Gen Y: Marketers Still Getting It Wrong
At a recent SXSWi panel conducted "core conversation-" style (in which a presumed thought leader guides a group discussion on the subject at hand), the hour spent sitting on the floor in a cramped meeting room proved one important fact about social media: Even the professed experts are doing it wrong.
A Dougie Howser-esque "social media specialist" at Razorfish and a group of others ranging in age from 17 to 32 years old sat cross-legged on the floor and cross-talked their way through a series of stereotypes, assumptions, and painfully incorrect conclusions.
It is generally agreed upon by all in the social media space that brands began using social media without sufficient understanding or strategy. Traditional models were applied to new media with dismal return on investment; ineffective impressions by the billions were suddenly considered par for the course as expectations dropped and consumer tune-out skyrocketed. Really, the metrics are embarrassingly unacceptable.
And whereas more recent experiments in the social web showcase a willingness to experiment, they often also demonstrate a grave misunderstanding of what social media is for and how (and how much) consumers are willing to engage with brands online.
The all important "be human" dictum was followed to disastrous effect by Skittles, which brand ended up aggregating offensive, lewd, and racist tweets on its new "social" homepage. And for all the "conversation," none of us, it seems, can remember the last time we bought a pack of the candy itself.
As far as Gen Y is concerned, the "core conversation" was as unfocused as the discussion leader's definition of Gen Y itself (he gave the age range as being between 5 years old and mid-thirties; good luck marketing to that homogenous, monolithic demographic). It was noted that privacy is not as much a concern for many in this technological generation. People will publish just about anything these days; they likely have multiple profiles and will not feel personally invaded by targeted ads. These consumers are adept at using new media tools, at monitoring and restricting their online sharing, and at switching between applications.
For a miniature case study, take me. I'm squarely in this generation. I'm sure by now I have well over 50 online profiles, at least half of which contain my email address, physical address, phone numbers, and specific whereabouts at any given time of day. So much for privacy. I'm more concerned about self-expression and transparency than I am about whether a stodgy would-be employer will disapprove of a picture of me in a cocktail dress; however, I watch my incoming links, page views, blog/pic/video comments, and new friends/fans/followers like a damn hawk using tools as simple as Google and as complex as... Well, let's just say there are some pretty nifty free analytics tools out there that are deceptively simple and allow for hours of online navel-gazing.
As a marketer (and as Alisa Leonard-Hansen has so eloquently written about vis-a-vis the Facebook TOS debacle) social streams contain treasure troves of data about a single user and about patterns in peer groups. The data's so thick you could stand a spoon in it. Unfortunately, the data is going unanalyzed by many marketers who prefer to simply go with their instincts and jump into the fray. When Gen Y publishes so much valuable data, the greatest profit for brands lies in listening, reading, watching, and planning accordingly.
Take Whole Foods, for example (and kudos to the marketer who worked on this campaign for admitting in a public forum that it didn't get a good response). They ran an online "green teens" contest for environmentalist youngsters to win phat prom transportation and other such nonsense. I can't imagine the grandiose nature of their team's blind spot on that one; and they were disappointed by the lackluster response of the save-the-planet kiddos to the offer of helicopters and gas-guzzling limos and whatnot.
I'm coming up with fail puns in my head as I type this. "Whole Fail" will do for now. The point is, if the marketers had listened instead of making an assumption, they could have come up with a similar, really radical idea that would have excited those teens and gained traction, maybe even creating a little more brand-love from those who would soon be among the working class heroes with paychecks to blow on overpriced vegan tabouli.
Dougie Howser's other recommendations (as published in these god-awful slides) were related to advergames and celebrities' granting access to more personal lifestream tidbits through a branded portal.
"But it's not celebrity endorsement; Gen Y users can see right through that!" was the outcry from the group.
Guess what? I tweeted the strategy and got an immediate response from "Gen Y" early adopters to the effect that celebrity endorsement is lame. I guess no matter what you want to call it, whoring out the famous for your brand isn't going to move share or impress the terminally jaded, a.k.a. Gen Y. I could be wrong here, but it sounds like a very broad assumption to say that letting celebs do an online strip tease of their private lives is going to reach the entire cultural microcosm that is Gen Y.
Back to the drawing board folks: Listen and strategize. Nothing to see here unless you want to troll through the Twitter hashtagged comments (search for "#geny") for snarkiness from know-it-all youth/social marketers.