Will Millennials Sing Along With Brand Advocates?

Bless their little hearts -- those poor marketers who are always trying to keep the candle lit at both ends. On one hand, they must be savvy and knowledgeable about their current customers and know how to market effectively to keep them buying. But, on the other hand, they also have to be on the lookout for the next generation of consumers so they can learn what works best with that group. They've gone through it so many times they must be exhausted -- Baby Boomers, the Me Generation, Generation X -- and now, here come the Millennials.

Tired as they may be, today's marketers had better pay attention to the millennials, because they will be the next generation of consumers. With numbers approaching 72 million, they currently have an estimated spending power of some $200 billion per year, but watch out -- by 2017 it's estimated they will be outspending the aging Baby Boomers.

These millennials are the first generation that grew up as part of the tech-savvy world. While other generations had to learn about the digital world, millennials were practically born with a smartphone in their hands. While they are educated and digital, these future buyers of America distrust traditional advertising. They are big users of Facebook, but not necessarily to interact with brands. Despite the advances that have been made in advertising, word-of-mouth from a trusted source is still golden to them. Questions marketers must now answer include how to find those trusted sources and how to get them to say something positive about their product or service.

Backing this up is a recent research survey by SocialChorus, which bills itself as the leading advocate marketing solution. Their study with over 500 millennials, ages 18-29, shed some light on how this consumer generation makes purchasing decisions. Three powerful stats from their study stand out:

  • 67 percent of millennials reported that they have never clicked on a sponsored story -- they don¹t trust advertising.
  • 95 percent of millennials say that friends are the most credible source of product information.
  • 98 percent of millennials are more likely to engage with a friend's post over a brand's post.

Looking for Advocates Who Can Speak to the Millennials

SocialChorus' premise is that they believe the most powerful marketing happens when people advocate for a brand they love. They work in the social and mobile world to motivate advocates to endorse more often, to more people, faster than ever. And they help brands grow their business by building hundreds of thousands of on-going advocate relationships.

It is basically a good model but marketers need to focus on the difference between online influencers and advocates. Influencers have the ability to effect a behavioral change in others by mentioning a specific brand, while an advocate usually communicates consistently regarding one specific brand. When satisfied customers act as true advocates their recommendations are priceless. But brand marketers need to be careful about utilizing advocates with the millennial generation because of the trust factor.

The trust that an advocate has with his or her audience must be maintained and highly guarded. If the advocate comes to be seen as nothing more than a "brand shill" the millennials will flock away in droves. Millennials are still coming into their own buying power, and may also have plenty of student loan debt. A recommendation that makes them waste any of their precious money on something that doesn't deliver as promised could have devastating consequences.

A well-balanced use of influencers and advocates must play a role in any successful marketing campaign that targets the millennial generation.