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Marketers Marry Traditional, Techno Strategies to Reach Youthful Audience

While marketing tools, and demographics, continue to evolve, some things never change, said Chad Farmer, creative director for Carlsbad-based Lambesis Agency.

“Love, romance, glamour,” Farmer said. “We always try to build those into what we’re positioning, so that we can constantly stay on the trends that come along, but still have a core meaning that is timeless.”

What has changed dramatically is how younger consumers are using the media, he said, with so many handheld devices, the Internet, TV, video games, as well as events and venues they tend to frequent. And there is the Web 2.0 phenomenon, which refers to the evolution of such user-controlled, social networking sites as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, and the popular online dictionary Wikipedia.

“That is the biggest change,” said Farmer. “As a result, you have to talk to them in a number of different places now, and you have to be relevant. You can’t talk at them. Let them discover you and interact with the brand.”

Nick Lambesis, chairman emeritus and founder of the Lambesis Agency, is awed by it all.

“It’s a whole brave new world,” he said. “Incredible. Younger people are really dialed into that. It’s almost impossible to keep up. Brands are scared to death of being irrelevant, old school or obsolete. They are trying to keep their brands on the cutting edge, and the younger side.”

While marketing isn’t an exact science, there are some basic tenets that always apply, especially to today’s young consumers, said Farmer.

“Things that are real and true will continue to resonate with them,” he said. “Marketers are going to have to walk in their shoes and get out of their ivory towers, and stop doing marketing plans that don’t relate to them. They see right through that.”

What’s going to be the next big trend?

“We think that romance is making a huge comeback with the younger group,” Farmer observed. “The pendulum is swinging back. They want real experiences.”


Uber Taskers

Philippe Cesson, founder and managing partner of San Diego-based Marketing Solutions by Cesson, marvels at the plugged-in culture of the Gen Yers.

“They have constant, nonstop connection,” he said. “They have the ability to multitask. They can work on a paper at 1 a.m., be on the computer, and do instant messaging with their friends, take pictures with their cell phone, and listen to music and TV. When we used to study, we had to have absolute quiet in the house. Now, they need chaos to engage themselves.”

Holly Berkley, a North Park-based marketing consultant and author of the recently published “Marketing in the New Media,” a “101 for small businesses,” considers the new breed of consumers to be “uber taskers.”

“They are so tech-savvy that they can do it all at once,” she said. “You can’t fake it. You need to integrate your marketing message to where this audience is. They are very quick to be skeptical if they think that you are not genuine.”

Marketers have to truly understand these consumers, she said.

“Even if you’re doing TV commercials with 1-800 numbers, these people will check out the Web site first to see if you are credible,” she said.

The key to establishing this trust is by establishing a forum to talk about products, with customer reviews and blogs, said Berkley.

Mobile marketing is especially effective these days, considering that many consumers have their cell phones with them 24/7, she said, “even in class.”

“About 70 to 90 percent of text messages get opened and read, while e-mails have spam filters, and people delete them,” said Berkley.

James Chung, president of Reach Advisors, a Belmont-Mass.-based marketing strategy and research firm, agreed.

“Gen Y doesn’t do e-mail,” he said. “They consider it a quaint form of communication, used to keep in touch with their parents. They do not live with e-mail like we do. Now, you don’t send e-mail, you post messages on Facebook, and text messages are a huge means of communication.”

How this group perceives brands is different, too, he said.

“Boomers were more enamored with brands, the Gen Xers with anti-brands, which were still brands,” said Chung. “Generation Y is back to brand value again.”

But, unlike previous brand followers, this generation wants to be part of the brand, he said.

“Before, marketers had no tools to engage in one-on-one dialogue with consumers,” said Chung. “Now, it’s easier for brands to develop dialogues with consumers, and do it cheaper and faster. Consumers now have full access to you. If you can’t be Googled or in Wikipedia, you don’t exist.”

Chung recalls one Gen Yer he had been tracking, who commented, “If it’s not virtual, it’s not real.”


Opting In

What also distinguishes the Gen Y crowd from previous groups is the “opt in” factor, according to Kathleen Cunningham, president of Advanced Marketing Strategies in San Diego.

“They ask to receive information,” she explained. “In the past, we had mass marketing, hoping to hit people we are targeting. But, now, they are opting in to get our message. They might call us and send us their cell phone numbers and say, ‘Send me information on this.’ ”

Are old school clients a bit skittish about wading into this brave new world?

“We’ve found that all of our clients are willing to test the new technology,” said Cunningham. “They are ready for it. They know that there is more out there than traditional media. A lot of new technology is so trackable. It’s very easy to present results, and our clients want results.”

But it’s easy for merchants to miss opportunities, too. Among the mistakes they make?

“The list is endless,” said Cesson. “Being complacent, thinking that because you have an exciting tool people will use it. This is not true. You have to not only be on the cutting edge, but have relevant content that is challenging to the user.”

Marketers also should be careful not to insult the intelligence of their younger consumers, he said.

“You have to respect your audience,” said Cesson. “Younger generations don’t need anyone to tell them what they like or don’t like. They can create it themselves, and get their own opinions out there.”

Marketers also have to understand what makes this generation tick, said Chung.

“One of the hallmarks of Generation Y is that technology is part of the air they breathe,” he said. “Boomers and Gen Xers had to learn technology. If you were good at youth marketing 10 years ago, you can’t apply the same rules.”

But there seems to be a heavy learning curve.

“Ninety percent of marketing dollars are wasted,” said Tom Sullivan, president of Vitrorobertson, a boutique advertising agency with offices in San Diego and Atlanta.

“It’s about finding the sweet spots and developing a 360-degree approach, surrounding the consumer.”


Mining Opportunities

Rob Weinberg, who bills himself as chief imagineer of his Rancho Bernardo-based MarketBuilding Team, traces the whole media revolution to when mogul Ted Turner “blew the lid off the whole thing” with his satellite-driven super stations a couple of decades ago.

“There was a very limited media before then,” said Weinberg. “Now, we have 1,000 cable channels and it’s a very fragmented market.”

But opportunities still abound, he said. One recent example is the new Comedy Central satirical cartoon show, “Lil’ Bush,” which presents the president and his White House cronies as kids engaged in schoolyard politics. The episodes were first launched on mobile phones and YouTube before the show was picked up by Comedy Central.

“This was the first to cross over from cellular to TV,” said Weinberg. “These guys found a way to reach out to the mobile community, and bring it back to the more conventional vehicle of TV.”

But pigeon-holing a particular demographic isn’t easy. While preteens might be more techno-oriented, and less likely to pick up a newspaper, that can change as they enter high school and college, said Weinberg.

“They are more likely then to be paying attention to what’s going on in the world,” he said.

This means that marketers should mine a variety of media to send their messages, he said, including the more low-tech options , direct mail, sales promotions, coupons, sweepstakes , even pitching a story to a newspaper.

“PR still works,” said Weinberg. “Whatever it is you are selling or marketing, you should be putting together a marketing mix, and not just have the new tech. Yes, you have to have a Web site in order to be considered these days. But, if you are, say, an accounting firm, you are not going to sell your services on the Web. You still need a Web site so someone can check you out before they call you.”

Unlike Amazon’s business model, which is designed exclusively for the Web, service businesses such as accountants and dentists can use a more personal touch to follow up Web inquiries, maybe with a phone call or a postcard.

“Most big companies don’t give you the personal touch,” Weinberg observed. “We are using technology to a point that we are losing the ability to talk to people one on one. For smaller businesses, they may be better off using something where you can really target people , the lower-tech marketing tools.”


Niche Marketing

The many high-tech venues out there also have stimulated the imaginations of their users.

“Everybody wants to be a celebrity,” said Sullivan. “Everyone can be content producers and everyone can have a distribution channel on the Web. They can make this goofy little movie, and then see how many saw it, and track the comments. They could be 12 years old in Clifton, N.J., in their parents’ house. It’s fun and it creates tons of opportunities.”

Cyberland also has spawned a community for just about every special interest. For instance, Cesson developed “Social Dog,” a site designed to let pet owners create profiles for their pooches, and connect with like-minded individuals. The site now is being cross-marketed with Lucky’s Card, which offers pet owners discount cards designed to help boost business for the smaller, independent stores that cater to pets.

“From a marketing perspective, this is gold,” said Barbara Magoffin, senior account manager for Marketing Solutions by Cesson. “We can place advertisements, public relations, event details on this site, and know they are going directly to their target market.”

To help build buzz around the line, there also is the “mini-site” called “Dog in Paris,” which features haute couture for canines.

“It’s a great way to bring the pet community together,” said Mikael Besnainou, who runs all three companies.

Another emerging site is dot-mobi, which delivers the Internet to mobile devices, allowing users to access Web sites anytime, anywhere, said Magoffin.

With nearly 30 percent of the world having access to a mobile phone, she said, “This presents an unparalleled opportunity for businesses worldwide. Anyone who can tackle a Web site is definitely capable of accessing a dot-mobi site.”

Marketing Solutions wants to be among the first businesses to tap into dot-mobi’s potential with its own cesson.mobi now in the planning stages, said Magoffin.

“It is the ultimate equalizer,” said Cesson. “Before, only large corporations were able to use tools for this, and now it’s affordable for mid-sized businesses.”


Modern Times

One of Cesson’s clients is Shandon Harbour, president of SDA Security, a “one-stop shop” for commercial security systems founded by her grandfather in 1930. She selected his company to address the “paradigm shifts occurring in our industry,” said Harbour.

“I am trying to relaunch SDA Security as a sophisticated technology company,” she explained.

Back in the day, SDA Security personnel communicated with facilities managers, who where in charge of a building’s operation. Nowadays, that job has more often fallen to the information technology , or IT , professionals who tend to a business’s high-tech needs.

“A lot of them in the upcoming generation are so plugged in,” said Harbour. “It’s another way of thinking , outside the box , when you’re trying to reach that generation.”

In her case, this will mean providing secure Web tools to let clients pay bills, change the authorization lists for their burglar alarms, and access user manuals , with no paper involved, she said. Harbour also is considering using text messaging to promote the business.

“We’ll probably start with existing customers and grow it from there,” she said. “The 15- to 26-year-olds that are texting are not quite in the position of decision making. But, my thinking is, start now, and, two years from now, everyone will be doing it. Like iPod.”

Berkley agreed that it’s smart for businesses to get a foothold in the new technology, even if it doesn’t produce an immediate return.

“We’re seeing a lot of big brands posting a ‘me too attitude,’ but we will start seeing more of these bigger brands with more of a purpose,” she said. “Now, they’re doing it because it’s novel, but it will become part of their regular business.”

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