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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.
  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 and social media. 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 drove conversion rates to the call to action by almost 400%. We were very selective about the messaging, creative and time of delivery. It can be done.
  6. Print publications are essentially 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 45-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.

For those in higher education. For marketers in higher education, these learnings have particular gravitas in that during my short time in and around this space, its clear that colleges are still grappling with organizational design issues that would allow them to move quickly (with one voice and value proposition) across all digital and print media to address this fast moving generation of would-be customers. In my post and in talking with many other senior level administrators at other major universities an integrated marketing/communications function that is aligned with IT and sales is still the exception, not the rule. The cold hard reality is that your customers aren’t comparing you with other schools, they are comparing you with the experiences they have with Apple and Red Bull. Universities need to embrace change and reorganize with the idea that the CMO really needs to be the Chief Everything Officer in order for your school to be relevant and engaging to this and future generations of students.

Other stuff to read about Millenials. 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.