With estimated spending by 14- to 34-year-old consumers of $1.2 trillion at stake, per market researcher Mintel International, it's not surprising that a conference last week in California focusing on new ways of communicating with that population segment drew some of the nation's top marketers, including Coca-Cola, Hewlett-Packard, General Electric and Activision Blizzard.
But a survey of the 35 CEOs and senior marketers attending the PTTOW conference did reveal some surprising results.
One key finding: today's youth are extremely "cause" conscious. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said that it's important to tie marketing campaigns aimed at them to social movements, such as the environment or education or other cause-related initiatives that could affect social change. (Watch video highlights from the conference.)
The survey also revealed the extent to which social media has become integral to marketing efforts in just a few short years -- each respondent said his firm is now using social media in some form to connect with consumers. Almost half reported that they believed online and social media will be the "most impactful media in connecting with Generation Y over the next two years." Another 34 percent said mobile would be the most impactful.
Location-based social media functionality will grow dramatically in the near term, per the survey. Nearly two-thirds said it would become a "key element" in social media over the next year.
Executives at the conference stressed that while implementing social media components is important, it's not easy to do right. And while many companies are investing in social media platforms, the return on those investments is not clear -- yet.
"We've been rethinking the complete digital ecosystem" over the past couple of years, said Greg Johnson, global creative director at HP. "In many ways we've been thinking beyond hp.com and trying to figure our role on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and others that are creating communities around specific value exchanges or other types of interests that we need to be aware of," he said.
From a marketing perspective, said Johnson, brands need to immerse themselves in new and existing digital communities to determine "which ones work and which don't." The new landscape, he said, "is complicated, sometimes messy and sometimes hard to get down to things like success metrics."
"I don't think any brand has figured it all the way out," said Johnson. "We're still in the midst of watching the changes as they continue to happen. We're going from a world where brands were adjacent to content and would try to grab attention from people to one where content is actually coming from the brands themselves."
Johnson and others at the conference agreed that social media platforms have an important role to play in marketing to younger consumers, but they aren't likely to displace traditional media anytime soon.
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