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Marketers miss the mark on millennials by overthinking mobile

While millennials are a potential gold mine for marketers to tap into via smartphones and tablets, convoluted campaigns that require consumers to complete multiple steps are more likely to fall flat with this demographic than others.

Younger, smartphone-wielding consumers are growing significantly as a marketing interest for brands as more marketing spend moves towards mobile. The challenge is that many brands appear to be playing up technology to appeal to this group as opposed to building straight-forward campaigns with a low barrier to entry.

?Millennials love simplicity in message, in consumption, in participation,? said Aaron Everson, chief strategy officer/president of Shoutlet, Madison, WI.

?This is perhaps most critical for millennials because they thrive on quickness to consume content and an efficient participation process if something is required some of them,? he said. ?And because brands sometimes fail to realize that millennials are born to share, making experiences overly complicated can and will work against them.?  

Keeping it simple
Developing millennial-targeted campaigns for mobile should be a no-brainer for marketers these days since it is assumed that someone between roughly the ages of 18 to 34 years old will access content from a smartphone or tablet.

ComScore data from November found that 18 percent of millennials solely relied on their smartphones and tablets to access the Internet. To give this number perspective, only 5 percent of consumers 35-54 years old and 3 percent 55 years or older said the same.

It is no surprise that millennials are turned off by marketing that comes off as a product pitch, so marketers have been quick to latch on to mobile social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat that are inherently mobile and driven by visuals.

These types of graphic-heavy efforts seem to be driving instant engagement. For instance, a study from HubSpot last year found that Facebook photos get 53 percent more ?likes? than typical posts.

Whether that instantaneous engagement pays off in the long run is still questionable though.

Take social video, for example.

Instagram, Snapchat and Vine are only a few of the platforms that have significantly stepped up their marketing appeal the past couple of years as a way to connect brands to younger consumers who are increasingly using these apps instead of Facebook.

Most recently, millennial-minded Coca-Cola, Taco Bell and Victoria?s Secret began experimenting with Snapchat Stories to push the longevity of the app?s content that typically disappears after 10 seconds to 24 hours (see story). 

Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter?s Vine have also opened up some interesting creative options for marketers around short-form video. However, the bulk of brand?s activity on these platforms centers around promoting products versus building long-term engagement (see story). 

Sephora and Urban Outfitters are two examples of brands that leverage Instagram and Vine for more than shucking products. Instead, these brands post content giving sneak peaks at what is going on at the companies or post how-to videos.

These types of content that ask for millennials? opinion and spur a dialogue are key.

?If you?re talking about advertising, even if you?re using social, if you?re just making it a one-way conversation, you?re not going to get there,? said Norty Cohen, CEO/founder at Moosylvania, St. Louis.

?The fact is, don?t think of it like advertising ? think of it as earning a friendship or trust and having a real conversation,? he said. ?Don?t even use the word campaign.?

Moosylvania recently completed a study of 1,000 millennials and asked them about their favorite brands.

Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors spent $1 billion in marketing last year, but neither brand received a single seal of approval from millennials interviewed in the study. 

Per Mr. Cohen, this is because the beer brands advertise versus drumming up a conversation with consumers.

Instead, millennials picked Starbucks and Whole Foods as their favorite brands. Neither of these brands spend a lot in marketing, and underscore the importance for brands to engage in two-way dialogue.

Forty percent of consumers surveyed in the study said that they would opt-in to email programs from brands they trust, most of which is opened on a smartphone or tablet. Thirty-six percent of consumers surveyed said that they would join a brand?s loyalty program.

Owning mobile social
In addition to leveraging social platforms for engagement, brands including Gap, Lexus and Steve Madden are repurposing the user-generated content on these sites into marketing material.

The idea is that blending in some of the assets that consumers share about a brand on social media can make marketing feel more authentic, causing consumers to be more receptive towards a brand.

For example, Taco Bell and Chobani were among some of the first brands to begin weaving Instagram content into Web sites (see story). 

Similarly, Perfetti Van Melle?s Airheads and Kentucky Fried Chicken have turned to user-generated mobile content to spark television creative in hopefully win over millennials.

?Marketers should extend the marketing efforts to users by giving them the tools necessary to create user-generated content for the brand,? said Ak Etteh, research associate at L2 Think Tank, New York.

?The social power of these platforms is that they can create a brand experience,? he said. ?Millennials tend to prefer experiences over physical products.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York