Generational Awareness and Online Influencers

Kids these days…

In the nearly thirty years since Al Gore invented the internet (source: The Simpsons), we have seen many mutations of (what started out as) a glorified FTP platform that transformed into the world-consuming, social-platforming, e-commercing second earth that we have today. These mutations are, without precedent, one of the reasons that Mad Men does such an adept job of capturing the feelings of trepidation and resistance to the new medium of Television. This is likely in part due to their own medium’s steady march towards the grave because of the rise of something new.

The Millennial Generation, defined as those born between 1977 and 1995, are forecasted to have record-breaking purchasing power: $1.4 Trillion US by 2020 (less than six years away).

Just like the major shift in the sixties, advertisers, marketers and business owners alike are still struggling to adapt. I find myself enjoying the retrospective that this particular article requires, in large part because of the parallels that I am able to see within different generations. My father was the youngest of eight children and in a few short years will be fifty years old. He is often on the receiving side of playful jabs from his older brothers and sisters regarding the fact that his entire life was spent with the luxuries of indoor plumbing and television! In fact, the television was held in such high regard by his siblings that my grandmother’s decision to relinquish the naming rights for my father, to his siblings resulted in their favourite television character becoming a permanent fixture in the Killoran household: Dennis.

I, on the other hand, have a weird name. You should see what comes up in the “Did you mean” list when I do the standard millennial vanity exercise of Google searching my own name. This, however, was not due to the introduction of a new medium (although my life, like other people of my generation, would also be dominated by an ever-evolving box, the personal computer).

The advent of the personal computer, and ultimately the internet, not only changed the way that the world conducts business; for those, like myself, who grew up with the technology and are now becoming the most powerful purchasing segment of the population, it completely changed how we even approach decision making. Sure, other generations have adapted to these new purchasing processes, but for those of us in the tail end of generation x and the early millennials, it has become as innate a tool for finding an answer as counting on your fingers was for simple math. For online marketers who get this, they can enjoy efficient online brand growth and prosperity for years to come; however, for those that who still choose to take the old method to over the new medium, well, they may quickly find themselves in the same boat as newspapers, radio and soon to join them, television.

Of the 17 hours that persons born from 1975-1995 spend in contact with media per day, 5.4 hours are spent exclusively with User or Peer Generated Content.

The Generational Shift

A key difference that online marketers, businesses and even self-aggrandizing commentators like myself need to realize right out of the gate is that the internet provides the user with one major hurdle to our own objectives: almost limitless choice. Microsoft decided to characterize their search engine Bing as the decision engine for a reason. People today have near limitless options through only a few key strokes or mouse clicks. This decision overload has created the concept of decision fatigue. As a response, the generations that view their iPhone and iPad as a mere extension of their hand defer this decision process into a formula. Online brands that understand this formula are enjoying not just initial success, but increased customer loyalty and advocacy.

Ipsos has done some amazing work studying this area of the market. Earlier this year, they published a study entitled Social Influence: Marketing’s New Frontier. Ipsos went out searching for the chief influencer for that oh so desirable millennial demographic. In the end, it turns out that the influencer in itself is a mutation. Previous generations reliance on peer recommendations and consultation has not disappeared, instead it has morphed into a new animal called user generated content or U.G..C.

30% of millennials’ media time is spent with content created by or curated by their peers. Source:- Ipsos: Social Influence Research Paper March, 2014

Influence, Decisions, Trust, Conversion

Influence is something that becomes exponentially weaker the more options for influence a person has. Do you share some of the same mannerisms as your parents? Have you noticed in small towns that; people often drive the same five brands of cars? All of this is at least partly due to limited exposure, or super saturated exposure. There is a reason that people who move across the world, or kids who get facial piercings, are considered rebellious. It’s not because they are doing something no one has ever done; they are just breaking a cycle of influences by making a decision that their cohorts, simply don’t trust. Those examples are exceptions to the rule. In marketing, we want to appeal to as many in our target audience as possible, so here are some of the trusted sources or influencers for Millennials in 2014, according to a recent Ipsos study.

As you can see, there is an increasing appetite for user generated or peer reviews on products. The brands that are experiencing success in this field have found a way to engage their audience beyond posting questions. They are no longer , and are now lessinstigators of their brand identity, as, but they have become passive moderators and curators. What this means for the common marketing foot soldier, it means that as the Millennials squeeze out the remaining baby boomers and Generation X’ers in the struggle for market power, it will be increasingly crucial to facilitate the creation of this user generated content that has a high level of influence over the most profitable segment of the population.

First Steps

A strong digital strategy is crucial if you want to see any fruit from your efforts to tap into this up and coming and titanic market. Conversation Curation, is a term that is finding more and more usage (or variations thereof). Essentially, the core effort is to start defining your brand as something that should be discussed. This comes back to the old tradition of seeking out consumer advocates, but in a nuanced way. Find places where your target market spends it time. This could be on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest are great platforms for getting the conversation going. Make your content easy to share, and also provide some kind of benefit for the audience if they share it. All of these are huge components within any type of effort in this battleground. Selecting the correct medium for your brand is also crucial, as certain platforms are better for specific mediums than others.

In short, effort needs to be made to deliver the right content, in the right format, on the right platform – and then encourage distribution. The last part might mean that you don’t get to put the sell into your branded content; however, sometimes the buzz is worth the effort.

Awareness breeds trust. A great example is Vans How to do Everything in the World. This piece of content went super viral, and doesn’t mention Vans once, except for the ad at the beginning and end. It was shared and discussed enough that I would venture to guess that Vans saw an uptick in traffic and overall brand awareness because of it. Where you can really make hay with branded content is when you can factor in some product reviews from your customers. It’s all about starting the conversation. This millennial generation will be drawn to it, like a moth to a flame.


I hope this post helps you understand the most powerful purchasing generation in the world a little better. In a few short years, they will have the vast majority of the purchasing power in the market. And they are building their brand loyalties and advocacies right now. So get out there. Start those conversations before it’s too late and you are trapped in a lonely room talking to yourself, with old radios, TV’s and land line telephones.

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