To Speak Millennial, Use Email
Surprisingly, Millennials have a preference in how they want to converse with brands, and it’s not through social media. Columnist Steve Dille explains.
Want an example of a misleading marketing meme?
“You want to engage Millennials? Move all your budget into social media, into mobile advertising. That’s where the action is.”
At first glance, it makes sense. After all, in 2010, a massive Pew study told us all that…
[blockquote]Millennials outpace older Americans in virtually all types of internet and cell use. They are more likely to have their own social networking profiles, to connect to the internet wirelessly when away from home or work, and to post video of themselves online.[/blockquote]
The never-ending proliferation of new social and mobile tools, from Vine to WeChat to SnapChat and beyond, might make a marketer striving to reach this audience suspect that established tools — like, yes, email — are as relevant to this group as double-knit disco suits and pagers.
And, like a lot of knee-jerk prognostications, that would be totally wrong.
Always Connected? To Their Inboxes
The “always connected” generation, it turns out, has one constant among all the multiplying channels begging for their ever-darting eyeballs.
Marc Apple, owner and chief strategist at Forward Push Media told The Next Web that he believes no one is constantly on social networks, but most people check email every day, whatever their demographic profile:
[blockquote]In my opinion, email is the original social media.[/blockquote]
The same Pew study we quoted also pointed out that 90% of Millennials use the web to send and receive email. So it’s not a question of whether or not Millennials use email. It’s a question of how they use it, compared to previous generations.
Marc Apple’s point about email being the “original social media” is considered axiomatic, but channels like Facebook, Twitter, and the mobile-centric newbies such as SnapChat and other messaging apps, have supplanted email for many Millennials when it comes to making or maintaining social connections.
Why wouldn’t they? A mobile user can have a rainbow of apps in hand for reaching out to friends, family, co-workers and complete strangers, whether to chat, locate, flirt or collaborate.
Just as email bushwhacked snail mail, social media and mobile devices became de facto socialization channels of choice for a huge chunk of the generation born from 1981 to 2000.
But there’s the key: social channels, whether deskbound or mobile, rule the social engagement sphere for Millennials. When it comes to consumer-to-brand communication, there’s an entirely different dynamic in play.
It turns out Millennials are adept at keeping their peas and carrots apart when it comes to who they’re communicating with, as well as why and how.
Millennials certainly use social media and the web to seek out brand engagement, with 49% of them interacting with brands via social media, 54% through a brand’s own website.
But a new study by Principal Financial Group is an eye-opener about just how Millennials prefer to have downstream, one-to-one contact with companies, whether for transactions, updates, customer service or other dialogues. Given the choice between doing so via email, in person, postal mail, social media, phone call, online chat or text message, respondents overwhelmingly chose email straight across the board.
Another finding? Email came in at a surprising number two as a preferred means of doing actual product research in the retail segment, grabbing 18% of responses; web search, as you might guess, took first place at 45%. Doing product checks in-store got 14%. Social media? Far behind in the pack.
As legions of marketers have discovered, social media channels are embraced by their users with an almost proprietary fervor — and with disdain for brands who don’t deliver value or authenticity. It’s hard work to make your brand on-point enough in social media to drive deep and enduring engagement.
For Millennials, who view brand authenticity, transparency and personalization as basic requirements for capturing their attention, social media isn’t where they want to conduct ongoing one-to-ones with brands. That’s email’s role.
Building On A Millennial Foundation
Email is the rock on which our digital identities are built, in many ways: can you name a social network that doesn’t ask for an email address as part of account setup?
As of late 2013, 51% of email opens took place on mobile devices, with 61% of webmail users choosing to use mobile. As Millennial preference has pushed that wave forward, ESPs, carriers and developers have followed: mobile-friendly email apps and upgrades like Google Inbox are greasing the transition away from the desktop.
But what else may account for the durable appeal of email with Millennials? For one thing, it’s a familiar, dependable tool that’s device-agnostic.
It may also be about the type of interaction email provides. It’s an arm’s-length tool for interfacing with their insurance agent, their accountant or the bank that owns their student loans, as well as with the newsletters or loyalty programs they’ve signed on with. None get to trespass the circle of strong (or weak) ties that make up their personal network.
Regardless of what kind of campaign is in mind, any email marketer needs to do their homework on just what guardrails they absolutely must follow to earn Millennial engagement:
- Mobilize! In an era when mobile devices are so pervasive that 80% of Millennials sleep with their smartphones by their bedside [PDF], any email marketing program has to be responsive across every size screen. Just as crucially, you’ve got to get your call-to-action across quickly as part of an unmuddled, captivating mobile user experience.
- Personalization is paramount. If there’s a supremely compelling argument for Big Data integration into email marketing, it’s the fact that the entire “Me Generation” is habituated to personalization and customization — from websites, from their apps — and won’t respect getting anything less from email.
- Champion choice. Building on that desire for personalization, offer Millennials plenty of choices at opt-in in terms of frequency, timing, content and more. They’ll appreciate and respond to it.
- Create killer content. Content is all-important, and that’s about personalization again. Make it relatable and relevant, speaking to them on their individual terms. It’s got to provoke thought and look smart, which may call for using embedded video or gamification tactics.
- Chunk it up. Long-form content is anathema to Millennials, who want it in scannable, sharable, “snackable” format. On the other hand, this group’s penchant for receiving and processing very high volumes of information may make them more receptive to high-frequency email campaigns.
- Test your timing. Don’t assume that the days of the week or times of day that deliver solid open rates for other audiences will work for Millennials, who often have unorthodox work arrangements, not to mention the ability to access email anytime, anywhere, since they live life on mobile.
- Make sharing a ubiquitous option. Millennials don’t typically open emails in browsers, unlike older consumers. Since they’re on mobile platforms, they’ll scan and share to social feeds straight from the message, so embed social sharing buttons beside each chunk of content to up your engagement rates.
- Express extras. Special offers based on prior purchases, exclusive access or content unlocks, discount codes and other tactics work particularly well with Millennials as part of your CRM dialogue.
- Cross your channels. Millennials want seamless integration between email, web, mobile web, IM and other platforms, so don’t partition your email efforts from other channels or you’ll risk annoying them. Make your technical and content integration is as perfect as possible.
Move Forward Or Fail
The one key takeaway from all this shouldn’t be that email has huge penetration and value among Millennials. That might tempt some email marketers to rest on their laurels.
The real lesson is that the requirement for consumer-centric marketing arrived in relentless force with Millennials, and will only intensify among the generations arriving after them. They’re the ones driving the adoption and evolution of new platforms, and dictating new ways of relating to brands and businesses.
For email marketers, incorporating Big Data or other tools for providing total personalization with each recipient or subscriber isn’t a mandate handed down by technologists or marketing strategists. It’s what the next generation in line demands. Ignore it at your own risk.