Paul Phillips is Head of Media at Hunterlodge Advertising
The new rules for engaging risk-averse post-recession Millennials
It’s been over three years now since the UK dragged itself out of the last recession, but few would deny that its impact continues to exert itself upon consumers of all ages. Many are still financially cautious and exhibit the coping strategies that evolved during that period of relative hardship.
One group for which the recession appears to have made a particularly lasting impact are the subgroup of Generation Y known as millennials – 18-34 year olds.
Contrary to the traditional stereotype of this cohort as disengaged, day-dreaming, causeless rebels, the new millennials are absolutely engaged, realistic and future-focused. They understand how scary the world can be, having grown up post-9/11 and, in the wake of the recession, have seen the effects of the economic down-turn firsthand. These events have stripped away their rose-tinted lenses so that they see the world in clear focus. A survey released last month by the National Union of Students bears witness to how firmly this generation is rooted in cold reality: 80% are “worried about securing employment when graduating” and 76% generally “worry about the future more these days”.
This seems to suggest that they’re experiencing an early loss of innocence, but their upbringing has made them more resilient and pragmatic. Rather than hide from their problems, they want to understand and confront them: only 28% “want to simply enjoy life and not worry about the future.”
As cultural evidence of this rational mindset, entertainment targeted at this age group has become darker, with dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories dominating. Their role models include characters like The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, who face seemingly inescapable scenarios but rise above them. These relatable characters are empowered to defeat their circumstances—just like our new millennials, who feel a responsibility to change the status quo, predominantly through self-development: 91.8% “see education as an investment in [their] life”. (Source: TGI TouchPoints). However, they will be cautious in that investment and avoid debt after seeing their parents lose jobs and their older siblings move back home. They’ll be diligent researchers, always considering what’s a good investment, and less likely to make impulse purchases. 57% “would rather save money than spend it immediately”. (Source: ibid).
While this cautious mindset may seem to present a challenge for marketers trying to engage with this audience, it actually presents a rich opportunity for Financial Services brands. Research on millennial behaviour has revealed that millennials are actively buying into financial products to safeguard their future: 88% are depositing into a savings account regularly (vs. just 61.5% of the broader UK population) and 53% are paying into a fixed term life insurance policy (vs. just 32% of the broader population).
Millennials are hankering for brands to demonstrate long-term value and make them feel safe. If a brand can prove reliability in providing that security then it’ll not only get their attention, but also their trust and, ultimately, their advocacy: 65% of millennials agree; “if a brand impresses me in some way I will make a point of telling my friends about it”.
Making that initial connection isn’t easy: the new millennial is time-poor, with 73% claiming “there are not enough hours in the day to do all I’d like”. Many are cynical about advertising, with less than one-quarter admitting that it “helps me make better purchase decisions”. 57% “only have time for advertising if it’s relevant to me”.
So how can FS marketers frame their communications to be relevant and reassuring to these cautious consumers?
Don’t fret, here are the new rules of millennial engagement:
- Deploy less aspirational, more realistic communications. Present not the product but the problem solved, ideally featuring real life cases of ‘people like them’.
- Consider more ‘left-brain’-oriented communication strategies that will resonate with their more logical, analytical, and objective approach to purchase.
- Effectively manage your brand’s profile within the Zero Moment of Truth – i.e., the non-linear period of online research – to ensure that digitally-savvy Millennials receive only positive messages in their forensic examine of choice.
- Recognise that Social platforms are creating a culture of intimidating social comparison (56% of people who use social media feel that they are under-performing, either in body image, career, mood or energy levels). Access these platforms to demonstrate empathy, offer guidance and serve cutting-edge content that, by sharing, will bolster Millennials’ social profiles.
- Personalise whenever possible. Digitally-savvy Millennials are habituated to personalisation and customisation — on their websites and their apps. It’ll be expected, not preferred.
- Create killer content. Content is all-important, and that’s about personalization again. Make it relatable and relevant, speaking to them on their individual terms. It’s got to provoke thought and look smart, which may call for use of embedded video or gamification tactics.
- Mobilize! In an era when mobile devices are so pervasive that 80% of Millennials sleep with their smartphones by their bedside, any marketing program has to be responsive across every size screen.
- Chunk it up. Long-form content is anathema to Millennials, who want it in scannable, sharable, “snackable” format.
- Champion choice. Building on that desire for personalisation, offer Millennials plenty of choices at opt-in for the frequency and timing of communications. They’ll appreciate and respond to it.
- Test timing. Don’t assume that the days of the week or times of day that deliver solid engagement rates for other audiences will work for Millennials, who often have unorthodox work arrangements, not to mention the ability to access email anytime, anywhere, since they live life on mobile.
- Do not fear traditional channels. As their media imperatives are squarely in the digital space, Millennials will find more tangible forms of communication – like personalised direct mail – novel and worthy of comment. Put something in their hands for a faster route to their hearts.
If FS brands are in any doubt about any marketing approach or content generated for millennials, the simple solution is to sense-check it with a focus group of Millennials first. Given their pragmatism, one thing’s for sure: they’ll tell it like it is.