and alumni are also worthy investments – and worth doing well. Seven in ten (71%) Voxburner survey respondents said that video is their favourite kind of content. One of our earlier posts on the topic provides a great summary of what works and doesn’t work in school videos – see the Harvard and Penn State examples in particular in the context of millennials wanting reassurance.

Time-sensitive and multi-platform

Millennials simply have no time for brands that don’t respect how busy they are, and that don’t prove themselves useful almost immediately. As the report says:

“The youth market now expect digital concepts to give them something in return for their time – it should never be tech for tech’s sake.”

Repeatedly in the report, and at YMS 2015, the importance of mobile was cited. Last year we reported on research showing that nearly half of Internet consumers across the world are now using mobile devices as their primary mechanism for surfing the Web, and millennials in particular are known to have their phones “always on” and near them.

Respondents to the Voxburner survey made it clear that they don’t want content just served up to them: they want to be able to respond to it, and publicly.

“Over half (54%) of our respondents want to be able to interact with content, while social media-wise 21% engage with branded content every few weeks. They also enjoy connecting with their peers via social media as 84% have posted videos, photos and comments to Facebook, 58% to Snapchat, 57% to Instagram and 46% to Twitter, all within the last month.”
As the report summarises, “content needs to be collective, engaging and somewhat witty, while requiring as little effort as possible to consume.”

A complex but inspiring audience

All in all, the most creative marketers in colleges and universities have an amazing challenge in reaching millennials:

Respecting their seriousness, ambition, and desire to make a difference while also appreciating their zeal for fun, bite-sized, and visual content.

Derren Sequeira, head of vertical partnerships for Facebook UK, also presented at YMS 2015. During his session, he pointed to the viral “Ice Bucket Challenge” (which raised money to fight the disease ALS) as a campaign that got everything right in terms of activating millennials the right way. The campaign responded to their need to do good, to change the world for the better, to share their experience and join in a collective movement, and to have fun while they were doing it. And…it probably didn’t hurt that the campaign was video-based.

There is much more to say about how marketers are adapting to better reach this key audience group and we will pick up the theme in continuing coverage of additional research and best practices later this spring.

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