I recently conducted a focus group for a non-profit organization and I had divided the various groups by age. This particular group was made up of people between 28- 38 years old, which is the top end of the millennial generation. I asked many questions about various impressions of this particular organization, and gained a lot of insight about how this organization could better meet the needs of the community. I then asked about marketing ideas that they would suggest for the organization, and an explosion of energy like a geyser erupted all over the group. It is like I had mentioned the bad word that no one wanted to hear. They talked about “being marketed to” everyday, all week, and they do not want to be marketed to in their off time. They spoke of the cheesy give away or free refreshments that nonprofits use to bring people to their locations. “Allergic to marketing” is not an understatement for this group of young professionals.
I am not alone in observing this. Many people in the marketing field know that there is fundamental shift in marketing, not only with the ever-changing channels of communication, but how you approach the whole area of convincing people to buy from you.
I was one of two speakers at a company I am working with that had a millennial summit, because of the difficulty they were having in engaging the younger generation with their brand. As I expressed to them, because the younger generations have been marketed to since they were born, they can smell deceit or manipulation instantly in many cases. That is one reason authenticity is of very high value for these generations, right next to tolerance or social justice.
To dive a little deeper, however, we need to talk about what we are not saying. We are not saying don’t market, or its close cousin, sell. Daniel Pink, in his book entitled To Sell is Human argues well that both marketing and sales are about influencing people, and that all of us are doing that all the time. What we are saying is that marketing now is social – meaning it’s about building relationships with your organization, and legitimately engaging them in considering your product and services. In fact, younger generations need to engage with the brand as a way to find out whether they want to buy. They also will vet many of their potential purchases through their social networks, because they trust their opinion much higher than any features and benefits talk you may give them.
There is a powerful statement in 2 Corinthians 4:1-2, where Paul is arguing from an authentic belief in the saving mercy of Christ, where he not only says to be bold, but to do religious influencing in a sincere way:
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
Paul, in this context, is speaking of the deceitful, manipulative, and secretly false claims that a particular group called the Judiazers were using to convince Christians that they need to go back under the Jewish Law. He is suggesting that when Christians influence with the gospel, they do from authentic, straightforward ways. That is exactly what is being demanded in more and more ways in an interconnected world.
This past year, for example, many ad blockers are showing up on the internet, in addition to software downloads that can eliminate all those connections that have attached themselves to your email or website. One very fast growing organization, called TrackIf, is taking this even further. Rather than selling when you are not even being asked, they have a method called permission marketing, where people must tell you they want to continue the relationship in a variety of ways. Doug Berg, the founder, is a friend of mine, and when I heard him speak earlier this year he compared the open rates of permission vs. regular email marketing. The email marketing was way below 10% and the permission marketing was consistently above 60%.
Relationship building, and being authentic are now central to the marketing world.
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