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Why the future of content marketing lies with the millennials

Ever since social media elbowed its way into our online lives, marketers and brands have been striving to use social platforms to push content and engage young people. But if Facebook’s recent report into marketing for millennials is anything to go by, they’re not doing a very good job.

So how do we gain the attention of our millennials? The trick, it seems, is for advertisers is to harness some of the ingenuity that millennials possess when it comes to creating engaging online content.

Some are doing this by ‘buddying up’ with successful You Tube vloggers. Take vlogger of the moment Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella), the 24-year old online sensation who has brands falling over themselves to pay her for a product plug within one of her broadcasts.

However, online partnerships are not the only way millennials are helping brands to fine tune-in to the youth of today. Many now involve their target audience as part of the actual process of content creation.

This process of co-creation, as it is becoming known, is already reaping rewards for those that have worked out how powerful it can be. Co-creation of content isn’t necessarily for the faint hearted – after all it involves an element of allowing individuals outside of the company walls to have a say about your brand. But co-creation isn’t about relinquishing all control.

The key to effective co-branding is in allowing the audience to feel a part of the campaign whilst still retaining the element of overall control. It can be a win-win situation – by giving millennials the opportunity to co-create, you’re automatically fostering a relationship that can lead to brand love and long-term loyalty.

Oreo did this to good effect earlier this year at SXSW, by turning tweets into treats. Festival-goers (a large proportion of which fall into the millennial demographic) were able to create personalised cookies, based on trending Twitter topic and with the use of a 3D printer. The concept was a massive hit. The trick here, and for all brands looking to attract a millennial audience, is to involve them as part of the marketing output so that, once hooked in, they willingly share their message amongst their peers.

Millennials hold real power as online content creators. They are digital natives who understand the social landscape as they understand (or understood) the layout of their school. They know where the cool kids hangout, where the geeks can be found, what’s being talked about, and what isn’t. On social media millennials understand what kind of content their audience want and the places their audience are, so they know where they’ll find interest and amplification for what they want to say.

This ability to find their audience on the highways and byways of the internet isn’t the only reason for their success – authenticity also plays a key role. No matter how bizarre the content, millennials carry an authentic voice that isn’t manufactured.

All of this is important considering that online content is now being placed now at the heart of many a marketing campaign.  Above-the-line advertising efforts are shifting to attract a consumer who is far more responsive to brands’ marketing content across digital, and open to relevant content being surfaced wherever they are online. And to the sceptics who suggest that social platforms have reached the peak of their popularity and will therefore begin to decline as a viable marketing channel, this simply isn’t the case.  Despite social media behemoths like Facebook reporting a drop in user numbers social media will not disappear, it will simply evolve. From walled garden platforms based on one-upmanship, to channels for UGC curation and ephemeral IM based mobile functionality, there will continue for a long time a chance for advertisers to connect with their audience in one way or another.

Rather, evidence suggests that social media is displacing television as the major channel audiences consume content. According to GlobalWebIndex’s report on Global Media Consumption, the internet now makes up 57% of global media consumption. People are spending more of their media time on social than they are watching television already. A fairly unsurprising result of millennials expending more of their time on digital rather than traditional media.

Millennials have become natural content marketers because digital and social media are not an add-on, they are integral to how they live their lives and how they identify with the world around them. As a result, they can develop content with ‘Reach’ and ‘Engagement’ brands and marketers can only envy. One day, these millennials will be the next breed of marketers and brand managers. Once this happens, online content marketing will truly come into its own. In the meantime, we can try and better understand how we can effectively find our audiences and deliver authentic content that accurately represents what our brands have to say.

Punters don’t want innovation for the sake of it

I saw a nice quote about the iPhone 5S that asked whether the S stood for the ‘same’. A bit harsh perhaps, but it’s fair to say that the much-anticipated addition of fingerprint recognition and a new, more Essex-friendly, gold colour doesn’t feel exactly revolutionary at first glance. Apple has become a victim of its own success, however, having built a reputation for show stopping innovation with which Steve Jobs could casually rock the world. In reality though, punters don’t want innovation for the sake of it.

For instance, I don’t hear anyone raving about the weird Samsung eye-tracking technology they made central to their Galaxy S4. Customers just want something that works simply, brilliantly and effortlessly, and a lot of what’s interesting about the new iPhone is designed to do just that. 4G is in, mobile data speeds are up, and coverage is spreading to more and more cities every week. So, what do you really need from a new iPhone?

You need a piece of kit that is going to allow you to take advantage of quicker speeds and greater data. Say, something with a new processor chipset (the 64-bit A7 processor and the M7 ‘helper’) that makes this iPhone twice as fast as its predecessor while lasting longer. It’s a more powerful platform that will let app developers do more with 4G than ever before, and the M7 means the 5S better handles data input from the gyro and accelerometer. Its ‘wearable tech’ style credentials just went up – as did the amount of new, interesting app possibilities.

Even fingerprint recognition saves us a second or two each time we open the phone; for an audience that increasingly can’t spend more than 20 seconds without entertainment or contact, that’s potentially quite a big deal.

From this you might think I’m a big Apple fan, but I’m writing this on a shitty dell laptop and I have real issues with the way the company manufactures its product and the ‘closed’ nature of its eco-system. I just can’t fault the quality of the new product or the thinking behind the way the product has evolved. I’m now praying that the update to iOS7 is beautifully smooth and glitch-free so I don’t look like a total muppet….

The fear of missing out mentality sweeping across brands

With Smartphone ownership continuing to rise, brands are being sent into a frenzy in the belief that everyone needs an app, without considering the purpose or reasoning behind it. Recent research states that the industry expects to see apps top 160 billion downloads in 2017, but for me the real point of interest is how many of these apps will actually exceed 1,000 downloads, and of these, how many will users engage with on a regular basis?

It strikes me that brands, much like ourselves, have developed the “fear of missing out” mentality. Whether it’s attending a party or developing a native app, the outlook is the same: if everyone else is doing it, surely we should too?

In reality, 98% of the time, brands see greater success if they invest in developing web-apps that are full optimised to mobile channels, rather than launching a native app that costs time, money and is unlikely to deliver the high returns for the brands. Following the crowd is part of human nature (and not something likely to stop anytime soon), but for the smarter brands, the focus should be in understanding and recognising the approach that’s best for them and their customer – and putting this into practise.

With 4G just around the corner an increasing percentage of emails now opened on mobile, it has never been more important for brands to turn their mind to the mobile-first approach. Of course, there will always be a need for native apps within the digital space, particularly for the gaming community, but beyond that, a brand should be looking seriously at what the customer need is and how this need will be met. Whilst native app downloads will continue to grow over the next few years, it’s the web-apps that’ll bring better returns.

Yes, a native app gives a brand something to shout about in the short term, but in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s time for them to step away from following the crowd or risk finding themselves added to the every growing pile of disused apps.

A home page isn’t always home

Here’s an unremarkable proposition I think we can all agree on: if you have any responsibility for a brand, you know that communicating with your current or potential customers isn’t just about messages. It’s about content. And brands have to be in the content generation business as much as any analogue-world media brand.

Not a controversial thought, you might have thought. And yet, most brands don’t appear to want to learn all that much from content specialists, media organisations and others with editorial experience. Of course someone will chance some sort of tie-up with Vice, in the hope that the hipster pixie dust will make everything alright, but that’s about the extent of it.

So, in the spirit of bringing you insights from the editorial world, here’s something that you might have missed from a few weeks back: a report from the Nieman Journalism Lab, on how media companies are getting traffic to their sites. It’s well worth a read, but the topline is: the majority of visitors to the sites of brands such as the New York Times don’t bother to stop and say hello to the home page. Search engines still play their part, of course, but the ‘side door’ that is social media is growing ever more important. And while no newspaper website is in a hurry to ditch the idea of home page as front page, it’s clear that the instruction ‘every page needs to be a home page’ is truer than ever.

I hope this brief tour round medialand means you start thinking about the following: does your brand need a home page? Does it actually need multiple home pages? If yes, what needs to be on each of those multiple pages? What happens when someone tries to view the home page on a mobile? Do the 20 apps your team has launched in the last six months make any sense in the context of your brand home page?

Not unremarkable questions I know. But well worth answering.

Who Were the Digital Olympians?

Well that was all a bit special, wasn’t it? Apart from the closing ceremony that is, which was the only downer in the last two weeks of trashing the idea that Britain is great at music but rubbish at sport. So while the sun-kissed memories of the glory from London 2012 are still fresh, here are a few observations for you to mull over in a golden haze.

I’ll spare you all the ins and outs of my amazing day around the Olympic Park, but while the real-life experience was brilliant the digital side of things did leave a lot to be desired.

It was notable that what the majority of sponsors were doing in the Park wasn’t much removed from the ‘build a good-looking box and they will come’ approach, and as a result it felt like an opportunity to wow the hundreds of thousands of people on site with something interactive and engaging was lost.

And this is true outside of the Park as well. I don’t think you can point to much done by members of the Olympic family that’s been jaw-droppingly innovative digitally. No doubt some of the LOCOG restrictions played a part, but while these might have been ‘the digital Games’, it wasn’t necessarily true all the time.

Thank God for the BBC then, which really did win the Games in terms of digital hi-jinks. The smorgasboard of narrowcasting really, really worked. Who knew that the world needed eight hours uninterrupted coverage of the slalom kayaking? Its own data also showed, as if you needed reminding, that consuming content on the move is here to stay. So you’d better start empathetically designing for that second screen. Now.

LOCOG itself played a blinder in terms of digital and social media and this presentation will show you the jaw-dropping stats. And yet all this grazing on different pieces of Olympics content still didn’t dampen the ardour of people to sit around together and watch the big set piece events together. As much as NBC did things wrong with its coverage for the USA, clearly time-delaying certain finals worked, as they saw the biggest audience for an Olympiad ever.

And with the Paralympics already spawning great creative work – if you haven’t seen Channel 4’s superlative ‘Superhumans’ ad treat yourself now – I think the fun isn’t over just yet.

Don’t monster those cookies

No doubt you’ve seen them. No doubt you’ve ignored them. I’m talking about those irritating pop-ups that you’ve stumbled across over the last couple of weeks when you’ve been online, that say something like:

Hello Visitor: the laws that govern the things that follow you while you’re on this website have now changed, in ways which we, or the people who drafted the new rules, don’t really understand. Until we get our interns onto this, please be reassured by our use of the words ‘changes’, ‘consent’ and ‘privacy’. And when you see ‘cookies’, think biscuits. That is all.


I exaggerate, but only slightly. As you are all of course aware, all this new cookie malarkey has come in at the behest of the EU, who have decided that tracking users’ data without their express permission is now to be an absolute no-no. And while it’s laudable that the fine folk of Brussels have decided to curry favour with the Facebook generation when it comes to one of their biggest bugbears, it doesn’t appear to have been implemented all that well. If at all. Meaning that the effect on people’s privacy appears to have been zip.

Assuming you’re in the camp of website owners who are waiting to see what the Information Commissioners Office says you should actually do, can I remind you that when you do get round to being legal, don’t forget about your users.

After all, while there’s little that a brand should take more seriously than its customers’ privacy, it’s also true to say that people will trade off some privacy for a smooth-running and easy-to-use service.

The advice here is simple: don’t fear your lawyer, fear the wrath of your customers instead.

Craft is Where the Heart is

Feeling informationally overloaded? A bit of digital ennui? Two-screen action making your third eye blurry?

I’d like to propose that, right now, there’s a hankering for everyone, and especially brands, just to slow down a little, chill out, and get back to what matters. And part of doing that is to value the tangible and real.

What does that mean for our little corner of the marketing world? Valuing craft properly. And I don’t just mean sweating the kerning, or agonising over every last Pantone swatch. It’s about recognising that, sometimes, it’s exactly the knowledge that a steady hand and a keen eye have combined with years of experience that means a communication is considered warm, charming and unique. It’s harder to tell that story when all you’ve done is press CTRL V.

We’ve been obsessed about this stuff a lot recently, because of a wee thing we’ve been doing for EDF Energy to bring to life its loyalty scheme, Thank yous. What better way to dramatise the breadth of the rewards on offer than a giant zoetrope with the utility’s lovable character on top?

Exactly. And, to answer some over-eager online commenters, no CGI was involved. At all. No, really. As the idea revolved around bringing some of the magic of childhood back to people, we wanted to avoid any digital trickery. Instead, we had an army of skilled craftsmen building 119 models, and using strobe light syncing to bring the Zoetrope to life.

A lot of effort, for sure, But well worth it. A warmth that, dare I say, you might not get if you jumped straight to your Mac and fired up AfterEffects. So pick up your pencils (and scalpels and glue) before you start pushing pixels. It’ll do you good.

A tweet too far?

On Twitter? Of course you are. Have an email address? Of course you do. So no doubt in the last few weeks your inbox, like mine, has chirruped with the arrival of an email newsletter from our favourite time suck of a social network.

As you might expect, our optimistic Californian chums were most excited about this. On their blog , they wrote:

This new email digest also features the most engaging Tweets seen by the people you follow, even if you don’t follow those who wrote them.

This ‘innovation’ has, as you also might expect, led to eyebrows being raised quizzically, and some attempts to justify why this is a good move, such as

Most people… may never see 95% of the Tweets that pass through their timeline. Thanks to the common convention of Twitter clients that snips out chunks of the timeline to let you see a reasonable amount of tweets at a time, they’ll see some old ones, then some very new ones. But they may never see the ones in between.

Let me raise an eyebrow even higher at that. For starters, the newsletter differentiates between ‘stories’ and tweets. What’s a story on Twitter? How’s that been defined? More broadly, who is curating this for me? How is what I supposedly missed being chosen? A closer look suggests that what I am missing is apparently celebrity narcissists and things that have been re-tweeted more than 100 times.

In other words, exactly the stuff that’s most boring about the platform. The magic about Twitter has always been about the serendipity of finding people you like and people you don’t – brands you like, and ones you don’t – and having a conversation with them.

If its future is to be a half-baked broadcast network doing the same stuff an AOL/HuffPo, then I fear that Twitter, if it hasn’t jumped the shark, is at least levitating above a bored dolphin.

High street 2.0

So by rights I should use this post to exhort you all to develop a whizz-bang mobile commerce strategy, or get funky with your social shops, crowdsource your catalogues and the rest of it.

But in the spirit of cutting against the grain, I’d like to add to the sterling work that Saatchis have been doing to revive the high street by pointing out three things that you might have missed:

1)  Google has a concession in the Currys / PC World on Tottenham Court Road, so that people can start playing with their Chromebooks ‘in comfort’, says the press release.

2) PayPal has had a pop-up store in New York for the last three months, so that they can start flogging their mobile payments tech to retailers.

3) Amazon is going to open a shop in Seattle, dedicated to flogging Kindles, Fires and books… OK, I was lying about that last item.

As we all know, three incidences marks the beginning of a trend, and whilst it might be a bit glib to suggest that we can save local communities up and down the land merely by encouraging every tech brand to hire some architects and builders, I hope it reminds some brand managery types out there that everything your brand touches has to be enticing, superlative and brilliant. Especially in the real world.

Oh ok, here’s one social shopping idea you can have for free: a shop that aggregates the most popular pins on Pinterest, and allows you to buy them directly. When that happens in six months, remember where you saw it first.

This blog post is stolen

I thought I’d tell you that up front, before you all started whining and going, ‘He’s a plagiarist! He’s a plagiarist!’ Talent borrows, genius steals and all that, and I have liberated the following insights from an interview that Jeff Bezos did with Wired) a few months back. It didn’t cause much of a stir, but it should have, as there was lots in it that’s relevant to you. And you: