Avoiding Online Missteps with Generation Y and Millenniums

The first step that many companies take when trying to grab the attention of our youth is hiring consultants or agencies that specialize in this area. Seeking expertise that your company doesn’t possess is often a sound practice.

However, be aware of the many pitfalls, especially when using online marketing tactics. We’ll explore a few of the pitfalls today.

Too Much Sizzle; Not Enough Steak

Millions of dollars are often spent on tailoring messaging to our youth and not enough is spent to tailor the actual product or service we’re delivering. Too often, companies make the mistake of thinking that they have to radically adjust their Web sites for their student/youth sections. Some even go so far to have a separate Web site. This is costly, and often delivers the opposite desired effect.

This particularly happens when hiring a firm that specializes in youth marketing. This happens for a few reasons:

  1. It’s fun for the ad agency’s copywriters and art directors.
  2. They believe they need to deliver something radical to justify their payment.
  3. The people working on the campaigns often aren’t in the demographic.
  4. They’re focused on winning creative awards rather than driving revenue.

Being “edgy” is difficult in this dynamic world, and quite often a company can come off as being insincere and also talking down to their customers. A parallel offline example is when U.S.-centric companies run Hispanic advertisements in Miami market and mistakenly use a Spanish dialect instead of Latino.

Recently this answer has been staring us in the Face, literally.

There’s nothing exciting about the Facebook interface. It’s bland and there isn’t much ability to personalize a user’s profile page. But Facebook is successful because they understand that it’s about the “steak.” They’ve focused on building a robust platform that’s easy to navigate and fast to respond.

Apple historically has understood this as well about the student market, so it’s no surprise that their Facebook student Fan Page has more than 550,000 users.

Craig’s List is also very successful in the student market and their interface couldn’t be less “sexy.” However, the young and old flock here to sell.

Falsely Assuming the Young Have the Latest Technology

Another problem with Flashy (pun intended) designs is that they often assume that your end user has the latest technology. One can’t always assume that. While these users know how to use — and want — the latest technology, they can’t always afford it.

These young people often depend on what’s in their household, and even once they’re out of the house they’ll have lower levels of income and won’t be able to afford the latest technologies. Hence, when MySpace’s platform was agonizingly slow, partly due to how much “flair” you could add to your profile, many switched over to the more robust Facebook platform.

Not Enough Focus on the Value You Bring

Portals were hot when I worked for BellSouth. So we thought it would be great when a student came in to pay their bill that we could encapsulate it within a flashy portal that included the latest music, weather, entertainment news, etc.

We quickly learned that our main value add was the phone bill. Students only wanted to see their phone bill from BellSouth and the ability to easily dispute any issues.

Seems pretty logical now, right? However, history repeats itself, because nobody listens the first time. Hence, many companies are building out their own student communities, when in fact they would best be served by building out their “value add” (e.g., phone bill) to reside where the students already are (Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, etc.).

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