Striving to Reach the Youth Market

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.

Carol Kruse, vp of global interactive marketing at the Coca-Cola Co., said the array of social media is one of the “many great ways” that marketers can reach young people today. Social media are best at building “brand love” and other relationships with customers, she said. Mobile is versatile and good for both broad reach and narrowly targeted messaging. “But we probably know even less about the effectiveness of mobile,” she said. “We’re learning as we go along.”
 
And traditional media such as TV, out of home, radio and print remain important as well. “The key is to integrate paid media with earned and owned media,” Kruse said.
 
The metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of social media are a work in progress. “In many cases marketers are still measuring effectiveness of what they do in digital impressions and clicks,” said Mike Murphy, chief revenue officer at Facebook. But that doesn’t adequately assess the value that a community like Facebook brings to the table, he asserted, where “customers are opting to have a two-way relationship with their favorite brands. That creates value.”
 
HP’s Johnson agreed. Audience size is of less importance in today’s fragmented media landscape. “We have to measure things like resonance and value and frankly the durability of the impact that we’re having,” he said.
 
According to Kruse, a new campaign revolving around the upcoming World Cup in June illustrates how the marketer is using social media to build and strengthen its relationship with soccer-loving consumers. The campaign, known as the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour by Coca-Cola, allowed thousands of fans in 86 countries over 225 days to get an up-close look at soccer’s grandest prize.
 
The project has a dedicated YouTube channel and ads drive traffic to the site. “We’re building a global community around our consumers love [for the] World Cup and their favorite teams,” she said.