Don’t lose youth in translation…
Tapping into lucrative market can be child’s play
“IT’S ONLY when they are trying to sell us products that our thoughts count.” This quote, from a South African teen, comes from A Youth Lost in Translation White Paper recently published by Yellowwood.
The lesson from this quote – and other feedback we received from youngsters during our research – is that marketers are not truly engaging with the 5- to 23-year-old demographic. Young people don’t feel that the brands trying to reach them really respect or make enough effort to understand what they really want and need.
In the White Paper, we drew on the Sunday Times Generation Next survey carried out by HDI Youth Marketeers among urban and peri-urban youngsters aged 5 to 23, as well as interviews with the HDI’s Junior Board of Directors (JBoD). It was clear that these generations were saturated in information, live online, and were incredibly brand- and socially conscious.
For anyone trying to market to the Millennials and the up-and-coming Generation Z, a perceived lack of authenticity, respect and caring can lead to a loss of credibility. This would result in a refusal to support and spend money on those brands.
Young people are, after all, digital natives: they can disseminate their negative opinions faster than the content you are trying to make viral.
As marketers, we need to understand the true value of this market and make a genuine effort to engage them in a more relevant and meaningful way.
To ignore the youth market would be a mistake, considering that in direct spend alone, young South Africans under 23 command R121.5 billion a year – and that’s not to mention the influence they have over household consumer choices in everything from groceries to holidays and banking services.
All this may be true, but then why do we continue to make the same mistakes? And what exactly are those mistakes, and how can we do better?
For one, don’t assume that because they are online all the time, this is where young South Africans want to see marketing. While young people of all ages are happy to engage with brands online, intrusive and overt advertising on social media will get short shrift.
Another mistake is “trying too hard”, being inauthentic. As one 23-year-old woman JBoD respondent said: “When brands try too hard to be cool or their timing is sometimes off, they just irritate me. Be you, stay you. If I like you, I like you; if I don’t, someone else will.”
But there is an underlying point that can be summed up in another quote. Asked what bothered him about marketing, one 18-year-old JBoD member said: “When (brands) try to be hip for kids. Problem is, it’s like they never actually had kids, they have just read about us in books and think: ‘I guess they like bright colours, modern music and jumping around, so I guess we should just put that in the advert.’ They’ve decided what we want, but clearly haven’t asked us.”
How do you listen? Millennials and Generation Z may seem confusing to Baby Boomers. Understanding that contemporary youth are simultaneously extremely brand conscious and individualists who just want to express themselves is not easy. That they live their lives online, yet highly value face-toface interaction could also be confusing. But there are ways to get it right and the principles are simple.
The Yellowwood research clearly showed that young people of all ages liked respectful, face-to-face engagement. A vast majority agreed that “face-toface engagement makes me talk about a brand”, and “good service makes me speak about a brand”.
It’s not just about understanding what brands or celebrities are cool and where youngsters access these – though of course this is important and the Generation Next survey has some interesting things to say about what’s hot and what’s not.
“Face-to-face is needed – it keeps you humane in a way. It helps you remember you’re human, your life is not behind a screen,” a 22-year-old told researchers.
As Jason Levin, managing director of Youth Marketeers, says: “The monologue to the consumer is not happening any more – they want to interact and have a conversation. Millennials and Generation Z are more interested in brands that add value to their lives and have their interests at heart.
“Young people love brands and are willing to respond to them if they behave in a certain way. It is possible to add value to a young person’s life rather than take the value. Don’t try to take the last R1 from a R2 pocket. This is not smart.”
A JBoD member recalled with anger a dishonest deal by a cellphone provider that had alienated her.
Young South Africans are nobody’s fools. They value quality and respect more than “cool”. Talk, listen, engage and take them seriously. There is R125bn at stake – and, besides, they are the future.
● Blyth is chief executive of Yellowwood
YOUTH VOICE: One of the students in the recent #FeesMustF all protest made her own statement.
How do you reach the youth? This student has the answer:
(Listen). PICTURE: REUTERS