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Reach Millennials Through Brand Advocates Leverage the influence of Gen Y to market through trust and personal connections.

By Dave Knox

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While older generations tend to rely on product information from traditional media sources or from manufacturers themselves, millennials are more inclined to trust advice from the people in their lives. As marketers, this means we shouldn't be thinking of millennials as just another group of consumers to convert, but as potential advocates for our brands. Advocates not only purchase – they influence their friends to purchase as well.

Who are advocates? They can be anyone from a best friend to a favorite actor to the person you've never met but has a clever Twitter feed. Social media connects people from around the globe who may never have met otherwise. These connections are based on similar interests, hobbies, opinions and the like. When a connection on social media, whether from a best friend or web friend, recommends a product, it carries significant weight with millennials. Here are three ways brands can spark these connections both internally and externally to create consumer relationships with meaning.

Look within – to internal advocates. A company blog can be a great way to showcase product advocates. Take, for example, Target's Pulse blog. Employees chronicle daily life in Target stores and headquarters, with a dose of product mentions. Target also produces a style blog, Target on the Dot, which features fashion, home and beauty products. Readers receive a welcome behind-the-scenes look and a more personal connection to the store.

Tip: For authenticity, foster a sense of freedom and immediacy. Don't over-message or stunt the voices that Gen Y will find engaging.

Look outside – to the media and consumers. Thanks to the digital age, placement in traditional media doesn't require waits of weeks or months. Popular gaming site Joystiq, for example, compiles reviews of many different games by its bloggers. Some of these reviews are positive while others honestly point out flaws or disappointments.

Consumer bloggers can sometimes have an equal reach to popular media sites and often recommend favorite products to loyal followers. These bloggers have become mini celebrities with audiences of devoted followers. According to a study by Technorati Media, blogs are the third most influential platform for purchasing decisions behind brand and retail sites. Consider anointing your biggest fans as brand ambassadors, allowing them first-looks at new products and invites to special events that they can showcase to their followers.

Tip: If you send your product to journalists or bloggers, they aren't required to give it a favorable review. Keep an open dialogue with your blogger and they'll likely give you a chance to respond online to any concerns that arise.

Celebrities can be assets, too. For millennials, the traditional celebrity spokesperson role isn't as powerful as a tabloid shot with celebs wearing or using your product. If your product seems like a natural fit, don't put them in your commercial. Instead, consider sending them a sample of your product. Tweets, Instagram pictures and even paparazzi-captured photos featuring your product also lend credibility.

Tip: Choose a celebrity that resonates with your market. And be prepared to rethink your celeb selections on a regular basis as trends and tastes shift.

Dave Knox

Chief Marketing Officer, Rockfish

Dave Knox is Chief Marketing Officer for Rockfish, a full-service digital innovation partner that drives business for some of the world’s largest brands, and co-founder of the The Brandery, the first startup accelerator to focus on applying the principles of brand marketing to startups. He was previously a brand manager for P&G.

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