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know thy audience — 18 to 24 year olds

(Awesome photo by Madison)

The kids are alright... But they do have pretty different tastes to some of the older generations. Marketing to young people can be difficult, because they are so entrenched in the digital landscape— an ever-changing world where style and interests fluctuate by the day. We have all seen the painful attempts to appeal to young people with dead memes and outdated slang. Avoid these and other faux pas by taking the time to understand what your younger audience actually wants to see.

to ad or not to ad?

The world has changed quickly in the last several decades. The main forms of advertising used to be cable TV and newspaper ads. Shockingly, neither of these avenues are the best to reach young people these days.

One important part of appealing to your audience is knowing where to find them. Instagram and Facebook are obvious answers to this question, but before you drop thousands of dollars on sponsored posts and advertisements, consider if this is really the best way to reach your audience in the modern age.

Young people have grown up being blasted with advertisements all day, every day. So what makes the companies they decide to support stand out? Often, these brands will have a strong voice, which speaks to something they care about. Fast fashion, for example, is under attack recently (and for good reason) so young people are starting to trade in the H&Ms and F21’s of the world for sustainable and ethical brands like Everlane and Reformation.

In the cases where young people don’t buy sustainably, they at least buy quality. Levis, Doc Martens, Birkenstocks and other brands with a reputation for lasting decades have seen a resurgence in popularity. This tells us that young people care about brand reputation and quality over other factors. Or maybe they’re just buying what their friends are buying...if that friend is a conscious, sustainable human.

a brand to believe in

Young people have grown up being told that the world is going to hell and in the face of climate change (and the incredibly frustrating denial of climate change), human rights violations and trafficking, the ongoing fight for equality for all, and other issues it is hard not to believe it. For these reasons, young people gravitate towards companies that are making a difference.

Brands unethical activities rarely go unchecked, and young people are more aware of who their money is going to and how it will be used. The good news is that this means many young people prefer to shop smaller rather than funnel their money into a multi-billionaires pocket. It also means that CEO’s words matter more than ever and controversies like Victoria’s Secret’s CEOs remarks on trans and plus size women are hurting companies and making room in the market for more progressive businesses like Aerie (whose marketing empowers all types of women through diversity and a refusal to retouch their models photos).

adapt or die

People often claim that it is impossible to keep your business afloat in the modern world, and with former giants like Sears and JCPenney going down, it can seem scary. But honestly, the businesses of today that survive are the ones that adapt and change with the times. Look at Target and JCPenney for example. They were founded in the same year (1902), but one is doing better than ever and the other is suffering. The difference is Target cultivated their brand reputation and kept young people in mind while JCPenney did the opposite. It’s not that young people don’t want to support older businesses, it’s that many older businesses haven’t done the work to appeal to them.

Appealing to young people is often a matter of design. If you look at the branding of businesses that have exploded in recent years such as Glossier, Drunk Elephant, Reformation, and others, you see a common thread of light, simplistic color palettes, clean black sans-serif typefaces, and a strong brand voice.

so… what?

What does all of this mean for you? If you want to appeal to the younger generation, you should show young people the driving force behind your business. What values do you want to show them, what cause are you trying to help, are your products quality, are they local? These are the things young people want to know and they set you apart from other businesses. When building your brand these are all things that your designer should convey and this is also where your social media can come in.

Post about the people and communities you are benefitting, show young people that when they support your business they are making a difference AND getting a quality product or service. From Here (Formerly Pop Up Shop) in Spokane is an awesome example of using these tactics on a more local level. They are a shop that sells locally made goods and everything they post is about the artists that make their store possible, the real-life people that customers are supporting. Even the name, From Here, reminds customers that they are contributing to their community by buying things that are made locally.

Therefore, when marketing to young people, think genuine human connection and appealing to their desire to make the world a better place.