When you're a mature professional with a tinge of grey, marketing to a younger generation can feel somewhat daunting; which is why sizeable budgets are spent on getting under the skin of youthful audiences. Social media acts as something of a game changer for those of us looking to understand youth today. It has opened up a vast universe of thoughts and feelings to those of us with the challenge of selling to youth.
In a recession, businesses are generally forced to focus their marketing efforts on the group with the greatest buying power. This is often youth. While they may have less money in absolute terms, a greater proportion of their cash is disposable and devoted to the pursuit of leisure and fashion. The question is - how do brands push the right buttons to entice a young person to part with their cash? This is such a conundrum that I made the role social media analysis can play in helping unlock youth insights the focus of my talk at a Haymarket Youth Marketing event this month.
Social media continues to grow at an extraordinary rate. A billion tweets are posted every three days. As of the end of 2011 there were over 180 million blogs - at which point, the people who had been counting stopped. Mumsnet now receives over 30,000 new posts most days. All the opinion contained within that social media content is a marketers' dream.
Having said that, social media research is still at a nascent stage of development and many brands are still grappling with how social media can be harnessed to deliver real and meaningful insights. One issue is it that it can be very difficult to identify demographics in social media. However, this makes it all the more important to build a contextual and content-based understanding of the audience under the microscope. For instance, we can build profiles of the typical "older youth" versus teen social media user, based on the content they typically produce. This allows the researcher to include or exclude content that appears to have been generated by different segments.
Fun vs. flattery
In the main, young youths i.e. teenagers use Twitter differently to older youth, and have differing motivations. Teens use social media to share amusing anecdotes and stories; whereas older youths use social media to project an aspirational image of themselves. The key for brands is to understand how this information is selected and edited, so that they can provide fuel for conversations. This can be achieved by providing teenagers with fun things to talk about or supporting older youths by helping them to create success stories they can share with their peers.
Another difference is that teens are likely to tweet more frequently and engage in unrestrained reporting of their everyday experiences, driven in part by the desire to boost their tweet total. In contrast, older youths are generally more considered in what they tweet, based on the image they want to present to the world. They tend to be more intent on building followers, and will use other communications platforms to engage in genuine conversations.
It's all about outcomes
Our research also revealed that teenagers are very outcomes-driven. For instance, when analysing how they feel about university tuition fees, younger youth frequently took a rather pragmatic approach with some weighing up the best institution based on return on investment, rather than basing their decisions on idealistic dreams of student life. Therefore, they may require clear evidence of how a product or experience would benefit them.
They are also surprisingly nostalgic for the recent past - for relationships, events, experiences, brands and technologies; perhaps because their lives are documented and timelined as never before. This implies that some of the nostalgia marketing that works for young adults in their later twenties might work for "young youth", although the experiences that invoke this nostalgia will need to hark back to more recent times.
Customise your marketing
By implication, businesses need to find a way to appeal to these youth segments differently, based on their diverse interests and behaviours. Given the proliferation of channels, it is now possible to reach out to different groups with distinct communications. However, this is not to advocate that brands should behave differently with different segments. There is an important distinction between being multi-faceted and two-faced. In all instances, particularly on social media, brands must hold true to their core purpose and beliefs. Indeed, any contradictions will be severely criticised on social media.
In the past, marketers often had to second-guess the issues that mattered to their customers. Today, we have the richest and most comprehensive source of customer insight at our fingertips. The challenge is to tame the beast in order to identify, extract and filter brand insights from the ever-growing mass of social opinion. This can be achieved through a mixture of sophisticated monitoring technology and expert researchers. After all, it would be a waste to allow opinions, perceptions, and needs expressed spontaneously in real time, and on the record, to lay dormant in data, when this data can be mined to uncover previously unrevealed insights.