Thought leadership

At SDL we have spent over a year working on a study that delves into how the millennial generation’s behaviour is forcing businesses to adapt their digital marketing approaches. As part of our “Five Truths for Future Marketers” series, we’ve quizzed millennials (those aged 18-36) from across the global to gain an insight into how this generation likes to engage with brands – and how they don’t.


Along the way we’ve gathered some fascinating insights and found out some interesting cross-cultural differences. To begin with, we looked at the notion of ‘traditional’ marketing campaigns and how digital channels, social media and mobile communications have been a major disruptor here – fundamentally changing the way consumers interact with brands. What we’ve found is that traditional marketing campaigns, like email and multi-month, multi-stage nurture campaigns, won’t work well on the millennials. In short, they prefer real-time interactions.


For the next part of our study, we focused in on big data and how millennials feel about their personal information being used by companies. Privacy is a hot topic at the moment, as it has been for a while, with consumers a lot more conscious of how their data is being used by companies and regulations changing on websites in Europe, e.g. Cookie pop-up alerts. That being said, it may be surprising to learn that there are actually varying levels of sensitivity in each region when it comes to sharing personal information with brands. We found that over half (52 percent) of respondents in the US have no issue with brands using their information if it means a better customer experience. This contrasts with the UK where 37 percent don’t mind brands using their information, 28 percent in Germany, 23 percent in Norway and only 13 percent in the Netherlands. Millennials are also becoming increasingly aware of the value of their personal information – if it means they’ll be rewarded with freebies and discounts, over half of UK respondents will connect with a company on social media.


Following this, we looked into content and found that European millennials use fewer channels for content discovery than their US counterparts. These tech-savvy millennials are always connected to information. In Europe, they’re glued to their smartphones and are checking them an average of 36 times a day. Because of this, they’re constantly consuming content and then discerning and sharing what they find relevant on their social channels. This means that in order to build awareness and a better customer experience, content needs to finds millennials on the right social platform.


We also looked into the role that language plays in marketing. Our findings demonstrate that language is directly tied to purchasing behaviour but is not always tied to geography. 32 percent of millennial consumers in English-speaking countries prefer a language other than English and 46 percent are more likely to purchase if information is presented in their preferred language. Brands really do need to realise that we live in a multilingual world where customers expect to be communicated with in their language of choice.


One of the most interesting areas that we focused our study on was customer channels, with findings revealing that today’s consumers no longer care about where they are or what device they are on when interacting with a brand. Nearly 60 percent of the millennials we surveyed said that they expect to engage with a company whenever they choose and on whatever channel they want.


These results demonstrate that it’s high time for brands to stop focusing on channels and instead apply what they know about their consumers to elevate the overall customer experience in the buying journey.


Millennials are the “always on” and connected generation and as we mentioned, they just can’t keep their hands off their smartphones! Not only this but they’re also a lot more demanding than preceding generations – Generation X and the Baby Boomers. They’ve got high expectations of brands and want a consistent and seamless interaction with companies wherever they are and from any device they choose.


There’s such a myriad of platforms for consumers to use to interact with brands. Even through this ever increasing number of interaction platforms, 60 percent of millennials surveyed expect a consistent experience from brands whether they interact online, in store or via phone. These statistics indicate how critical it is for marketers to adapt to the rapidly changing range of consumer behaviours, preferences and expectations. With customers moving effortlessly between on and offline touch points, they expect brands to recognise this and travel with them, responding to and anticipating their needs.


When it comes to channel preference, this is also dependent on the generation. Baby Boomers are more likely to prefer face-to-face meetings or a helpline whereas Generation X like to use online chat to contact brands. We’ve also spotted some fragmentation amongst the millennials. Younger millennials like to engage on more visual social channels, think Pinterest, Vine and Instagram. Short videos work well, as do quick chats – marketers need to say goodbye to detailed exchanges like long emails as these won’t resonate well. As the millennial generation evolves, brands will need to be ready to adapt further to their customers and think about implementing a more visual approach to engagement.


Furthermore, millennials are empowered by an overabundance of digital devices and can pick when, where and how they want to interact with brands, making the necessary shift to omnichannel engagement an even more daunting prospect. By focusing in more closely on the behaviours, preferences and expectations throughout the customer journey, marketers are in an ideal position to adjust their strategies as needed, ensuring that customer experience will remain a top priority.


For any brand that wants to implement a true omnichannel customer engagement strategy, there are three critical questions to guide the process:


Does your brand keep an eye on where and how customers like to interact?

It’s essential to meet customers where they are. You need to be consistently offering them information that they find useful, with content specific to each stage of their buying journey. Brands need to take full advantage of the information and data collected on where their messaging is performing best with the buyer. If a brand can capture who is engaging with them and at what stage of the buying journey their customer is at, they’re well-placed to deliver relevant information to the consumer, which ultimately enhances the customer experience. Nurturing customer relationships is about so much more than a sale. Brands need to look at this from a long-term perspective and recognise that it takes time to develop meaningful relationships.


Do you offer a consistent customer experience across a range of devices and platforms?

Consistency is a key differentiating factor in customer experience. It reinforces brand identity and in a heavily saturated market, it keeps your audience focused on your messaging. In fact, according to McKinsey & Company’s recent customer experience survey, measuring satisfaction on customer journeys is 30 percent more predictive of overall customer satisfaction than measuring happiness for each individual interaction.


Do you think about how to continue connecting internal silos to ensure access to all your essential data is maintained?

There needs to be teamwork here. It’s important for marketers to work with relevant departments and agencies to create a communications asset inventory and identify all touch points along the customer journey. You should be questioning if you’re effectively collecting – and leveraging – data from every step along the way. If you’re not, then consider what more you can do to improve internal collaboration. Staying attentive and making sure that you keep your inventory and related processes up to date allows you to stop emerging channels from creating new data silos.


The customer landscape has changed dramatically. Consumers are now engaging and interacting with brands in a whole new way, forcing brands to quickly adapt to this. By focusing on the experiences customers want throughout the customer journey and adjusting company strategy to align with this, brands are better placed to elevate the customer experience. If you change the way you engage customers on one channel, it may only be one step in an overall strategy – an overarching, omnichannel strategy is key. Brands need to rethink their approach, making sure that channels are so connected that they become irrelevant. This will ensure that the focus is on delivering true omnichannel engagement.


Howard Beader is VP Product Marketing at SDL

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