Do Something Meaningful: How Brands Connect with Millennials, From a Millennial

Nicole-Wong-web101 Nicole Wong, Intern [Winter 2015]

I am a millennial, through and through. My birthday falls in the middle of the millennial spectrum and I am what marketers call a digital native or social native, terms coined to explain the generation that grew up in a hyper-connected world. Navigating and connecting online is second nature to those of us in this cohort and, yes, we are too young to understand your Seinfeld references. Get over it. Being connected is such a big part of who we are that most of us would equate losing our phone to losing a limb. Our parents think we are dramatic and don’t understand our need to be constantly connected. I mean, have you ever tried explaining FOMO to a boomer? If you haven’t, don’t bother.

With graduation right around the corner, I spent the last four and a half years in Halifax (#bestcityever), attending Dalhousie University (#bestschoolever). I recently moved back to the GTA (my first home) to start my marketing career at TORQUE Strategies. I’m having a blast in my internship, but would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little Halifax FOMO from time to time. Thanks to social media I am able to stay in touch with my friends – and see all the fun things I’m missing out on. With no shortage of options to stay connected these days, the three most addictive platforms to me are Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.

  1. Instagram – While it’s not the best platform to have a conversation, Instagram allows me to see what my friends, favourite celebrities and the few brands I choose to follow are doing. It’s simple to use and an easy multi-tasking activity (note: the double screen).
  2. Facebook – Allows me to have an unlimited number of friends (or at least as many as I could possibly need) and to see what they are up to through their posts, pictures and event calendars.
  3. Snapchat – Reserved for mostly my closest friends, this is an easy way to communicate as all I need to do is send a simple picture, and all of my nearest and dearest can see what I am up to.

From my experience as an intern at TORQUE, I’ve become more aware of brand presence and have learned a lot about brand strategy (from some of the best in the business!), kindling my interest and heightening my awareness of how brands attempt to connect with me and my generation. It’s not new news, but brands are now using social media to reach us, and yet few are doing it well. As an aspiring brand strategist, I see three key principles that make a difference for brands trying to connect with my generation: 1) authenticity, 2) relevance and 3) execute, execute, execute.

Authenticity – Authenticity is integral for any brand attempting to connect with us – if it’s not done in an authentic, genuine way, don’t bother. We can tell when a brand is trying to impress us or whether it is organic. A brand that I – and apparently my social community – find authentic is WestJet. It’s only been two years, but it’s almost a tradition anticipating what will pop-up on my newsfeed from WestJet at Christmas time (ICYMI: the 2014 heartwarming Christmas Miracle). Plus, there’s the more recent viral video of a flight attendant breaking it down to the track Uptown Funk, or just generally any video of WestJet employees spicing up the mandatory airplane safety session. WestJet has been able to make their way into the minds of millennials, connecting with us by showing they care, allowing employees to be their entertaining-selves and staying true to their roots as a fun culture. “It may be the aircraft that flies you there, but it’s the people that you get you there.”

Relevance – Relevant content is timely, related to us and our interests, and is especially in-tune with pop culture. My favourite example of a brand that capitalized on an opportunity was when Arby’s asked Pharrell for their hat back on Twitter, during the 2014 Grammys. Arby’s used real-time marketing to garner more than 78,000 retweets and 46,000 favourites within 24 hours of the famous “fashion” moment. It was a simple tweet that was relevant: the hat was already earning much warranted attention (what was Pharrell thinking?), funny and was sent at the right time, when everyone was paying attention. It was one of those priceless moments that took the buzz to the next level. Everyone knew about, or wanted to know about (millennials love to be in-the-know) the tweet because it was funny and on-point.

Execution – Although there is a ton that goes into executing a meaningful campaign, I think there are two essential elements that help deliver that knockout punch. The first, drawing on an appropriate emotion (I especially love humour and inspiration) and second, a well-selected medium to present the content (note my preferred platforms). A campaign that masters both was Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign showcased during Super Bowl XLIX. The execution was flawless: it drew on emotions – shock and empowerment, an extended (popular) version of the content was released the summer prior building buzz, and the commercial sealed the deal, reaching an audience of 114.4 million. As a former athlete, and someone who has always found the phrase “like a girl” insulting, it resonated with me – and 56 million others (and counting) who flocked to YouTube to watch it. The campaign shocked us into taking action by emphasizing that young girls are losing their confidence at such an early age, inspiring us to do something about it: share it on our social feeds to create awareness (and the subsequent FOMO) earning the brand significant attention. Always deserves a 10/10 on execution for this campaign.

We millennials are exposed to so many advertisements a day it is now white noise. To break through the clutter do something meaningful. Create content that we want to connect with and share with our friends – content that’s authentic, relevant and well-executed – so that if we miss it, we have #FOMO.