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Millennials Don’t Want to Hang Out with You

Allow me to make something crystal clear. My definition of “word-of-mouth marketing” refers to one-on-one conversations—and nothing else. Individual people, in real life, having conversations, together.

Beyond face-to-face conversations, I may occasionally be thinking of text conversations or the various online interactions that require two people speaking to each other.

I never mean social media, however.

Although many people erroneously believe social media and word-of-mouth marketing are synonymous, the two are actually quite different. Word of mouth is a conversation between two people—whereas social media is a bullhorn. Social media makes it possible for an individual to make pronouncements, shout into the void, offer unprovoked declamations to a presumed online audience (one that is very likely not there at all). Yet who gives a hoot whether anyone is even listening? What matters is that a person has the opportunity to holler or comment his or her heart out on a nominally public platform. Whether anyone hears them is hardly the point. (Please read any of my previous blogs to learn more.)

But does that sound like word-of-mouth marketing to you? In order for word of mouth to actually work, brands need to create real relationships between and among real people. They can do this with influencers (defined as people who are driven to share stories with their friends and family) who, if they believe in the brand story, will integrate it into their own personal story library. These sorts of people who believe in something—a product, a cause—will authentically share the info with their friends and colleagues. People are then moved to share and consume based on the authenticity of that sentiment. In other words, they are influenced to act in the marketplace.

Long story short: word-of-mouth means influence, and influence usually happens offline.

And now we come to the millennial.

Millennials are damn savvy. They know when you and your ad campaign are full of it. They just do. They can spot nonsense and hard selling a mile away. There has been a ton of research on this (why is nobody reading the research?). But still I see marketers trying to interest millennials with YouTube ads and archaic marketing tactics that have been proven time and again to not work with the millennial cohort.

Perhaps I’m mainly speaking to the older generations here, the boomers and the Gen Xers, who seem to keep moving past this point without really getting it. And I do understand what they want: they want to dump money into digital and/or traditional ads and have them work like a charm, as it has done with past generations. But it’s not going to happen.

Millennials and Gen Z really are different from the rest of us. When they don’t outright despise it, they view marketing and advertising with extreme suspicion. Does that mean you can’t market to them? Of course not! It means you have to be smart and sly, more thoughtful, more insightful, and more authentic than you were before. You have to use word-of-mouth marketing.

Basically, millennials don’t want to hang out with you. Sorry, gramps, but it’s true. You’re classic branding tricks don’t work on them. What else do you expect from such a younger generation as this, the first in human history to grow up in the marketing age bombarded from all sides with TV, internet, social media, digital everything, and ads of all kinds? They’re tired of it all, which explains the tendency toward authenticity and their desire to return to quiet, more traditional hobbies, like knitting, gardening, calligraphy, and letter writing. It’s true.

So I leave you with this advice: figure out a way to be authentic, to make meaningful contact with young consumers, or just get out of the way. When it comes to young people, the old method of doing things is dead. They want experiences, genuineness, truth.

If you disagree, I want to hear from you. Do you think millennials should be marketed to no differently than former generations? If so, why? Or do you believe brands are trying too hard and becoming too interruptive? What can they do differently?

I’d like to get your opinion. Contact me, Judi Friedman, at LinkedIn to respond. I look forward to hearing from you!

If you’d like to learn more about word of mouth marketing, the 3S methodology, and the transformational power of brand story, follow us on Twitter, subscribe to the TopRight blog, connect with TopRight CEO Dave Sutton on LinkedIn, or buy a copy of his new book, Marketing, Interrupted.

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