Updated: 7 (not 6) lessons higher education has taught me about marketing for Millenials

There’s been more research done to study Millenials than any other generation of American consumers. I’ve read my share of the studies, but the greatest lessons I’ve learned have been on the job at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) as senior vice president of marketing and PR.

Here are my top 6 lessons (so far):

1.  Be nimble.  Before I made the move to higher education I co-founded a fashion and lifestyle startup built on the Twitter platform targeting early adopter Millenials. As we were releasing our second product the core of our targeted consumer was still very much in love with Facebook and flat out dissed Twitter. Four or five months later, after I had taken over marketing at SCAD, that all changed very dramatically. Teenagers and young adults started leaving the suddenly parent heavy Facebook for the easier and more mobile friendly Twitter world. These platform shifts will continue to happen so pay attention and organize your teams to be able to react to major media consumption shifts like this.

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2.  Have a point of view.  Perhaps this is part of my personal opinion mixed in with the lessons this job has taught me but as the research has suggested Millenials have a more global view of social, political and financial issues than generations that preceded them as teenagers and young adults. More than anything they have a point of view about issues small and large that my generation simply didn’t start thinking about until much later in life. Trying to get your brand’s point of view in agreement with that of this generation would be a mistake. However, appearing to be neutral is a bigger mistake. It shows your company has no conviction and hints that perhaps your organization hasn’t bothered to give it any thought — which makes you neutral. In this very noisy, always on world neutral is invisible.

3.  Account for family influencers.  Remember that these are young adults who still rely on parents and other family members to make big decisions. This is especially true for making decisions about big-ticket items like college. The consideration to go to college runs very broadly into familial networks (i.e. legacy, heritage and location) but very specifically to mom. The lesson for college and non-college marketers alike is that when targeting Millenials you must address the conversation they will be having with parents and others in the family. Build a relationship with that influencer through the medium or channel of their choice – which will not be the same channel. See my note about Twitter and Facebook above.

4.  Test your message.  Millenials are nothing if not professional multi-taskers especially when it comes to media consumption. Gaming. Social media. Music. YouTube. Text messages. Chats. Email. All are used on multiple devices at a pace that makes us old farts rather dizzy. If your message is not on target immediately it is ignored. Unlike my generation (who disdained advertising and marketing as a rule) Millenials actually like to interact with great marketing but your message and content has to be framed within a worldview they already have. This is true for every consumer, but more so for the generation who has grown up with the unsubscribe button at their fingertips right out of the womb.

5.  Email is not dead.  Coming into my position at SCAD, I thought that email was irrelevant to our targeted consumer compared to search engine marketing, social media and PR. I was as wrong as acid wash jeans outside of a truck stop. Email can play a critical role in your communications strategy and media mix, but it has to be integrated with other content on social and the web. In my opinion, email to Millenials is something you introduce well after they’ve started to engage with your brand. It cannot stand on its own and less is definitely more. For people over 40 spam is annoying but tolerated. To Millenials SPAM is the devil burning Styrofoam cups on their iPhone. A few months ago, my team launched an email campaign (tied to other content) to an already used list of teenagers and we increased click through rates 383% and click to open rates by 502% from one campaign to the next — using the same list. We were very selective about the messaging, creative and time of delivery. It can be done. (See the before and after.)

6.  Print publications are (almost) dead.  I am writing this in a hip coffee shop where I am easily the oldest customer; and I just did a lap around the room. Not a single Millenial has the print edition of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times (or any print publication for that matter) open. As a 46-year-old who started my career in a New York PR agency, I love the feel of the New York Times in my hands. It makes me feel like a better person just clutching it let alone acting like I’m reading it in public. But I’m not my target audience, they are. So when it comes to launching an integrated PR/marketing campaign for Millenials save that earned print media push for their parents.

7.  Understand a 15 year old’s motivations.  Sophomores and juniors aspire to a lifestyle supported by a career and the money that comes with it. Your college is a way to get there, not a destination. Remember that when you’re drafting an email or copy for your web site — they don’t care about what it’s like to get there, they want to know what you can do to help them achieve their career goals. And despite the outcry and media headlines, money is no object. Families are more than willing to foot the bill to get their posterity on a career path.

Other stuff to read.  Other than this brilliant post, if you’re going to do some reading about marketing for Millenials pick up “Chasing Youth Culture and Getting it Right” by Tina Wells. It is far more than a primer on the subject but really expounds on the many issues identified above and in more white paper like research about this generation of consumers. I pick it up and re-read chapters just as I do with “The Tipping Point” or “Positioning” before I build a campaign.

– Jose Mallabo

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Email is not dead in Millenials marketing

After posting 6 Lessons higher education has taught me about marketing for Millenials, I’ve gotten more head scratching about advocating for email in the overall media mix for this group. There’s no doubt emailing high school students isn’t the same as sending email to working professionals way back in 2001 — when answering emails on a BlackBerry in public was a personal branding opportunity to announce: “I’m so important, I’m answering email right here, right now!” 🙂

My point was simply to not ignore it and to think through where in the overall mix between social, PR, content marketing email fits when trying to engage Millenials in your higher education (or otherwise) brand. We actually used email at various stages of the marketing funnel at the Savannah College of Art & Design during my tenure. Campaigns at the top of the funnel were by far the most demanding simply because the awareness level was generally fairly low. Remember, this is the generation raised on social and mobile. Understanding that young adults actually like visual marketing, we took a more mobile product launch mindset to help us break away from the approach that these were somehow personal notes between strangers who haven’t yet met.

Below is the before and after — resulting in an increase of 383% click through rates and an increase of 502% click to open rates to the same list of high school students.  In short, more people opened and clicked through to the new email campaign (which was the fourth one these students received from us) than on the first campaign when performance rates are almost always higher.  It can be done.

Before. Lots of text, hyperlinks instead of buttons:

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After. And, better. Stronger positioning, buttons for easy mobile click throughs:

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– Jose Mallabo 

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Does talent matter?

Does talent matter? Of course it does. But how that talent is deployed within an organizational design matters more.

Every day and nine times on Sunday you pick Michael Jordan first (sorry Hakeem and Sam) for kickball, basketball or whatever because talent is talent and like every coach or manager in the world would say you can’t coach talent. People have it or they don’t.

Most of us lead highly matrixed (particularly in PR and marketing) teams so I would never argue with the virtue to hire the smartest, most talented people you can find. But it won’t matter if you can’t put those people into a system that makes the most of that talent at scale and over time.

It took Michael Jordan seven seasons (and a banged up Lakers team) to win his first NBA Championship. It took getting him into the vaunted triangle offense and building a supporting cast of characters around him for him to became the greatest basketball player ever. Without that triangle offense (what we office workers would call organizational design) Michael Jordan, dare I say, may have become the Dr. J of his time: great talent, amazing jumping ability and bring-the-house-down dunks but not the greatest ever.

In public relations and marketing, how you organize talent matters immensely because of the need for scale, repetition and consistency every day. No one thinks of it, but PR is closer to operating like finance than you think. Just like finance with its need to consistently report the same figures across multiple channels, PR and marketing programs and messages must be repeated consistently plus the added degree of difficulty in localizing those programs at a consumer level all around the world. It would be like the CFO having to report earnings or a Form 10-K simultaneously in multiple languages, media and channels in Asia, Europe and North America everyday.

That’s today’s marketing.

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The only way to ensure that is an organizational design that allows your people to focus on executing programs instead of wasting time with administration or office politics that are typical of lower functioning companies. Michael Jordan wouldn’t be the legend he is now if he spent his career worrying about where his teammates should be standing when the ball was in play or if Scottie Pippen was upset about the email exchange from earlier in the day. The triangle offense and great personnel management took care of that and allowed Jordan to be much more than his God-given talent.

Unless you are Bruce Almighty’s boss, you can’t control for how many uber talented people were born in 1975 and are now in the job market. But you can control for where you put those people once you find them.

When I got to LinkedIn to run international corporate communications, there were essentially two PR teams: the one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. (which served as the hub for PR agency teams in 6 European countries). The two were loosely tied but served different agendas. After opening and launching offices in India and Australia I set to organize the international PR functions into a single group that worked in concert with the U.S.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t about staffing at all.

PR in Europe was being led by two incredibly hard working and sharp people – who spent a big chunk of their time managing and administering 6 different PR firms in 6 different countries. The rest of their time was spent managing internal teams in London and reporting into Mountain View. Not enough time was being spent on executing actual strategies and programs in each of these countries that drove member growth and engagement with the product. 

We reorganized the internal and agency structure to allow them all to execute on market and customer facing programs and less time reporting to each other. Instead of my internal team serving as the administrative hub in London to each of 6 agencies operating in each of the 6 countries, we moved to a single agency (5 less invoices, contracts, weekly calls and monthly reports) with the hub relocated to Spain. And, in this new model the agency served as hub (not my internal staff) and was comprised of a multicultural and multilingual team that could execute media relations and content campaigns from central Europe into each of the 6 countries. It allowed my remaining internal PR staffer to have a single point of contact on the agency team, which freed up his time to coordinate strategic direction with LinkedIn leadership in London and Mountain View.

I can’t tell you how much money we saved, but that happened, too.

– Jose Mallabo

 

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Top 5 things I am looking forward to at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

On July 26 SCAD’s Sequential Art program will be hosting a small booth-like presence across the street from Comic-Con in San Diego at the Wired Cafe at the Omni Hotel. Having lived in San Diego back when Comic-Con wasn’t quite the socio-entertainment global geekfest that it is today — I am really looking forward to the trek from Savannah to the place I called home for so long. But mostly I am looking forward to:

  1. Unleashing a small squadron from my dusty fleet of cool and slightly off-putting t-shirts and calling it business attire. On day 1 of the conference I will either wear my “I’m not sleepy, I’m Asian” or my “Brown Man Rising” shirt. Tweet suggestions to @josemallabo.
  2. Seeing and hearing what 130,000 geeks, celebrities, media, groupies and doodlers looks and sounds like so I can finally answer the question that’s been playing in my head for years: “Who would win in a street fight between fans of Comic-Con and the Super Bowl?” My money is on Comic-Con not because they outnumber Super Bowl attendees almost 2-to-1, but because they’ve conceived an alternate reality where wearing capes isn’t weird and super powers exist.
  3. Being in a group of people where I know without a shadow of a doubt that I’m not the only one who has ever worn a Lieutenant Uhura uniform (replete with the wig and ear piece.) 
  4. Chilling out at Wired Cafe with all the entertainment muckety mucks to see if someone will finally admit to me that the Oscar for Best Picture awarded to The English Patient was a result of a lost bet.
  5. Just being in San Diego — home for one of my alma maters and the place where I’ve consumed the most quesadillas after 2 a.m.

Good things to know if you’re going to Comic-Con  

Black Widow

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Top 5 tips on how to get more Twitter followers

Sorry.

Sorry.

Sorry…for the all-too-obvious SEO- and Huffington Post-inspired headline.  This post has little to do with getting more followers on Twitter. Could be worse.  I could’ve named it: “Is Twitter more important than the Wall Street Journal?”

The first lady can Double Dutch

Social media, especially Twitter, is a global 24/7 session of Double Dutch.  Only it’s with 500 million+ jump ropes none of which will slow down to let you in even though you just laced on a shiny new pair of Nikes and are carrying a swanky-fun handle.

Like Double Dutch you don’t run into the fray with your mouth open unless you want a 20-gauge rubber rope behind your bicuspids. You wait. You find the rhythm of the conversation then jump in prepared to be part of it.

Based on using Twitter in corporate communications and on building a company on the Twitter API, I’ve learned two things:

  1. Before you start tweeting: Shut up and listen!
  2. Never build a company on the Twitter API.  (Another story for different day.)

By listening for a bit you’ll get a sense what the language and conversation is on Twitter and you’ll see what gets the most interest in whatever topic you’re keen on. No matter what subject, I think you’ll see that people who have a constructive point of view get the most engagement on Twitter.  So when you do want to start opening your mouth, think back to the way back days of TechCrunch (circa when we thought Friendster was the big ticket).  Michael Arrington made that blog more influential than mainstream papers by having a point of view.

So, if you get stuck on finding a voice for your next tweet or post, ask yourself – what would  @arrington do?

Then when you’re jusssst about to hit send on your 11th tweet stop, drop and roll. Take a look at the first ten tweets and count how many of those are about: A) broad topic of conversation that we all care about, B) dialogue with other tweeps, and C) how wonderful you are.

If more than two are focused on category C, put the mirror down and remember this guiding principle:

As @louhoffman reminded me last week no one you first meet at a cocktail party wants to hear a commercial about how wonderful you are.  They want to engage with you about new and common areas of interest. And, they’ll stay for a full cocktail or maybe two if you’re a smidge entertaining.

New rule is the old rule:  50/30/20

Spend 50% of your time talking about broader subjects on Twitter.  Then, 30% actively engaged with other people. And, just a wee 20% woofing about your parents’ progeny.

I lied. I’m giving you some tips. The last one is: Who you are on Twitter is somewhat reflective of who you are following. Follow wisely.

If you want to be seen and served up in the Twitter “Who to follow” engine as a global leader in M&A but are following 1,500 skateboarders . . . then odds are Twitter thinks you’re more like Tony Hawke than Larry Ellison.

– Jose Mallabo

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A letter to my former PR team circa 2009

Who says email is worthless? Occasionally a former co-worker or in this case staffer of mine digs up a blast from the email past and I hear an echo of something brilliant or stupid that I wrote years ago. I still think about PR this way. And I still don’t own any clothes from Lacoste.

See below a verbatim note from sometime in 2009:

Dear XXX and XXX –

Given that both of you have the unique challenge (erm, pleasure) of being managed by me from far, far away I felt I’d give you some insights into the things that rattle in my head. 11 points for today.

I obviously have a lot of opinions — good, bad or indifferent — and I’d counsel you to bring me in early into your planning and campaigning process. I enjoy that part and think we have so many cool things we can do this year.

-Jose

1. Media coverage is not a panacea. If it were, Monica Lewinsky would be president of the U.S. and BP would be the company of the decade. I subscribe to the doctrine of ‘agenda setting’ when it comes to media relations/coverage. The media doesn’t tell people what to think, it tells them what to think about.

2. I’ve launched more than 100 products, announced more than 125 acquisitions, 50 partnerships and dozens of events across North America, Asia Pacific and Europe. Two or three were memorable.

3. The best PR campaigns are those that are experiential and drive activism at the grassroots or customer level. Most of these can then elevate into media coverage.

4. TiVo was the worst press launch I’ve ever worked on. It was 100% focused on the technology and never considered the lifestyle play. It remains my biggest learning lesson. HP’s “e-services” launch was the second worst project I was involved with.

5. One of the brands I admire most for its recent resurgence is Lacoste. Once a brand for preppy suburban teens that died with the advent of hip-hop and grunge culture – now transcends both demographics and two generations of consumers while maintaining its niche appeal. I own no Lacoste clothing.

6. Everyone in the company does PR and will tell you how to do your job — until there is a crisis or someone asks how to measure PR. The best PR people are prepared for both.

7. My favorite quote is from the late great John Wooden: “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” It’s both a memorable sound bite and universally applicable for anything.

8. I am frustrated by the fact that our number one priority has been to get members to update their profiles and we’ve done a total of 2 tactics worldwide to drive this activity in the first 6 months of the year.

9. Your biggest challenge as an in-house PR person will always be staying focused. See #6 above.

10. PR people train spokespeople on the fact that audiences remember very little about a message and are impacted mostly by the visuals and experience of the communication event – yet we spend most of our day-to-day time spinning on…messaging.

11. Occasionally I hear a PR person say something that I think is bang on. This is bang on – and Nick is one of the best media relations people I know.

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Day 1 in Kathmandu

Fifteen hours after arriving in Kathmandu I thought it was a good time to check out the sites and get my bearings. And maybe figure out how to ride a motorcycle through Nepal.

I hired a driver out of the Summit Hotel to shuttle me around first to Swayambhunath Stupa (i.e. the Monkey Temple) then to the Thamel area to see where the tourists do their touristy things. As I was strolling through busy streets full of cars, people, bicycles and motorcycles moving in just about every direction one thought came to mind:

How exactly am I going to ride a motorcycle out of here in two days without hitting something?

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Media relations is a wee portion of brand communications

I remember not too long ago that the “PR guy” was the guy who wrote press releases and called down a list of reporters to ask if they got the release or not.

I swear. Like acid wash jeans — this happened!

While I think it’s been fascinating to watch the art of story telling make its way into PR and communications work, I think it’s even more important to see how the convergence of traditional PR with areas that might have been called marketing in the past is changing the way we think of PR and how we organize the function — whether it is in-house or on the agency side. I’ve been interviewing and prospecting for clients over the last 5 months and I can usually tell by the line of questioning whether or not the opportunity is going to be a good fit or not.

When a prospective employer or client asks me about my media contacts the giant reg flag goes up and I start looking for the exit signs. But when the questions are about engaging the right audiences using a mix of tactics and levers I think: “Winner, winner chicken dinner!”

So many companies go to PR people to help fix the business or make management happy that they lose sight of why you would initiate a communications campaign and they go into the market shopping for tactics instead of results. Here are some questions I’d ask if my boss told me to go get some PR help:

  1. What are we solving for?
  2. What exactly do you expect to get with more ‘coverage’?
  3. How should we integrate it with social, marketing, employee communications and the brand?

The answers to 1 and 2 are often intertwined in some sloppy hot mess about driving sales or the stock price or the b-word that drives strategic communications people the battiest: buzz. Whoever sold and popularized that BS term “buzz marketing and PR” needs to be dunked in a vat of ice and forced to watch re-runs of the first season of Seinfeld. If you can nail down the business objectives and explain that coverage is no panacea then and only then do you move on to 3.

This is organizational design and the only way you get to keep your job a year from now when someone asks why what’s on Facebook isn’t aligned with what’s on the blog and in the press coverage.

The best PR functions I’ve seen of late are built like this:

At the heart is the brand — including the stories and messages that work to connect with people over the long term — supported by an integrated effort of all the areas a person could come into contact with it and your product. Amazon and Apple have raised the bar very high here . . . and have wired people to expect a similarly consistent and high-level experience with every other brand and story they come into contact with — including yours.

So, who is the PR person today?

A story teller who can organize campaigns at the brand level and across all these domains. Let me know if you are in the market for one, because I may know a really handsome, witty guy who will ask you incessantly: “So, what are we solving for?”

– Jose Mallabo 

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What if Chuck Knoll bought PR?

Most companies start shopping for PR well after they need it. I see it a lot and am sure you’ve also heard way too many times executives say things like “get in here and get some early wins” by “picking the low hanging fruit.”

If this was football and I heard my coach say that, I’d think this is not a team built for the SuperBowl and I’d be calling Jerry Maguire to get me on a Chuck Knoll-led team ASAP.

So many companies shop for a PR solution in the way you run to Home Depot for a generator. The lights are out, the milk is getting warm and the kids are getting bored with Monopoly. Emotions run high and that strategic thinking that should be driving the decision for PR to support your business for the next few quarters gives way to buying tactics and ideas that feel good today.

Those are usually sexy and fun ideas or trick hook and lateral passing plays that get everyone stimulated like chugging a Red Bull to get ready for work – when you probably should just eat better and get more sleep.

As anyone who has ever worked with me has heard me say: Ideas are like belly buttons, everyone has one and most of them don’t work. I’m more interested in creating the right organizational design from which to execute ideas that align against specific business goals. And I want people on my team who thought to buy the generator on a sunny day. Those people win you championships and have great ideas!

Chuck Knoll won four SuperBowl championships as head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was famous for saying that “Three things can happen when you throw the football. Two of them are bad.” He was renowned for running the ball in a cloud of dust and punting on 4th and inches. What gets lost is the foundation he built as an offense and defense that allowed him to run any kind of play.

Oddly, I’m a lifelong San Diego Chargers fan and love the passing game. But when it comes to PR, I am more in Chuck Knoll’s camp than Don “Air” Coryell’s of the 80s Chargers — and so should you.

SuperBowl championships as a franchise:

  • Steelers: Six
  • Chargers: Zero

I rest my case.

– Jose Mallabo

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Education and the Election

How the most and worst educated states voted in the US Presidential Election of 2012. There seems to be a correlation between college education and voting for Mr. Obama.

Who says education is overrated? Well, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said so.  He claims that an ‘uninformed electorate’ helped vote President Obama into a second term this past week.  But apparently that is not the case.  The states with the greatest levels of college education voted for Mr. Obama, not Mr. Romney.

You can have your own point of view but you can’t have your own facts.

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