As the founder and CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, Tina Wells has made it her business to keep her finger on the pulse of the “Millennial” generation. As the author of Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right — a leading field guide on understanding this increasingly influential demographic group — Wells is trying to help CMOs make Millennials (those born between 1985 and 2004) their business as well.
The stakes, of course, are huge. Millennials — also known as Gen Y — represent a $43-billion market, so getting it right with this generation of consumers can make or break a business.
We asked Wells to share her perspectives and insights on Millennials, marketing and mail.
Deliver: Beyond the obvious, what should marketers know about Millennials?
Wells: This may sound obvious, but so many marketers miss the fact that technology is the language of the Millennial generation — and I do include myself in that group; I’m 32. We’ve all learned to speak this language. We speak it fluently. Everything we do, everything we talk about — it all has a tech piece to it. Marketers need to understand that. For example, some magazines are learning that their iPad app is the most important part of their brand. All of the magazines that I receive today, I also receive on my iPad. It’s convenient for traveling.
Now, some traditionalists may freak out and think that technology is replacing everything. It’s not. It’s just a different language that Millennials are choosing to speak.
Deliver: What role does direct mail best play in reaching Millennials?
Wells: It’s an interesting situation: Because technology is playing such a key role in young people’s lives, the need for personal communication is even greater. There’s also a greater need for the tangible, touchable, real-life communication — which is the strength of direct mail. All of that stuff still really matters. There is such a thing as technology overload. If anything, mail is more welcome. It can counterbalance the tech side.
Interestingly, I wrote a children’s book about a 12-year-old girl named Mackenzie Blue. In the book, she talks about how she loves getting mail from her friends — and sending mail to her friends. It’s an important part of her life.
Deliver: Do you think Millennials like getting mail even more than older people do?
Wells: Yes. I’ve learned in my research that what may seem to be obvious may, in fact, not even be true. For example, some people will talk about young people’s obsession with tech devices, but on the whole, their relationship with technology is generally healthy and proper. Because they grew up with it, they know when to stop, when to put it down and when it’s time for other forms of communication. It’s the people who did not grow up with it that tend to develop obsessive behaviors.
Technology is a luxury that many Millennials take for granted, but it doesn’t rule their lives. Mail is a part of their lives as well — although to some that may seem counterintuitive.
Deliver: Tell us about the four main tribes of Millennials, specifically why marketers need to know about them.
Wells: Millennials are not all alike. To view a generation as a single entity is a marketing misstep. Based on psychographics and behaviors, Millennials best fit into four different groups or, as we call them, “tribes”: the Wired Techie, the Conformist but Somewhat Paradoxical Preppie, the Cutting-Edge Independent, and the Always Mellow Alternative.
The Techies are like the nerds of yesteryear. The people that no one talked to are now the coolest kids in school because everyone is interested in technology. They’re really setting trends so it’s important for marketers to look at how best to engage with them.
The Preppie is the big-man-on-campus type, the captain of the basketball team, the one who knows everyone and is friendly with everybody.
The Independents are always going to do their own thing. Whatever the mainstream is about, the independent leans toward the opposite.
Alternatives are looking for something different, too, but not exactly opposite. For example, Alternatives years ago put the focus on going green, organic and sustainable. To this group, if you’re not one of those things, you don’t matter.
Learn as much as possible about who your customers really are, what they want. Do they even want your product? Does it cause any problems for them? Once we get all the answers to these questions, we can figure out where they are and engage with them. That’s probably the most important takeaway I can offer.
Deliver: Any specific examples of effective direct mail campaigns targeting Millennials?
Wells: Those who don’t think that mail and Millennials mix should consider a tween clothing retailer that ships about 11 million catalogs a month — or rather, “catazines” — half catalog, half magazine. These seem to do really, really well.
At Buzz Marketing, we’ve found great success with direct mail, especially reaching younger Millennials. And some fashion and celebrity gossip magazines aimed at teens use mail well as part of their marketing. Polybagging with calendars, for example, has been well received. By doing this, they’ve used mail to add value to the magazine subscriptions and get across a branding message.
What’s exciting about Web 2.0 is that technology that used to cost so much money — content management systems, building a website — now it’s free. And when you integrate these tools with direct mail — when you combine high tech with high touch — you’re on the path to making strong connections.
Deliver: What trends do you see with Millennials? What’s in their future?
Wells: One trend we’re looking at now is employment. This is a generation of kids who are not convinced that they have to go to work for somebody else. They have watched their parents work their whole lives for big companies, but there have been so many examples of entrepreneurs being successful at a young age — even college dropouts — it’s changing perceptions and expectations.
Also, this is a generation that knows how to shop online and to hunt for the best deal. It’s no longer about going into a store and buying whatever is on sale. We are seeing those trends right now, with more than $1 billion of business being done on Cyber Monday. People are enjoying their holiday shopping from the comfort of their own couch.
Deliver: What can we expect five years from now?
Wells: Technology will continue to evolve with newer and better devices. But there will still be a role for mail and print and personal communications.
Some technology takes time to take hold. We’ve found that only 20 percent of Millennials know what QR Codes are and know how to use them. A couple of years from now, I expect it will be an entirely different story.
Deliver: Any final thoughts on Millennials, marketing and mail?
Wells: Sure. My conclusion is that young people get so many brand messages a day that a brand needs to use as many channels as it can. That definitely includes mail — for both older and younger Millennials, especially older Millennials.
Mail crosses all generations.
Ask any parent: Staying on top of youth trends is not easy. Tina Wells has found a way. In fact, she publishes a monthly “Tina’s Top Ten” e-zine that reports on the hottest trends in fashion, beauty, entertainment and lifestyles. How does she do it? Part of the answer is having a team of 9,000 young people, called the “buzzSpotter®” network, provide a stream of “youth intelligence.” They share input through surveys, polls, focus groups and interviews. The network formed when a teen girl magazine wrote a feature on Tina’s Buzz Marketing Group, resulting in 15,000 applications from around the world. The buzzSpotter® network is just part of the company’s research efforts, which also include a Buzz Youth Institute panel of trendsetters, psychologists and sociologists. The company also conducts a quarterly Blue Pulse survey and partners with other companies to access general market research trends.Large Business, Loyalty, Medium Business, Opinion, Prospecting, ROI, Segmentation, Small Business, Strategy, Targeting