The following is the second in a series of eight articles on Marketing to Millennials (aka, Digital Natives), and is an excerpt from a chapter in the book, Dancing with Digital Natives: Staying in Step with the Generation That’s Transforming the Way Business is Done. The full chapter is titled: “Adapting Old-Fashioned Marketing Values to the Needs of the Digital Native” and is written by Michael P. Russell. The book is available through AmazonBarnes & Noble, and other retailers in e-book and print format. See the end of this page for previously published articles in the series.


It is helpful to keep in mind a simple adage coined by Ray Krok, the founder of McDonald’s: “Look after the customer and the business will take care of itself.” This is true for any generation (or population for that matter). Understand your customers, what motivates their demand, and meet those needs. The fact that Millennials now use multiple means to obtain and share information creates both a challenge and an opportunity. For a long time, marketers took a broad approach, as the channels available to them were geared toward a mass market strategy. The message could be targeted, but the medium reached the masses. Contrary to some current beliefs, those avenues are still available.

As far as what is creating media buzz among digital natives, television shows beat the web as the most frequent media conversation topics. In its 2009 report “How Teens Use Media,” the Nielsen Company found that once an ad connected with teen viewers, their recall of an advertised brand was 44 percent higher than among older viewers. The research also showed that teens tend to like TV ads more than adults, making them an audience that is winnable through this old-school medium.

While an increasing percentage of TV show-viewing takes place via PC, this is not the case where cell phones are concerned. My current research on this market finds that males 18-24 are the most interested in this possibility, but little actual activity is occurring due to price, network speed, and device size. The highest number of viewing minutes per day that I have found is 15 in South Korea, where there are more established players and customers are more accustomed to the service. Even there, though, service providers are not earning significant revenue. The mobile TV/video market is only about 1 percent of the total market of potential users and has not generated the forecasted revenue.

More than half of Millennials indicate that print magazines help them determine what’s “in.” When digital natives go online, their internet use looks a lot like their parents’. According to Nielsen’s “How Teens Use Media” report, both groups access many of the same categories and sites. Even billboards continue to catch young consumers’ attention. John Erik Metcalf, a Millennial-aged blogger, posted a piece on his blog Think27 about a billboard campaign that he had seen. He was quite put off by the approach. The message on the billboard read, “Represent yourself like you present yourself. Pull them up,” a reference to those in the younger population who wear their pants purposely sagging low. Metcalf viewed this as an attempt to push conformity, which he felt would not work as a way to influence his generation. Instead, he wanted to see a positive, uplifting, simple message/story, which, from his perspective, would be a much better way to convey the objective.

In effect, however, he demonstrated how an old-school means of advertising and communicating had not only gained his attention but motivated him to discuss and distribute the sponsor’s message to a much wider audience. His reaction was to use the means and the channel that he had available to him — his blog — to convey his opinion to others. He broadcast his thoughts to all who had an interest, which could very well have included the sponsor of the billboard as well as the message’s intended audience. By placing an old-style stationary and static message in his blog, he circulated it to a far wider audience.

There’s no telling how effective the campaign was in decreasing the appearance of sagging pants in the area, but it apparently worked in getting people in the target demographic to talk about it and voice their dislike of sagging pants. While I agree with some of what Metcalf wrote about preferring a “pull” approach instead of a “push,” his dismissiveness misses a key point: The billboard got his attention. It made him think. It also motivated him to talk about the issue, and he spread the word to others about it, as he showed the billboard in his blog. Digital natives may know how to use technology and expect companies to deliver messages via these technologies, but they’re not immune to effective traditional advertising.

In addition to television and billboard marketing, there are other tried-and-true marketing outlets that continue to resonate with the native. Event sponsorship to introduce or promote products has a long history as an effective marketing tool. Digital natives want to see that companies are aware of their interests, of who the popular artists are, and of what the latest hot activity is. Visibility in these venues may provide an effective introduction to a product, which the digital native can then immediately find out more about through a personal mobile device, for example. It also offers the opportunity for potential customers to opt in for mobile advertising, a program that digital natives are more open to than any other demographic.

Although they have grown up in a much more technologically oriented environment, digital natives are actually not so different from you or me in terms of their life goals or the means by which they want to be introduced to messages and products. Using positive stories in marketing products is not a new concept. (Let’s see, cave paintings may have started this trend.) And despite the recent hyperbolic overload on the topic, viral marketing is not a new phenomenon: In the ’70s, Faberge Shampoo hoped that you would tell two friends, who would tell two friends, and so on, and so on.

Photo courtesy of r.f.m. II, Flickr Creative Commons.