Ford and Twitter Talk Keys to Marketing to Millennials

Self-Expression, Access and Connectivity Are Huge

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For Ford, millennials -- which the car maker describes as people between the ages of 16-32 -- are a challenging proposition. Never mind buying a car -- this generation is getting drivers licenses later, and less often, than previous generations.

Ford Twitter
Ford Twitter

But when it comes to Twitter, millennials are over-indexing. Twitter's director of sales marketing, Shane Steele, citing third-party research, said 55% of the Twitter audience is made up of millennials, compared to 40% of the rest of the internet. Ford has worked with Twitter to reach the social-media savvy set for years, having had a strong presence on Twitter since July 2008.

"This group of consumers is an incredible market opportunity, but the way that millennials interact with brands is totally different from earlier generations," said Sheryl Connelly, global consumer trends and futuring manager at Ford. Ford Motor Co. executives stopped by Twitter headquarters in San Francisco today for a panel discussion about millennial consumers.

Ms. Connelly added that millennials don't want to be talked at by a brand but instead want to be part of the conversation. "Understanding their priorities helps us market to them, so that we're giving a message that is relevant to them."

On Twitter, Ford said it has a chance to glimpse at the millennial mindset and figure out what this generation wants, likes and needs from its products.

While Ford execs said they are not building a car specifically aimed at millennials, they recognize that the old marketing message -- showing off the engine, the speed, the car body itself -- is not working for the new generation. Millennials are not as interested as baby boomers were in a car as a status symbol. The car for them is about basic transportation -- but adding technology to the car turns the car into a "lifestyle enabler," said Ms. Connelly.

Ford outlined several keys to getting millennials interested in Ford cars that boiled down to giving them what they've come to expect from their offline and online life: connectivity, individuality and instant gratification.

Self-expression. Ford said that because one in six millennials have a tattoo, the car maker lets consumers "tattoo" their cars. Allowing consumers a way to customize their cars -- offering choices of colors and patterns inside and out -- is a way to get consumers to view the the automobile as a "lifestyle enhancer," not only as a vehicle.

Connectivity. For millennials, the symbol of freedom and expression is not a car, but a cell phone, Ford said, so connecting the cellphone to the car is no longer an option, but a standard. Other data (weather, traffic, geography) is available in the car because millennials are used to having information at their disposal, no matter where they are. (This connectivity, Ford emphasized, is done with driver safety in mind.)

Gamification. Millennials have been playing video games since near birth, so incorporating gaming dynamics into the car is a natural extension of the way these consumers live their lives. Ford said that they believe placing game elements into the car will attract more drivers. For example, some cars have a video-game-like smart gauge with a visual display of leaves and flowers that either grow or shrink depending on how optimally the driver is using the car. This "game" can be played against one or multiple people to see who can grow the biggest leaves and flowers.

Access. Ford said its research shows that when millennials mention a brand, whether on Twitter or Facebook, they expect a response -- a human response. Unlike prior generations that were accustomed to one uniform marketing message from a monolithic brand, millennials expect to be met where they are, on an individual or group basis and they expect their concerns to be addressed almost immediately. Having team manage consumer relations on social media is another must when it comes to millennials.

Brand as content. More than any previous generation, millennials share content they think is cool and authentic, whether that content is created by individuals or brands. By watching the Twitter dashboard, Ford can see exactly what content is most shared and what search terms and hashtags bring millennials to Ford.

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