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Marketing Don’t chase millennials just because everyone else is

Chances are, your brand is trying to figure out a way to connect with millennials and there's someone, somewhere, in your organization who believes this is a priority.

For some brands, millennials are, and should be, the target demographic. For others, the endless chase for millennial engagement is a fruitless endeavour that distracts from their core strategy.

Those brands desperately chasing millennials simply because it's what the rest of the industry is doing need to be honest with themselves: Stop trying to make millennial engagement happen; it's not going to happen.

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It's no surprise millennials are the riddle everyone is trying to solve; they make up roughly 20 per cent of our population, depending on how you define exactly who is a millennial (most people believe it's roughly anyone born between the early 1980s and about 1995).

But it's a generation that has been slapped with broad generalizations, such as "entitled," made up of people with "short attention spans," who expect more, can't put down their phones and lack the brand loyalty of previous generations.

Of course, it's impossible to so narrowly define such a vast group of people, yet everyone keeps trying. Brands need to spend less time trying to define millennials and more time focusing on their own strategy.

Millennials aren't phone-addicted zombies who can't concentrate on anything beyond their next Tinder swipe or Snapchat message. They are savvy consumers who know what they want, consume media in interesting new ways and can sniff out the unauthentic.

The question you should be asking isn't "how can we attract millennials?" It should be "how can we create valuable content that is honest, authentic and speaks to our own brand values?"

Setting your brand's sights solely on millennials is a dangerous game.

The classic example of chasing this shiny demographic at the expense of your core user base is, of course, JCPenney. The U.S. department store chain was a tired, declining brand that attempted a complete overhaul, which started by bringing in Ron Johnson, the former Apple executive who led the Silicon Valley titan's lauded and enviable retail operations.

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Johnson set about trying to replicate his success at Apple with JCPenney, doing away with coupons and rock-bottom prices in an attempt to upscale, and to go after a more affluent consumer base composed largely of millennials.

But that plan fell on its face.

Mr. Johnson tried to appeal to millennials using the same strategy that Apple uses to attract its customers. Unfortunately, he learned the hard way that what worked for Apple is not a one-size-fits-all. JCPenney is inherently different and wholly missed the mark by zeroing in on millennials. It failed to stay true to the brand and what it stood for.

Old Spice, on the other hand, is a good example of how to nail a comeback by targeting millennials. Known as an old man brand and something your grandfather was likely to wear meant that when Old Spice decided to revamp its image, they needed to make sure their core values aligned with their new core demographic – millennials.

"The Man Your Man Could Smell Like" ad not only articulated the brand's message and values it also spoke to both young men and women. To keep the momentum going, Old Spice launched a real-time YouTube response campaign. The company engaged with its targeted demographic in a way that they understood and valued – through YouTube.

At the same time, Old Spice stayed true to its messaging and core brand values while incorporating and involving millennials in a way that resonated with the targeted demographic. Sure, there are all kinds of fancy new Old Spice scents and products, but if you still want to buy the old school after shave your grandfather wore, it hasn't changed.

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So what does this mean for you? The answer lies in defining your brand. Old Spice nailed this by defining the value proposition of the brand, in a way that appealed to millennials. JCPenney, on the other hand, focused on the 'cool' factor and fell short of explaining the brand's value proposition.

The truth is, not every brand should care about millennials. Sometimes it is a square peg, round hole situation. If you're always on the bleeding edge, you're ignoring people behind you. It's important to remember: millennials aren't the only demographic with purchasing power.

Consumption habits are changing. Retail is in constant flux, so it's important to focus on figuring out what you stand for and staying true to that. Market to the demographic that makes sense for your brand.

Don't jump off that millennial 'bridge' if it doesn't make sense for your brand.

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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