Five Surefire Ways to Reach the Youth Market

Last Updated Jul 9, 2010 6:46 PM EDT

Companies are falling all over themselves trying to reach the youth market these days. Small wonder. Nearly one in five Americans are in the Millennial Generation and they spend upwards of $300 billion annually. Who wouldn't want even just a little piece of that? But reaching the youth market is tough: they're marketing savvy and not easily influenced; they're not big consumers of traditional media; and they will ignore your carefully crafted brand message in favor of what their friends are saying about your product and/or service. So what resonates with these finicky consumers?

At the Ypulse Youth Marketing Mashup in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, I learned about some very successful youth-centric marketing campaigns. And while most of them were executed by large companies, there are relevant lessons here for entrepreneurial firms as well. Here are few tips from the Mashup:
Be edgy. What other word could possibly describe Kotex's new product launch geared toward young women? The U by Kotex campaign actually employs a good deal of self-mockery, including television commercials that poke fun at older Kotex ads. The packaging, black boxes with bright pink, yellow and green accents, also flaunts convention. The video, launched in March, has racked up almost a million views and the product has already captured 8.3% market share.

Provide valuable content and information. On the U by Kotex website, you'll find a page called The Straight Scoop where young consumers can ask questions about their periods to a panel of advisors; every question gets an answer from a health professional, a mom, and a peer. There's no selling here, but the feature establishes Kotex as a company that cares enough to provide an information forum for its customers and that, of course, helps sell the brand.

Have a social mission. GenY, or Millennials, care deeply about social causes. A study by Cone revealed that nine out of ten consumers in this generation would switch to a brand associated with a good cause if quality and price were comparable. So when Avon launched Mark, a new brand of cosmetics for young women, they signed on MTV celebrity Lauren Conrad to help create a cause-related product. Sales from Conrad's "Have a Heart" necklace go to Avon's m.powerment campaign, which makes donations to organizations that help end dating and partner abuse. So far, the campaign has raised over $400,000 and Avon's campus rep sales have increased by 174%.

Connect with their parents. This is not a "don't trust anyone over 30" generation. GenY'ers tend to be very close to their parents and often consult them on life decisions, large and small. The folks at Avon knew this, so when they were ramping up the campaign for their youth brand, Mark (see above), they blasted emails to both college students and their parents. The goal: to spread the word that Mark was looking for campus sales reps. Remarkably, the parent-targeted email got an open rate of 43%, which is well above average. The campaign, combined with other efforts by Avon, resulted in a 60% increase in campus reps.

Co-create with your customers. Last January, VitaminWater created a new flavor called Connect. Or rather, its customers did. Connect, which is black cherry-lime flavored and contains caffeine, was the result of a Facebook Fan Page contest that encouraged fans to design their own VitaminWater flavor. Connect was launched in March and its creator, Sarah from Illinois, won $5,000. Young consumers love this kind of co-creating using crowdsourcing because it creates a two-way conversation with a brand. Companies love it because it's a pretty cheap way to validate new ideas and to get buy-in from consumers before new products hit the shelves.

Do you think that it's tough to reach young consumers? If you've started a special program to market to GenY, tell us about it. What have you learned? What mistakes have you made?

Girl with cell phone image courtesy of Flickr user PictureYouth, CC 2.0