Don’t lose youth in trans­la­tion…

Tap­ping into lu­cra­tive mar­ket can be child’s play

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING - DAVID BLYTH PIC­TURE: EPA

“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

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