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Brands go back to school with millennials in mind

Millennials have increasingly high expectations both in terms of content and how it's being delivered. This demographic is a significant one, accounting for 27 per cent of Canada's entire population. But as their expectations rise, it's considered one of the most challenging markets to reach. So how does your brand break through?

Marketers need to start by understanding the quantitative data, but quickly move into a qualitative understanding of this audience: How do millennials consume information? Where are they consuming it? Figure that out – then commit to these insights in order to shape your brand in a digestible way.

Back-to-school is one of the most important retail moments in a fiscal year, and demand starts with end user desire. So, how can brands step up their game to reach this coveted market?

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Learn their behaviour

Millennials are a complex audience because they're everywhere. They're watching television while simultaneously scrolling through Facebook and Snapchatting the experience. When a brand is targeting the 55+ demographic, advertising on television is the most effective outlet since it's their main source of information. But when brands are speaking to millennials, they're competing with multiple screens and an infinite number of platforms. It's no longer a simple matter of putting your brand where the people are because these people are literally everywhere.

Decide which channels are most valuable for your company, then look at how your audience is using them. It can be as simple as what device they're using. For example, millennials are more likely than any other generation to access product information through YouTube videos, or turn to Instagram rather than Facebook for photo sharing. In fact, 90 per cent of Instagram users are under age 35 – so if this is your target, you know this platform is already millennial heavy. But go deeper than that. Ninety eight per cent of Instagram traffic is mobile. If you're using this platform you know the consumer is on the go, so ensure you're delivering your information in a bite-size caption that fits on screen.

It's not about being everywhere; you need to figure out what works for your brand. It's essentially free for consumers to participate in this infinite platform universe, but for your brand, having a presence on each platform can be costly.

Let them shape your brand

Gone are the days of brands delivering a message and people simply consuming it. Millennials are seeking content which puts them in the driver's seat. You're marketing to a generation driven by content which empowers them to influence action. Things like the ALS #IceBucketChallenge and the #nomakeupselfie worked so well because the entire campaign allowed users to feel like they were contributing to a greater good.

Retailer Aritzia used Instagram for their latest back-to-school campaign. Major personalities – from comedians to DJs to television stars – put together their own outfits by choosing their favourite pieces from the fall collection. After posting these photos on their Instagram account, consumers were encouraged to share personal photos with the hashtag #FallForUs for Aritizia to share on their own channels. This campaign effectively embodied the idea that an outfit makes you not only look good, but feel good – and then gives people the chance to inspire that good feeling in others.

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User generated content, calls-to-action, hashtags – these things work because it lets the user drive action. It gives them the power to inspire their own communities – and ultimately, this is what the millennial audience cares about.

(Co)create authentic content

If you want to reach millennials, why not reach them through these people who already established a relationship with them? Be open to collaborating and co-creating as it allows you to leverage a pre-existing audience with content they're already interested in consuming and relationships they're already invested in.

A recent survey shows that YouTube stars are more popular than mainstream celebrities among U.S. teens. Look at YouTube personality Bethany Mota. She's real, she's relatable, and her content is catered to exactly what her audience is looking for. Comedy duos Smosh and the Fine Brothers hone popularity because millennials prioritize the feeling of simply being entertained.

Millennials are turning to an infinite number of platforms to prepare for the back-to-school season. How can your brand strategically position itself to most effectively get them ready?

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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