Look at Me! ‘A’ is for Attention

The foundation of brand equity is familiarity, and that starts with ‘hello’.  Awareness is a critical first step in any brand relationship — unless you happen to subscribe to the power of subliminal advertising. It’s impossible to deliver any kind of message, let alone create engagement, interest or desire, without first gaining attention.

Are Millennials Attention Deficient?

With Millennials, earning attentions can also be the most challenging step in the communications model. Millennials spend their attention the way the rest of us doing money – very carefully. They are accused of having Attention Deficit Disorder. I disagree. They simply have superior Attention Deserving Detectors.

One of the characteristics that separates young adults from less digitally savvy older consumers is their remarkable filters for tuning out information they don’t want to hear.

This category of information includes alarm clocks, due dates, nagging parents, and negative feedback. It also includes advertisements. According to a study by the Participatory Network and Pace’s Lubin school, 81% say ads are not relevant and 36% say they never look at them. The reason is that they perceive advertising to be irrelevant at best, and manipulative at worst. Rebecca Denison, a 20-something social media analyst at Edelman and member of our Super Consumer Gen Y community puts it this way:

The big thing for me and my friends is that we don’t want to know we’re being marketed to, if that makes sense. We’re smarter than that (or so we think), and we don’t like to be advertised to. It feels like manipulation, so I think a big aspect marketing to Gen Y has to be a lack of manipulation. You have to be really careful that you don’t make it too much like old school marketing because I think that really does turn Gen Y off.”

Information My Way: Customized, Personalized, Contextualized

Millennials don’t attend to banner ads, commercials or radio ads because they prefer to discover or search for information than have it foisted upon them. They are masters at finding the information they want. They also know how to ensure that the information they want is pushed to them. A year ago, I was introduced to NetVibes by a Gen Y’er who assumed I was already using it. They are masters of RSS feeds and bookmarks, Google alerts and customized home pages. As Kristin Dziadul, another Gen Y marketing community member put it, “In the attention economy today, we don’t find informationit finds us”.

This is not to say that ads never work. Of course they do. But with Millennials context and credibility may matter more than message in enabling an ad to breakthrough. A message from a friend or trusted source is far more likely to be attended than a randomly placed ad.

A new joint study by Facebook and Nielsen demonstrated the lift a campaign receives in effectiveness simply by being in a social context. An ad on a homepage enjoys a 10% lift in recall relative to a control group. Put the same ad on a Facebook page with some social context and it enjoys a 16% lift. But the same ad in an organic feed enjoys a 30% lift.

The key to getting attention is to stop waving your hand in the air and start thinking about how to get your brand discovered. Creative brilliance and heavy rotation is no longer enough. With the Millennial audience, attention is less about intrusion than it is hiding in plain sight. Millennials want to believe that they have discovered information for themselves. It’s no accident that the hottest bars, like El Secreto in Sao Paulo, are usually well-kept secrets. What’s the point of knowing about it if everyone else does too?

Fishing Where the Fish Are

‘Being found’ is not easy. It requires a shift in thinking away from message broadcasting to extreme narrowcasting. It also requires more imaginative ways to embed messages into places where they will be welcome.  Ironically though, it may be easier to be ‘found’ on a more obscure digital site or special interest community than on Yahoo.

The top sites for Millennials might surprise you in their degree of specialization. Facebook of course is the number one site for 18-24 year olds, yet it is really is not one site but a Balkanized nation of groups, subgroups and special interests. Bill Tancer of Hitwise provided drill down data on top sites for 18-24 year olds by income, geography and ethnicity. The top sites for 18-24 year olds on an index basis might surprise you. Those with family incomes $150,000 are actually most likely to be found concentrated on sites like DeviantArt, Fanfiction, UrbanChat, OVGuide, ProjectPlaylist,and MathXL.com. Those under $30,000 are most likely to be found on some of those sites but also badoo, zShare.net, mocospace and IMVU.

A New Idea – Search Enabled Discovery

Another way to ensure your ad is ‘welcome’ and ‘hiding in plain sight’ is offered by a company I learned about this week at iMedia, Vibrant Media. Vibrant Media offers a way to provide greater context for brand messages by embedding ads within relevant content. Think of it as search meets social media. Here is how it works. As an online user is reading an article, certain words or terms are highlighted by hypertext links, similar to how they appear in a blog or wiki. When the reader, who is presumably reading this article because it is relevant to them, passes their mouse over these words, an advertisement appears (and disappears as the mouse passes on). The content can be tailored to be relevant to the key word and can offer more than a standard banner; it can be an API, video or demo. For example, BING used Vibrant to demo its search engine. (To see how it works check out my bylined article on iMediaconnection today. Near the bottom of the first page, the word ‘social media’ is hyperlinked to a dynamic search app from imediaconnection that features what else, ‘social media’!).

(This post is the first in a series about digital Marketing to Millennials™ based on a speech given at iMedia Summit, Miami on June 15. Tomorrow: “Who Cares? I is for Interest”)