Can telling a powerful story help you connect with millennials? It's worked for George R.R. Martin and for companies like Patagonia. During last year’s Black Friday, outdoor giant Patagonia made a bold statement: 100 percent of that day’s profits would be donated to environmental charities. The story was widely covered in the media. It went viral on social media and helped the company achieve record-breaking sales. Patagonia’s campaign was a perfect example of the kind of story that captures millennials’ attention.
Effective content marketing starts with a great storyline—and it’s worth finding one to tell. Doing so helps you stand out. According to Manta, just 15 percent of small businesses are actively marketing to millennials. Yet content marketing is the best way to reach them; they research purchases before contacting sales (77 percent), consult multiple sources before a purchase (69 percent), and don't trust traditional advertising (84 percent).
If you can’t donate all your profits to charity or capture national media headlines, don’t despair. Here are five strategies that can help you get your content marketing ready for millennials.
1. Ditch the hard sell
If you imagine the buying experience as a spectrum, content marketing is at one end and aggressive selling is at the other. To effectively reach millennials, it’s important to ditch the hard sell and, instead, focus on high-value content which speaks directly to them—and leads organically to a solution. Think about the Dollar Shave Club: Would you rather get an in-depth sales pitch about the importance of sharp razors (weird!) or be seduced by the allure of the perfect clean shave? Whether it’s a white paper or a blog post, follow a three-part framework that replaces the hard sell, but still moves your prospect to action:
- What’s the problem? Focus on a clear challenge that resonates with your audience.
- What’s your unique perspective, insight, and solution? Flaunt your knowledge and offer insider insights which both educate the reader and position you as an expert.
- What’s next? Provide a clear call to action that helps lead the reader to a solution.
Focus on a story that connects with what your customers care about, what they need to know, and how you can solve it.
2. Go mobile native
Seventy-seven percent of Americans own a smartphone, and millennials spend more than five hours a day glued to their mobile devices. Does your content look great—and load fast—on a mobile phone? Does your messaging translate to the small screen and invite readers to swipe right? Campaigns targeting millennials are a great place to focus on content that’s designed for mobile in mind. Examples include:
- Embracing video: From product how-to’s to expert interviews to quick behind the scenes looks at your brand, video is one of the most popular content forms with millennials today.
- Telling your story visually: Millennials respond to visual content, from data-rich infographics to beautiful Instagram images. Could this represent a new way to tell your story?
- Experimenting with formatting: Written content needs to be creatively formatted for mobile users in mind. Mobile-friendly content can be short-form or long-form that’s broken up by being written with short sentences, bullet points, and plenty of fast-loading visual aids.
3. Listen to differentiate your customers’ needs
Marketers tend to talk about millennials like they’re all the same. They might all be "This is Us" fans, but are they anxiously awaiting Toby's fate or rooting for Jack to overcome his addictions? While you can make certain assumptions about cultural trends or tech savvy, it’s important to make sure you’re not generalizing so much that you’re talking to a hypothetical millennial instead of a real person. Use listening tools—from social listening to talking to your customers in a face-to-face setting or formal market research—to better understand their needs.
Spend some time thinking about what differentiates them, and think about how the stories and content which appeal to them will be different. For example, a food company that makes organic snacks might have one messaging stream for chemical-conscious yogis and another for busy parents who need healthy snacks for their kids.
Think about the way Amazon introduced Dash Buttons. They created content that spoke to tech fans who couldn't wait to let the Internet of Things shop for them and also to time-starved professionals who are just excited to never have to actively order toilet paper again. You don’t have to be J.K. Rowling levels of creative; you just have to tell a story that resonates with readers. The more customized each content campaign is, the more effective it will be in winning customers and building relationships.
4. Leverage social media and social proof
Millennials are addicted to social media, spending hours tracking trends, celebs, and brands they love. They’re looking for information and connecting with family, friends, and influencers for recommendations. Your millennial content strategy needs a social component. How can you reach them?
- Use live streaming platforms like Facebook Live or Periscope to introduce the people behind your brand and create authentic, engaging conversations millennials love.
- Put the focus on your customers by running a contest to encourage them to share photos of themselves with your products in context, for example. National Geographic's Instagram contests—including their recent My Adventure of the Year contest—is a fantastic example. #natgeoinspires
- Engage with influencers, who can put their own unique spin on your brand story and amplify your reach and exposure.
Look for the intersection of story and social to really engage your customers on different platforms.
5. Find real-time hooks
Content that stands out helps you join in moment’s most important conversations. Agility in your content matters. Evergreen content—based on products or services that are perennially good—is highly valuable to your long-term strategy. But content with a timely hook can create urgency for busy millennials to read, and help position your brand as part of the larger story that’s unfolding around them. However, it's critical to keep it relevant. Nike can target content to the Olympics and show their products in action, but fast food restaurants shouldn't be jumping in to suggest that their burgers and fries fuel elite athletes!
To find relevant opportunities, you can:
- Explore current events to comment on—if it relates to your business
- Look for industry trends you can add your own spin to
- Profile people in your network, including partners and customers, who are doing interesting things now
- Use a calendar to look for anchor days, from Social Media Day to Valentine’s Day, to plan timely content
Millennials react to content marketing because it’s an organic platform to engage with them. Find stories which apply directly to different segments of your audience, build them around real-time hooks, experiment with social media and with mobile, and focus on a framework that talks to the customer, rather than sells to them. Ironically, this is your best approach for turning millennials into your most dedicated, long-term customers.