Future Shock and the Death of Brand Marketing

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I have been harping the same old message to many people that I knew how to market and sell their products and services to a business or consumer market through digital media, something I’ve done in the past using a combination of the popular social networking sites. You see, I was able to sell business services and close contracts with upfront payments by simply initiating it through social networking.

I was wrong.

It worked five years ago but it isn’t quite the same today. It’s more difficult to do the same things I did in the past. The responses have been lesser, the pre-sale inquiries have tremendously gone down, and even if I am almost giving away the company, it just doesn’t seem enough for the buying public. Why is that?

I began pondering upon the idea that the Influencers working in businesses might be a lot I have assumed wrong. I realized that today’s Influencers are a young cadre of the workforce whose job is to recommend what they see fit to the organization they work for. Many of these young Turks I’ve talked to seem to consider what they use or what their friends and colleagues use when it came to recommending a product or service that their employer might also want to use.

My first realization is the age gap. I’ve always considered myself as a Gen-X kind of guy but demographically, I’m not. I am just two years shy of that generation and actually belong to the Baby Boomers lot. Even then, I kept putting my yuppie hat so I can muster how this young market goes through the buying cycle. I thought I clinched the persona of the young Influencer of business.

I was wrong.

They are called the “Millennials,” a young group of people who were born between the years 1985 and 2000 (or 1980-2000 for some). I was recently talking to my friend whose daughter is now 24 years old, born in 1990. In 1995, I subscribed to the second ISP in Manila (epic.net) and she was 5 years old then. By the year 2000, it was the beginning of the age of Friendster and MySpace, the Philippines was engrossed in dial-up connectivity from the home, and she was 10 years old. By 2005, Facebook was just starting and the boom of broadband Internet began moving at lightning speed, and she was 15 years old then. By 2010, WiFi hotspots were becoming popular around the malls and cafes, desktop apps were beginning to be commonplace in smartphones and tablets, and she was 20 years old. Today, being 24 years old, she now belongs to this young group of professionals that are influencing senior management, the Gen-X group, on what to do, what to buy, who to trust, and so on.

The Millennials may have used text books in their young days but their adolescent, teenage and university days have been all about computing devices, smartphones and the Internet. There is nothing manual like a typewriter or as cumbersome like a pocket pager to influence their recommendations that what we old farts think is the best solution. These aren’t things they’ve experienced nor are being recommended by their peers. If I grew up in the amazing idea of push advertising on the web, the Millennials actually hate them. They disdain authoritative selling (a senior salesperson selling to a junior Influencer) and direct selling (straight in your face approach), and would rather look for recommendations coming from online friends.

Yep, Millennials follow and ask their friends. If they see their peers recommend a brand, they’re more likely to consider it. If they see the brand plastered (meaning advertised) on their Facebook Timeline or some other splash page or banner ad, they ignore it. Which only means traditional digital marketing does not work anymore. A friend’s post about the brand is overly more important than the brand’s post because for them, their friends and peers are their most credible source of information about a brand. Their buying signals are coming from their friends, not the brand.

I’ve actually been harping about this in the many public seminars I’ve been invited to, that hardly any of your friends will buy from you in social networking sites. But the friend of your friend’s friend is going to; which means again that your job – our job – is to make their friend and their friend’s friend an advocate of your brand.

“What? Why? I’m not going to rely on my friends to tell me what’s good and bad. I’m going to do my own homework and find out for myself if the brand is what I need and want to buy.”

That is not how the Millennials see the world. If you want them to trust you, to engage with you and to advocate you and your brand, you need to redesign the way you approach them. Let me emphasize that: it’s not about doing business with them but approaching them or reaching out to them. You need to understand that this generation grew up in a completely digital world. They have the highest social networking penetration among all other generations and the highest Facebook and Twitter usage rates. And the glaring reason why they rely on their friends? They were raised in an age of economic instability so they do not have any confidence in the economy.

Traditional and direct brand advertising are dead to the Millennials. There’s a distrust about that approach. And so, trust plays the biggest factor in a millennial’s decision to influence, refer or buy. As a generation that was raised in the Internet world with no recollection of life before the Internet and social media, they have embraced social networks more than any generation alive today. Which only shows that (again and again as I repeat myself) they rely on their online friends who they trust and interact on a daily basis.

They just don’t like advertising on their social networks. In fact, Millennials are mavericks in the art of ignoring and avoiding brand advertising. So, how do you now get them to buy your product or service?

Don’t you get it? They trust their friends more than anything else and distrust advertising.

The obvious call-to-action word to use here is “sharing.” That’s the activity that this group does with one another – share stories, share the trust they have with brands, share the good and bad experiences, share funny anecdotes, and so on.

I remember the episode in “The Big Bang Theory” where the conversation between Sheldon and Raj repeated itself over and over again. Raj was out of a job and needed one in the university for fear of being deported back to India. Sheldon, despite his quirky character, offers Raj a job. The repeating monologue between them was with Sheldon insisting that Raj works “for him” while Raj argues back to Sheldon he works “with him.” This should give you an idea how to market to the Millennials. Oh, heck. I might as well spell it out.

Work with them. Millennials are the most digital savvy generation today and they can spot any advertisement quicker than you can spell M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i. (See? Old school!) To them, if you’re not working with them, then you’re working against them. There are no gray areas.

Let them be the ones to communicate to everyone else that you and your brand are desperately trying to do. Sharing is an ingrained digital and social activity, and if you limit their ability to share and create a conversation, you tune yourself out from them.

They distrust the economy simply because they grew up in an unstable world – 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, several hurricane and earthquake disasters, real estate busts, banking controversies – the list goes on so long they are sick and tired of hearing and seeing all these happen repeatedly. But if they see you and your brand become socially responsible and pay back to humanity what you reap, they will see you as a glimmering light in the darkness that surrounds them and will begin to build trust in you and your brand. Inviting them to get involved is even better – that is one major means of developing a long-term relationship with them. It’s not anymore about the product but how your brand works “with them.”

I’ve heard so many organizations create “brand ambassadors” but all they do is select celebrity endorsers to pitch the tired, deadbeat sales scripts that everyone else is mimicking. Remember, Millennials know how to spot and tune out advertising, including the pitches coming out of their favorite characters and idols. Some endorsements may be heard but not everyone will listen. A strategy to connect and engage with this influencing generation is key and identifying and working with the Influencers of this group – the “advocates” – is the most powerful means to build the buying power of your brand.

So, now that you’ve understood the real picture in today’s online world, what are you going to do about it?

Click Here to Find Out Exactly How.

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Title photo by Josh Janssen via Flickr.

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One Response
  1. Precious 5 months ago

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