Retailers rethink marketing as Millennials take spotlight

For decades, retailers in northern Nevada and elsewhere romanced the Baby Boom generation, 78 million strong.

But as 2008 unfolds, they increasingly need to court the Millennials, a cohort nearly as large at 73 million strong.

Also called Gen Y (the age group following Gen X) the group born between 1979 and 1997 is considered the most consumption-oriented generation in history.

As teenagers, these shoppers spent five times more than did their baby boomer parents at the same age, said a study by Teen Research Unlimited. This cohort's spending is projected to reach nearly $200 million by 2010.

But retailers who try to lure Gen Y into their stores using old-fashioned advertising as bait will find it a slippery fish.

Gen Y is plugged into a different media than are earlier generations. They eschew television and radio for movies, music, video games, cell phones, text messaging and Internet social sites.

Reno Harley-Davidson/Buell went trolling for these customers on social site MySpace, says Sterling Doak, creative director at Media Directions.

To activate a social marketing campaign, the retailer set up a MySpace page to recruit Harley Davidson Girls. That attracted others who wanted to list themselves as friends of the girls. Radio ads pushed people to the page, says Doak.

Digital media delivered via in store signage is the way to reach Gen Y, says Dennis Wigent, vice president of public relations at ImageBase International. As an example, he points to rapidly changing images on a kiosk screen that alert users to on-the-spot information, such as what outfits go with a brand of sneakers.

"They want info about what they want when they want it and nothing else," he says.

Text messaging is another way to get that info to Gen Y consumers.

Michael's Reno Powersports finds ways to text message young people, says Doak. In-store promotions ask attendees if they want to receive notice of price promotions.

"We make sure our retail customers have message boards on their Web sites where customers can interact with each other," says Doak. "What it all boils down to with Gen Y is engagement."

Ways to engage the customer, he says, include radio remote broadcasts, product demos and prize giveaways.

World Boardshop, which also maintains a MySpace presence, steps forth from the virtual world into the real world to go live at all manner of events where Gen Y congregates.

Owner Stephen Hall points to a riverside festival with live bands held last summer, which engaged his customer base in a skate downtown scavenger hunt. Next summer, World Boardshop will be involved in a series of summer skateboarding events at various skate parks throughout the Truckee Meadows. It also shows weekly movies at Beach Hut Deli, a popular 20-something hangout.

And it gives stuff away: swag from vendors, DVDs, and promotional stickers by the sack load. "Kids like to get free stuff," he says.

A top draw, says Doak, is the VIP invite, delivered via e-blast or direct mail.

"They like to feel special," he says. The invite: "Test our product and tell us what you think."

"They like to be seen as the expert. They're big on self-importance. That's just the way it is. And retailers who want them as customers had better accept that."

Retailers who want to cultivate the Millennials need to have a mobile strategy in mind, says T.J. Crawford, director of strategic services at Twelve Horses. That means contact the customer on the hoof. The best way to deliver advertising to Gen Y, he says, is via text messaging. To get permission to send, retailers should carry Web forms, supported by in-store signage.

Savvy retailers are finding not just customers, but even Millennial-age employees online.

In high-energy markets like San Francisco, says Jarrod Lopiccolo, business director at Noble Studios Marketing and Web Development, the hiring process starts with relationship building on social networking sites.

But in northern Nevada, he adds, it's a hard sell to talk with clients about social networking and virtual marketing.


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