The Millennial Quandary: Can Marketers Really Use The Power Of 1:1

I have no clue what people did during commercial breaks before smart phones. To me commercials are just white noise, that chance for me to run to the bathroom, or get a soda, snack, etc. before my show comes back on. I understand the role and value of traditional advertising when looking through a brand awareness lens. It’s a traditionally easy and proven way to reach the masses. Got it, but does it really help brands connect with customers? For me, the short answer is “nah”.

Before I was born (1993 just to make you feel old), marketers would have to cast a broad net across segments based upon the demographics of the population whether that be an age, race, gender, or a combination of factors. Very effective considering the available resources. As society and technology have progressed, this generic, mass segmented marketing has become less effective and consequently become white noise to me and other millennials. And here in lies my question: how do brands market to the largest consumer segment of the United States? In my millennial opinion, they don’t need to. It’s time for brands to flip the thinking from segment wide, generic marketing to differentiated relationship based marketing. Some brands are on the right track, but others are behind the curve.

The rise of big data should be paralleled by the rise of “big insight”. Brands should be willing and able to leverage the data they have on me to create my own personalized segment for two reasons:

  1. Millennials are the most numerous and diverse consumer population ever
  2. Not all customers are created equal (this has always been the case, but not often understood or embraced)

In leveraging big data, brands will be able to maximize my value to them.

Let’s address point number one first (millennials = big and broad population). Instead of grouping me based upon some arbitrary characteristic and marketing to me in a general sense, brands should invest time and really listen to what I’m saying because chances are, it’s something different than other people around my age. Millennials are the most diverse generation in history. The world is smaller and easier for us to learn about which makes us more individualistic in terms of our opinions and cultures. This makes it tougher to group us. I can’t even say being a millennial is something I have in common with other millennials as roughly 60% of millennials reject the millennial label according to a Pew Research Study. This gives further credence to the idea that generational segmentation is becoming more irrelevant while individual relationships with people is becoming more relevant for brands. This makes it that much more important for brands to build relationships with us to truly reach us. Each interaction a brand takes with a customer should feel as individual as possible. The brand should try and be a friend and less of a faceless corporation. Here are my five essential steps brands must take in order to build relationships with customers:

1. The handshake

Before you as a brand are able to start a relationship with me, you need a name, or in a brand’s case, a name, email, and password. And, I expect you to remember me.

2. The first conversation

This is where you find out if this is going to work. You learn about me—my likes and dislikes. And as a brand you don’t ask just to know, you ask with the intention of performing meaningful action to show you’re listening. Everyone likes a good listener.

3. Getting friendly

So, things are going well. You get your new friend. You send me tailored suggestions and push me relevant content. Maybe you even send me something I could be interested in judging from my activity.

4. It’s not you, it’s me

Hey people change. I change. But not to fear, you are a dynamic brand and see that my behavior is changing. You’re so astute that you even ask me, “Hey, is this still relevant to you?” or “It’s been a while, how about we update your profile?”

5. Reaffirmation

Who doesn’t like to be told they’re special? I’ve become a wonderful brand ambassador for you. You have my loyalty, but more importantly, my trust. To celebrate our flourishing relationship, you thank me with something that would interest me.

Because of big data, these five steps are possible. Nike is one brand I interact with that is working to build a relationship with me. They do a good job of creating a natural dialogue after signing up in order to learn what interests me. I know what they’re doing with the information and I can see the actions they’re taking based upon what I’ve told them, which shows me they’re listening.

Now let’s address point number two- not all customers are created equal. Wharton School Professor Peter Fader has been a champion of this idea and big data is a means for brands to achieve this. Through big data, brands can determine which customers truly deserve their time and effort separating the many from the all, the few from the many, and the very few from the few. Brands can determine which customers are their brand superstars, active consumers, lapsed consumers, and ghosts and tailor their marketing efforts accordingly saving time and money on customers who aren’t engaging, while rewarding their best brand ambassadors in hopes of driving incremental spending, and converting active consumers into brand ambassadors.

Big data is changing the marketing landscape. We’ve gone from small data being used to cast all encompassing to marketing strategies to big data being used to build individual marketing plans best suited for the customer. It’s a win-win for brands and customers alike as long as brands are willing and able to leverage the data. I for one am excited to be “friends” with Nike, Coca-Cola, the Atlanta Falcons and other brands.