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Disengaged: Are CMOs Missing The Mark When It Comes To Engaging Millennials?

In today’s age of digital, priorities are changing. Whereas in the past it used to be just consumer wallets, today brands are vying for consumers’ most important commodity – their time – and keeping them engaged.

It’s been widely publicised that our attention spans are now shorter than a goldfish’s (human being’s eight seconds compared to a goldfish’s nine). Millennialsreportedly spend around 18 hours a day interacting with media. Assuming they’re getting their proper eight hours sleep (as every self-respecting young adult should) and not even taking into account other daily functions, such as school, socialising and preparing food, that means that there are at least two hours per day where media usage overlaps. It’s actually difficult to think of a scenario now where media isn’t accessed at any point of the day. Traveling to work our mobiles are music stations, social site lifelines and messaging machines – all at once. At work, many have multiple sites, devices and music all running together.

With so much competition for consumer time and attention, here are three things to consider when looking to engage millennials and how to measure the interactions when you do.

Millennials are changing the rules of consumption

While it’s important to remember that the millennial group spans 30 years, it’s clear that millennials are changing content creation by their consumption habits and as a result, the way we advertise is changing too. Shortened attention spans mean less hanging around on ad breaks – and less lingering on channels. Time Warner are reportedly reducing the amount of commercials they play on their cable channels and Fox is testing 30 second interactive ads on Hulu, rather than their traditional two and a half  minute breaks, opting for surveys that are more difficult to ignore.

Is forced participation with ads really the way forward though? If you were force fed a food when you were a child, you’ll likely have developed a strong hatred of that food group for life. The same psychology should be applied to branding and engagement.

Crude pop-up ads (now re-labelled as interstitials), in-feed videos and other invasive formats operate in much the same way – blocking content to make a user click a link. When these are used on mobile phones, they dramatically force accidental clicks up. These clicks are then taken as engagement metrics and used as an indicator of campaign success. In fact, they’re the very formats that are turning many millennials to ad blocking.

We as an industry should think very carefully about these intrusive practices and work to engage rather than force our messages at consumers.

Creativity leads engagement

One way that brands are successfully working with millennials is through native ad formats on social media. Pinterest, Instagram and Snapchat have all taken to market less intrusive promoted pins and posts, working both with the users’ interests and blending in with the platform layout. Beautiful images resonate with all ages on a level that words can’t always attain.

To increase engagement in a competitive media environment, testing and learning is essential. Programmatic marketing offers a great opportunity to compare what creative works with what doesn’t – something that has been difficult to do in traditional media. Testing doesn’t need to get too complex either. Small changes, such as changing the colour of an ad background can increase engagement, leading to higher brand affinity and repeat customers.

There has been some frustration at how slow the creative industry has been to embrace their impact in digital and the tools that it provides. The ad tech industry is not trying to reinvent the ad business, but rather bringing science and data into the equation.

Giving something back

With every consumer, there is a cost-benefit weigh up – ‘If I give my time to this ad/content, what will I get in return?’ Content needs to give something back to the consumer – whether that’s in the form of emotional storytelling, humor, or information. Chipotle’s Farmed and Dangerous campaign in 2014 did just that; a four-part comedy TV series around the farming production industry that is humorous, emotional and (in some part) information giving. It was essentially a long-form ad and it went viral.

When I was working at Microsoft in 2005, we ran product theme packs on MSN Messenger. Brands would theme backgrounds and emoticons – using creativity to enhance user experience through personalization. Coca Cola’s theme pack went viral worldwide; in Brazil for example, 70% of the user base installed it. Users didn’t have to download the pack, they did it of their own free will – an incredibly important engagement metric. Now that WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger have exploded, it’s perhaps time to be reminded that giving something back is always welcomed.

You may have your brand or clients’ growth margin to think about, but it must come back to what the consumer wants. The old adage ‘the customer is always right’ is as relevant today as it’s ever been.