Summer Lovin': Four Ways to Connect With Gen Y This Season

Events Are Key, but Are You Taking Full Advantage?

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We know that no demographic is changing as quickly as the coveted Gen Y demographic. We also know that for a growing number of brands, they're the segment that is not only the most important, but also the most difficult to engage. But what marketers may not know is that experiential marketing is the best and surest way to reach this elusive set, especially this summer. Between concert festivals, outdoor sporting events, travel and the general excitement that comes from being "out for summer," the coming months are the perfect time for marketers to get out and about themselves, engaging with these consumers face-to-face.

Gen Y'ers number more than 60 million. They're online, around town, leveraging social media and taking control of every second of their lives. This summer they'll tune into whatever they want as easily as they'll tune it out. As a result, brand marketers around the world are retuning how they go to market.

Our agency recently conducted a survey with the Event Marketing Institute, surveying several thousand Gen Y consumers. What we found didn't surprise us, but it may surprise you and help to shape your marketing plans as you try to reach this elusive demographic. We learned that 94% of Gen Y consumers say they would be more likely to buy a product as a result of a good experience at an event. Think about it. If you went to a concert for an up-and-coming pop star and left wanting more, you'd be more likely to buy her CD or download her single, right? But creating that "good experience" is no easy task.

Gen Y'ers are the first generation that has grown up with the internet as a normal part of everyday life. In fact, almost half of those we surveyed have posted something (a photo, a status update, a Tweet) from or during an event. Because of this proliferation of technology, Gen Y presents a different set of challenges for marketers. Marketers in all brand categories need to plan campaigns that connect with consumers, whether they're live or online or both at the same time, and the experiences have to reach consumers' minds. Brand managers now need to think of themselves as "brain managers."

Clearly, marketing to Gen Y is still a code we've yet to completely crack. To succeed, marketers need a new rulebook. Here are four rules for ensuring experiences make the critical connection to the Gen Y consumer:

1. Let them in. And we mean all the way in. You already know that savvy brands use experiential marketing to create ongoing dialogues with consumers. What you might not know is that those conversations now give consumers a chance to weigh in on everything about your company -- 99.4% of Gen Y consumers say they welcome ongoing communication with a brand after an event. There is a real opportunity to connect here -- not only with how you market to them, but also with what you market to them. Solicit their input on product design and functionality; get their feedback on what services you could offer to better meet their needs.

2. Show, don't tell. The brand must serve as an experience guide, not an experience dictator. Give the consumer room to construct his or her personal meaning from your product or experience. Show your product or service -- demonstrate not only what it is and any benefits and attributes it offers, but also its relevancy to consumers' lives.

3. Sell it. Events are the best place to get consumers excited about your product -- and with the report finding a high percentage of consumers willing to buy on-site, savvy brands are capitalizing on live engagements, selling directly at their events and seeing a huge, immediate return.

4. Constant contact. Gone are the days when companies connected with consumers simply at an event. Now the live event is part of a larger continuum of brand connections and the total brand experience. Brands need to create a successful series of gestures. Engagement starts well before the event rolls into town, and continues long after it ends.

Events continue to act as a relationship catalyst, a springboard for further conversations. And consumers want continued conversations: When asked how they would like to continue the conversation after a live event ends:

  • Almost 21% of survey respondents said they'd like to be driven to a website;
  • 22 .1% requested email correspondence;
  • 20.6% asked for promotions;
  • 16.9% wanted invites to future events.
Interestingly, only 0.6% said they didn't want to continue communicating with a brand. The stats speak not only to the power of events as a relationship catalyst but also to the ways with which brands need to ignite post-event communications.

To amplify your brand communications, you need to build in reasons to reconnect in person over time. And then layer in communications between your live events. As summer approaches and the opportunities are greater than ever to reach millennials while they're out and about, smart marketers will use events as "pearls on the string" of engagement, turning a series of touch points into full-scale, holistic, long-term -- and many cases, true lifetime -- relationships.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Charlie Horsey is president-CEO of MKTG, an integrated agency based in New York.
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