How Brands Can Engage a Generation of Digital Natives

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By Michael Pennington, EMEA sales director for Tumblr, Yahoo

Brands have been chasing the coveted millennial market for years. As true digital natives, millennials’ comfort and fluency in the online world has set them apart. With an insatiable appetite for digital media they are the force behind the content revolution taking place in the digital sphere.

Brands have reacted by throwing themselves into digital content production, working to craft content that resonates with millennials. As a result, 2015 was a record year for content marketing, attracting approximately £5.2 billion of investment from UK brands according to Enders Analysis. But what are the key factors for brands to bear in mind when engaging with the crucial millennial consumer?

The guiding principle must be to support millennials’ desire to make their unique mark on the world around them. GIFs and emojis have become a new, image-based language for millennials to engage with each other, showing how they have already taken matters into their own hands when it comes to communication. Both iOS and Android mobile platforms have integrated emoji keyboards into their software, and more than 23 million GIFs are posted on Tumblr each day.

This is actually part of a wider cultural shift – an evolution in how millennials engage with content. User-generated content (UGC) has been a central aspect of the online world since the internet’s creation, but millennials have moved beyond relying on their own content into remixing and reimagining content from others. GIFs, for example, are deftly hijacked and modified across social properties to succinctly express what users are passionate about, share their opinions and feelings, and capture a mood moment. Consistently millennials react to public events, pop culture, politics by reinterpreting the world.

A notable example of a brand tapping into the trend for quick, collaborative content creation, was Clinique’s #FaceForward campaign, as the brand used Tumblr for its first major digital effort. This first involved creating inspirational videos with six successful British women, each well-known in a specific arena, such as fashion or literature. Clinique then encouraged young women to share inspiring quotes for their future selves, which the brand reimagined as pieces of Tumblr art. The powerful combination of carefully selected celebrity endorsement and collaboratively-created inspirational content led to 600,000 engagements during the campaign.

Clinique’s campaign also acknowledged a vital point when it comes to marketing to millennials – there is no cover-all approach for all millennials. The hyper-connected lifestyle of today’s younger consumers has allowed them to build innumerable online communities around numerous shared interests – places where they can engage with content that speaks to them individually. The online world provides a rich environment where these communities can flourish, united by passion points and unfettered by geography.

For brands looking to tap into these existing communities, and engage meaningfully with their millennial inhabitants, there are two guiding principles – authenticity and inspiration. Millennials are more willing than other groups to engage with brands, but this means they’re also finely attuned to authenticity. They can spot a ‘me too’ brand from a mile away. Any company taking part in the conversation must have a reason for being there – something in the very essence of the brand that connects them with the conversation, and gives them licence to join in.

Those brands making steps to engage with this audience should focus on developing content that reflects the changing millennial vocabulary and ready-to-engage mindset. Brands must remain true to themselves, but equally, become part of millennial conversations. They should arm their audience with the ability to modify powerful, high quality content, providing them with creative assets that speak to their interests and help them to express their own personal identity. Brands can’t control social conversations, but in this way they can become part of them and even help to guide them.

Similarly, the ROI for social engagement with millennials may be indirect, and it isn’t immediate, but it has powerful effects in the long term. The ideal cultivation of loyalty and valuable engagement can be encapsulated in a powerful trifecta - the right content, from the right brand, at the right time. If you perfect this marriage of authenticity and inspiration, then millennials will respond.