Millennials want to be marketed with, not to

Matt Bryant, PPR North America

“Know your audience, target your message.” This advice will forever be burned into my brain thanks to a college professor who repeated it over and over in an introductory public relations (PR) course years ago. And while it’s overtly simple, it remains true today in 2015 – there’s just one key ingredient missing. The audience and message are extremely important, yet in our ever-evolving digital world, we must consider the most appropriate medium to reach our targets.

For brand marketers and PR practitioners, millennials are increasingly becoming a priority target audience, and with good reason. Millennials, loosely defined as a person reaching young adulthood around the year 2000 – or anyone between the ages 18-34 in 2015, recently surpassed Generation X to become the largest share of the American workforce, according to Pew Research Center. Furthermore, Accenture predicts that by 2020, millennial spending in the U.S. will grow to $1.4 trillion annually and represent 30 percent of total retail sales.

The numbers don’t lie, but what’s even more apparent is that millennials, the first generation of digital natives (grew up using computers), don’t respond to traditional advertising and marketing tactics as past generations did. A recent study found that 84 percent of millennials don’t like traditional advertising nor do they trust it.

So how do we effectively reach this lucrative market? The rise of social media influencer marketing has been meteoric and it directly coincides with the need for a new medium to connect with millennials. McKinsey & Company found that “in 2014, consumers made 10 percent more purchases on the back of social-media recommendations than they had in 2013.” That number will surely spike again in 2015.

Landor, a global leader in brand consulting and a part of our WPP family, unveiled new research on the rapidly growing influence of millennials, finding, “Millennials support brands that make a personal connection with their consumers and are open to fan influence,” lending more importance to social media marketing and the influencers brands are associated with.

Social media influencers are to millennials what celebrity spokespeople were for past generations. Millennials trust the influencers they follow, they share their content with friends and most importantly, they feel attached by the ability to engage with them directly through their channels, whether it be Snapchat, Vine, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Periscope, etc.

There’s no better time than now to start partnering with social media influencers and here are a few tips for getting your feet wet:

  1. Research, research, research

You’ll want to find an influencer that matches your brands’ goals, objectives and narrative. While there are some industries that may not seem fitting for social media influencer marketing – healthcare and financial services come to mind – there are influential players in every space if you search hard enough.

These social influencers have their own brands and authenticity to protect too, so it’s no surprise they’re getting pickier about their endorsements.

Additionally, a newly published Forbes ranking shows some YouTube stars are raking it in, but many social media influencers are still affordable options for marketing to thousands, if not millions of avid followers.

  1. Your lawyer is your best friend

As with all marketing partnerships, contracts are important. But many social media influencers skew younger than the spokespeople brands have traditionally partnered with, and it may be the first time they’re working with a company to promote a product or cause. Make sure to get everything in writing, whether it’s the number of social posts, interviews conducted or event appearances.

Additionally, there have been concerns from the FTC about whether or not users can tell if social media content is sponsored. Contracts should outline necessary disclaimers in social media posts and how each party will speak about the partnership externally.

  1. Co-create to remain authentic

Once you choose a social media influencer, you should work with them to tap into their creativity and come up with an organic campaign to reach their audience – the followers they clearly know better than us. Being too salesy in paid social content is sure to backfire.

Social media influencers’ audiences are worth a lot, but brands must “loosen their grip on brand messaging,” says social media expert Jason Stein.

As with many facets of integrated marketing these days, the lines are blurred when it comes to who owns social media influencer marketing initiatives. Is it the marketing department, PR team, social media managers or advertising agency? Pending on the campaign, each group can and should play a pivotal role in ensuring a 360-degree success, so work with your counterparts and claim your stake at the table!