The new decision-makers: using content to reach millennials

Content marketing can help reach millennials – now the biggest demographic group and becoming more influential as they age – by starting a dialogue

The marketing approaches that worked for decades have fallen on stony ground with millennials. Research by media analysts Nielsen, for example, found that TV ads targeting mass audiences on behalf of big-name brands hold little appeal for this age group – roughly speaking people born between 1981 and 2000. Distracted viewers, they often switch between multiple devices, resulting in the lowest ad memorability scores compared to other generations. These approaches are also easily tuned out by audiences raised on watching on demand and reading news feeds they’ve curated themselves.

This was frustrating for companies who wanted to sell things to them when millennials first started to acquire spending power. However, the oldest millennials are now approaching 40 – reaching peak purchasing power and becoming the decision-makers in many organisations. They’re also the biggest demographic group, overtaking baby boomers in number this year. Once viewed as an exotic breed, they are now firmly in the mainstream. As Alan Jope, president of beauty and personal care at Unilever, told the Financial Times: “We don’t think of them as special or different any more. They are the core of our business.”

As a result, companies in every sector must learn how to engage a cohort that is notoriously hard to reach, particularly en masse, for marketing, recruitment and internal communications reasons. High-quality content is one of the best places to start because it enables companies to take relevant messages direct to millennial audiences.

Meet them on their home turf

So where are the millennials? Answer: online. This generation, the first to be digital natives, trusts friends and like-minded people they follow on social media over traditional sources of authority; some 32 per cent of respondents to PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Survey (GCIS) 2019 said positive reviews on social media influence what they buy.

Millennials also expect the companies they work for and spend money with to receive as well as transmit via their digital channels. Using content to talk about issues that impact your business creates an opportunity for existing or potential clients and employees to engage with you when you share it online. Having active social-media channels allows them to respond to offline content and events, too, whether that is a graduate recruitment day or a conference speech.

FirstWord client Orbium, a specialist banking technology and management consultancy which became part of Accenture earlier this year, focuses heavily on digital content to talk to potential new recruits and clients.

“Around 79 per cent of our recruits are millennials and our recruitment content strategy reflects this – we publish video testimonials, articles tackling what working life is really like and engage regularly on social media,” says Aline de Riedmatten, chief human resources officer.

Working in the field of digital transformation for financial-services companies means “many of our clients and key decision-makers are also millennials,” she adds. “As a result, our broader content marketing strategy is heavily geared towards digital platforms.”

Driven by values

Millennials care about authenticity: what does a brand stand for and what is a company’s purpose in addition to making money? They want to buy from or work for companies they can relate to and which share their values. Some 69 per cent of people aged 18-34 (which also includes ‘Generation Z’, people born after 1995) and 67 per cent of people aged 35-54 class themselves as “belief-driven buyers”, according to research by Edelman. These are people who will “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.” Forrester’s Consumer Technographic data also shows that nearly seven-in-10 US millennials actively consider a company’s values when making a purchase – compared with 52 per cent of all US online adults.

Part of this is about upholding their ‘personal brand’, communicated through their own social-media presence, which is far more significant than it was for previous generations. To address this desire to be talked to as an individual contributing to a larger goal, RB – the consumer goods giant (and FirstWord client) that makes health and homecare brands including Finish, Dettol and Durex – has created a new employee value proposition and associated content campaign to engage current and potential employees called ‘Freedom to Succeed’.

“The concept came from the ways in which our colleagues talk about working at RB and highlights the opportunities, space and challenges that exist within the organisation to really make a difference globally,” says Jo Osborn, vice president internal communications and corporate brand at the firm.

“The feedback from newer recruits – Gen Z and millennials – has been that ‘Freedom to Succeed’ speaks directly to what motivates them,” she adds. “We are bringing it to life with storytelling and rich content – long-form articles, videos, animation, quotes and photos. Social media is our primary channel for engagement and, while the campaign is still new, it’s working. We have seen some really good results so far, new followers on social media, job applications and even new hires, many from GenZers and millennials.”

So what does this mean for content production?

The aim of content marketing is for companies to use their own digital and non-digital channels to communicate their marketing goals to the audience they want to reach. However, the best and most successful content never reads like an ad or a marketing brochure; it is interesting to read or watch and tells the audience something about the company, its priorities and what it stands for.

Content that gains traction on social media is shareable – it looks good, it may have an element of surprise or humour and it provides insights for the reader or watcher into the company that made it.

All of these features tick millennial boxes; using digital channels means your company is taking its message to the millennial audience, while interesting content makes millennial employees proud to work for you and gives them content to share on social media, which in turn attracts potential future employees and customers. It starts conversations rather than telling the audience what to think.

Content for widgets as well as kombucha

However, while millennials as a group are certainly brand conscious, companies don’t have to be trendy to market to them. FirstWord specialises in “difficult” subjects, working with clients in the spheres of technology, financial services and high-end industrial manufacturing. It doesn’t matter that they’re not making fashionable consumer products. As Orbium’s experience shows, they still employ, hire and sell to millennials, on average more than to any other group. Demographics are making this inevitable.

Content marketing also covers far more than just companies’ websites and social-media presence, but, contrary to what might be expected, the rise of millennials does not mean the death of long-form – either in-depth white papers or other forms such as podcasts. Millennials have shown a desire for more detailed content, wide in substance, breadth and depth, as well as longer length podcasting. Even BuzzFeed, originator of the snackable listicle, has seen success with long-form content.  And, elsewhere, in-depth reports that readers must sign up for are increasingly important, according to an Econsultancy report published this summer. Report contributor Dr Christine Bailey, chief marketing officer of payments company Valitor, said 50 per cent of leads generated by the company’s marketing efforts came from “gated” reports it produces in partnership with Retail Week in the UK and the conference organiser and market researcher Worldwide Business Research.

Non-millennials welcome

You needn’t be born between 1981 and 2000 to communicate successfully with this group – the world’s top 10 most valuable brands include Coca-Cola and Disney, aged 133 and 96 respectively. However, you do need to consider what a growing and more influential proportion of your audience is interested in and how they like to consume content. That means using your own online channels and offline publications as a way of starting a dialogue and making clear what your brand stands for.