Editor's Note: Though this article is written for marketers, it also provides insights for publishers targeting the Millennial audience. The increasing demand for good content marketing also provides media companies with more opportunities to monetize their content expertise through native advertising campaigns and brand partnerships.
Millennials are forcing marketers to rethink the way they promote products and services. Content marketing speaks to them the best.
An overwhelming 84% of the group born between 1980 and 2000 distrust traditional advertising, according to a study by the McCarthy Group. Instead, Millennials want to learn about brands through meaningful content and referrals: informative posts, narratives that spark social media conversations, and endorsements from trusted friends, family members, celebrities, and “micro-influencers.”
Millennials are building careers, starting families, and amassing buying power. By 2020, these independent thinkers are expected to spend more than $1.4 trillion annually, according to Accenture. Moving beyond the homes and advertising culture of their parents, they are spending on brands that capture their imaginations and win their trust.
Hence, Content Marketing Meets Generational Marketing
At this point, content marketing has taken center stage. After beginning as blogs and web copy, the strategy has evolved during the last decade to include lively, personalized storytelling destined for Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and other media channels.
According to a study cited in Business Insider, one in three Millennials has made a purchase after viewing native advertising. The study found that only 9% would ignore a post, simply because it was sponsored; and fewer than 2% reported feeling annoyed or irritated, simply because it was promotional. They based their decisions more on content quality, with 37% agreeing that an appealing post counter-balanced any negative feelings about it being sponsored.
When targeting Millennials, marketers should also remember the value of success by association. Research shows that Millennials trust marketing materials and brand-driven narratives more when they are connected with friends, family members, and their favorite social media and celebrity figures. Timely, entertaining, and thought-provoking “influencer” pieces have a better shot at reaching scores of younger consumers.
Native Advertising Reaches Digital Natives
Encouraged by Millennials’ openness to native ad content, companies are increasingly shifting their marketing efforts in that direction. According to eMarketer, American advertisers allocated $33 billion — or 58% of all digital display ad spending — to native ad placements in 2018. That’s a 6% increase over 2017.
To reach the generation who grew up with the Internet, native advertising encompasses articles, infographics, videos, and other formats that tell a story that is not only brand-affiliated, but also engaging on its own.
For example, Heineken sponsored an article and video on National Geographic’s website about a microbiologist who discovered a rare type of wild yeast in Patagonia that the company is using to introduce a new line of craft beer. The content was vivid and informative, with a Hollywood-quality video showing the South American region’s sweeping mountains, lush forests, and cascading waters. It introduces viewers to a biologist who found a mushroom that fell from a tree, sniffed alcohol in it, and discovered “the long-lost mother of all lager yeasts.”
Combining that yeast with the more common “father” (ale) yeast allowed Heineken to create a distinctly new taste. It also set the stage for a wry exchange between the brand’s global master brewer and the microbiologist.
“Yeast can have sex and exchange their DNA,” the master brewer says to the microbiologist.
“It is a type of sex,” the scientist replies, “but not the one we are used to.”
Setting the Net on Fire: Viral Marketing
“Going viral” is every marketer’s dream, but it can be difficult to predict which campaigns will spread. An eMarketer survey offers a clue, however: 55% of Millennials say they are most heavily influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family. If someone close to them shares a funny or thought-provoking piece on social media, they are more likely to pay attention to and share it.
Advertisers can increase their chances of going viral by producing content that’s genuinely entertaining. For example, Amazon’s 2018 “Alexa Loses Her Voice” video brimmed with celebrities, featured cool artificial intelligence technology, and made viewers laugh with Alexa stand-ins who ranged from bawdy to hilariously inappropriate. It’s not surprising that it was the year’s most-seen ad on YouTube, attracting more than 50 million views after its Super Bowl debut.
Millennials don’t just want entertainment. They also like to be part of a cause and to find themselves stirred to greater awareness. Brands that once shied away from taking stands on sensitive or controversial topics are now expressing real opinions through advertising — and benefiting from the resulting goodwill.
Take for example, Dove’s now-iconic “Real Beauty” campaign, which explored how people often have a lower opinion of their own body images than others do. The brand’s poignant “You’re more beautiful than you think” message drew tears from the ordinary people it portrayed and from more than a few of those who saw it at home or on their devices. To-date, it has racked up more than 68 million views.
Keeping Up With the Social Influencers
Brands that cut through social media noise with compelling content generate powerful return on their investment, especially with Millennial audiences. More than half of all consumers and 66% of Millennials report engaging with a brand after watching a video on social media.
Influencer marketing has become a key way to cut through media noise to reach discerning Millennials. Research from Defy cited in Forbes found that, while most young consumers recoil from traditional advertising, 58% of them enjoy watching conventional ads featuring their favorite digital personalities.
Learning about a brand from a friend, family member, or celebrity can feel more authentic to most Millennials than a traditional advertisement. When someone they know or admire puts a personal stamp on a product, the endorsement can provide an instant boost. Influencers range from megastars, like soccer pro David Beckham to niche-oriented “micro influencers,” like Loki the Wolfdog.
Whatever the narrative perspective, churning out so much content brings challenges of its own. Today’s marketing departments need a more sophisticated approach to managing both traditional mediums, like television, and the expanding array of social posts, online videos, and ephemeral content, including Snapchat and Instagram stories, that are here today and gone tomorrow.
Platforms that support the entire marketing stack and offer tools to manage and track campaigns from ideation to production are now crucial in an economy where a new generation of consumers is increasingly calling the shots. Companies that satisfy the Millennial media palate will be the brands that dominate tomorrow.