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Marketing to millennials goes beyond social media

Customer testimonials and word of mouth are effective marketing tools for younger Generation

January 19/26, 2015; Volume 28/Number 15

By Amanda Haskin

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.46.11 PMThe millennial generation, or Generation Y, poses a monumental question mark in the minds of business owners everywhere. These Internet-savvy, impatient and often debt-ridden consumers represent a tricky category for sure. Gen Y as a whole doesn’t like to be told what to do or buy. They care more about word of mouth and online reviews than traditional advertisements, and fewer and fewer of them are watching live TV, reading print publications or listening to radio.

Nearly every traditional marketing strategy that business owners previously turned to is radically inefficient in reaching this population. As a business owner in today’s marketplace, you must develop a clear understanding of the millennial zeitgeist and your company’s place within it.

First and foremost, millennial consumers value transparency and honesty in the businesses from which they buy. Gaining a millennial’s respect through demonstrating your business’ humanity can be done through relevant and personalized online content.

But content and advertising are not the same thing, clarified Jeff Fromm, president of FutureCast and co-author of Marketing to Millennials. “Advertising is a tiny aspect of content,” he explained. “If you want to win with millennials, you have to think way beyond advertising. Think about content that engages, inspires and informs them. You have to create and curate content that is relevant, and when they absorb this content there is an increased likelihood that they will buy your products and services.”

The most obvious platform for this type of engagement is social media, but Fromm warns that being present on these platforms alone is not enough. “Social media is a channel, not a substitute for quality content.”

Owen Flooring in Chatham, Ontario, has been successful in using a combination of its website, social media and customer testimonials to create a seamless network of relevant content. “Social media is alive,” said Kevin Owen, owner of Owen Flooring. “It’s a living, breathing thing. I think the best way to target the millennial generation is to not just utilize one form of social media like Facebook, Google Plus, Instagram, Twitter or blogging, but to do all of the above and have one lead to the other.”

Adam Joss, vice president of Vertical Connection Carpet One in Columbia, Md., agreed that an integrated social media network is a vital part of marketing in today’s economic landscape. “Social media has to support everything else you’re doing,” he said. “You have to show that you exist—that there’s life and personality to your business. It has to be about education and sharing information with a sprinkle of self-promotion, but no more than a sprinkle. Be a place where people come to seek out information. If you can be a resource, you’ve got it made.”

Liz Eure, director of marketing at Carpet Plus in Charlottesville, Va., specified the type of social media content that has worked for her to reach this generation. “Millennials are looking for more personal experiences when they are shopping,” she explained. “The best way to create these experiences is through images. We use Instagram and Facebook to share photos that tell a story about who we are and what we care about. This can include anything from a photo of our showroom cats, to one of our guys on a job, to our co-owner, Cindy, volunteering for the United Way.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 2.45.48 PMWord of mouth is perhaps the one traditional form of marketing that is still relevant when dealing with Gen Y consumers, and in today’s Internet culture that word of mouth comes to life through online testimonials. Owen Flooring’s website, for example, features customer reviews that pop up one by one as the homepage transitions between backgrounds.

“It’s a constant challenge just staying up with the technology and lifestyles,” said Jerry Hennon, owner of Carpets of Dalton. “Millennials don’t read traditional media; I don’t know if they even pick up a newspaper. You have to engage with them in other ways. Word of mouth is still the best form of advertising. We’ve always done a good job both selling good products and getting them installed properly, so it’s a good idea to make sure you’re getting online reviews that represent your quality service.”

Joss also acquires testimonials through a combination of effort and good, old-fashioned quality service. “We seek out online reviews, but some come naturally,” he explained. “It grows with momentum; as you get more, people feel more comfortable sharing them. Good salesmanship and good service will bring out the word of mouth. You have to either do a really good job or do a really lousy job to get online reviews. If you do an average job, no one will be compelled to do anything.”

To reach the market’s Gen Y consumers, retailers also have to use local and personal resources and think outside the box. Allan Ziman, president of Sid’s Carpet Barn in National City, Calif., advertises with his local sports teams, as well as at university games. “We do radio ads for the San Diego Chargers and San Diego Padres. We developed a jingle that is now very recognizable due to the fact that it has been used for so many years. And for the San Diego State University football and basketball programs, we do a discount on the back of the ticket, as well as ads mentioned by radio announcers and up on the scoreboard at the basketball games.”

Olga Robertson, president of FCA Network, does her best to target millennials by remembering that many of them are dealing with financial instability. Many younger millennials are wary of large purchases, or simply not in the position to be making them. “We monitor what the home centers and large retailers are doing to drive traffic and always have something on sale,” she explained. “The Gen Ys don’t have much money to spend on flooring, so we always have some type of offer, typically a coupon, online that the customer can take advantage of with a deadline to create a sense of urgency.”

On the flip side, Owen finds that his millennial market looks for luxury, and that the best, most beautiful product sells better than the cheapest one. “I generally feature grey tone, rustic hardwood floors by Mirage. I also feel like the millennial generation wants to see things like beautiful, custom showers done in a high gloss marble tile or other high-end products of that sort, because I feel like luxury sells to this market.”

Teresa Gavin, director of marketing for Great Floors, with multiple locations throughout Idaho and Washington, finds that both of these concepts are true; Gen Y doesn’t have a lot of money yet is looking for luxury. “It’s important with this younger generation to stay up to date with current styles, including higher-end imagery,” she said. “They may not have the dollars to invest in these high-end products, so we gear our ads toward things like laminates that have the look of hardwood and still are high quality, but are a little less expensive.”