Most industries are struggling to “figure out” how to win the hearts and wallets of digital natives. The problem is not simply one of medium, though you do have to have a digital presence to be relevant. It is not about publishing the right CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) annual report, though you better have a compelling CSR story. It isn’t as simple as spending enough on advertising to imprint the consumer’s psyche, though you better be ready to spend what’s necessary to get invited into a newsfeed and pay again to keep your content flowing there.
The most succinct insight I’ve found on the topic was actually from the philosophical musings of Will Smith. That’s right: answers direct from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air. In a LinkedIn Article published June 21, 2016, Smith stated: “It was so explosive in my mind that selling, marketing, creating cannot be about me.” That about sums it up. To succeed with digital natives, for several reasons, your entire approach has to start with them, not with you. This article isn’t meant to be a parenting lesson, so I won’t go into some of my more esoteric thoughts about why this is the case more broadly. But let’s explore the impact this reality has on your social media strategy.
Why does it have to start with them? Three reasons: Digital Natives want to be entertained, Digital Natives want to be listened to, and Digital Natives compare notes.
The most important thing to know about digital natives is that they want to be entertained. This is not new to digital natives; we all want to be entertained. What has changed is who has the upper hand in the entertainer/entertained power struggle. Baby Boomers and GenXers were content to passively consume the entertainment being offered via the limited number of entertainment options. As a captive audience, they were happy to have their entertainment interrupted by advertising; it was the price of entertainment. When broadcast transitioned to cable some of the power landed in the hands of the consumer. Pay a bit more and watch what you want with less or no advertising. As digital natives matured along with the internet, the transfer of power became complete. Digital Natives have grown up in a world where they watch what they want, when they want, without advertising if they want, and with the expectation that it is free or extremely inexpensive. The good news is that digital natives are not naive. They don’t think content magically appears, they clearly understand the value exchange expected from them. If you entertain them, they are completely happy to also be informed about your product, service, or brand. But the effort to entertain has to be 100% authentic. These aren’t your grandfather’s consumers. They are highly educated and skeptical. First and foremost, be entertaining, then incorporate your brand story. That’s the only way it works. At a minimum, they’ll keep their minds open to your brand message. If both the entertainment and the brand story resonate with them, they know the value exchange is that they are expected to share the content. This is a value traditional marketers would have killed for, but it isn’t something that can be gamed. Be entertaining and tell your brand story well: it’s that simple and that difficult.
Brands are attached to their own story, as they should be. But in the grand tradition of storytelling where a hero overcomes an obstacle to reach a goal, the brand is rarely the hero of the story. To entertain anyone, including digital natives, you first have to listen to them. What are their goals? What are the many obstacles that keep them from their goals? In what ways do they want to be heroes? Knowing this about your target audience positions you to understand how your brand helps them overcome their obstacles to reach their goals. This is what they will find entertaining. When you tell them stories where they are the hero and your brand helps them overcome their obstacles to reach their goals you will get the value exchange you hope for. Historically this was labelled “word of mouth” advertising. Now it is organic reach through likes, comments and shares.
The speed and interconnectedness of social media means that brands have absolutely no chance of controlling the narrative. TV and Print provided the opportunity to monologue. Brands could keep tight control of the brand narrative because there wasn’t a sophisticated communications platform for consumers to compare notes and call BS. For digital natives, it is second nature to check the “collective opinion” of a brand before they believe anything that the brand says about itself. A “collective opinion” about your brand is going to be established and it will be comprised of the compared notes of consumers on social. As a brand, your job is to start the conversation by telling your brand story and then you have to listen and react to how consumers are responding to your story. If you start with a true story about your brand, you’ll do just fine. If you tell a “tall tale” about your brand and make promises you can’t keep, consumers will compare notes and make sure the “collective opinion” is well aware of the discrepancy in your story. Game Over.
If you’re interested in talking about a custom program for digital natives to be entertained, be heard, and compare notes about your brand on social media, schedule a service review!