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Tracy Williams Prince column: Listening can help form plan to reach millennials

11:10 PM, Jun. 21, 2013  |  Comments
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The Baby Boomers' reign as the largest percentage in the workforce is about to end as 71 million people making up the Y Generation (those born between 1977 and 1994) begin to take over. Members of Gen Y, otherwise known as "Millennials" make up 26 percent of today's population. With the rising number of millennials entering the workforce and a tremendous spending power, this is the audience you can't choose to ignore in your marketing efforts. Spending more than $200 billion annually, millennials have become a force to be reckoned with. The problem is they won't respond to your typical marketing methods. Turned off by hard sells, advertisers are struggling to come up with new, out-of-the-box methods to market to this group, now coined "The Unreachables."

So what's the secret? According to Bea Fields, author of Millennial Leaders: Success Stories from Today's Most Brilliant Generation Y Leaders, "Generation Y is an "experience" culture. They do not want to be told what to like or what to do. They want to experience the world for themselves and pass their own judgment." Consider this when trying to market to this hard-to-reach audience: how can you market "with" them rather than "at" them? The big brands winning this battle so far have relied heavily on experiential marketing and social media.

In a past Market Smart column I discussed the onslaught of experiential marketing. Involving your audience in an event or sport with solid brand representation has been a popular and effective method of reaching this generation. Millennials want to be a part of your product; to them it's an extension of their lifestyle versus a product they consume. If you can make your product trendy and hip and part of the Gen Y lifestyle, then you are marketing effectively.

Another successful method in breaking through the millennial wall is the utilization of Social Media. Don't stop at simply using Facebook advertising and posting tweets. Millennials want to feel they've discovered your brand themselves. Make it easy for them to find in a fun and hip way that can involve them. Catchy videos, contests and experiences will win this generation over.

Fields says that marketing to Generation Y is the wrong approach. "Stop marketing to them and start listening to them. Hang out with them. Experience life with them. Respect them," said Fields. To effectively market to "The Unreachables", you have to become one yourself. Walk in their shoes and you'll find that marketing to Gen Y is way more fun and forgiving than it's ever been in the past.

- Tracy Williams-Prince is the marketing manager for Express Convenience Centers, a division of U.S. Venture Inc. She can be reached at TWilliams-Prince@usoil.com.

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