"Boredom is a brand’s nemesis – particularly for Millennials"

At Youth Marketing Strategy NYC on May 20th, Sarah Unger, VP Insights & Strategic Planning and Angela Fernandez, VP, Creative & Strategic Planner at Ketchum will be taking to the stage to challenge all the presumptions you had about Gen Y. We caught up with them to find out more about Ketchum’s Millennial arm and how brands can stay relevant to today’s discerning youth.

Working for Ketchum’s Millennial division, what exciting projects have you had the chance to work on?

Sarah: One of my first in-depth millennial projects was global research for a Fortune 500 oil/gas company on how to talk to Millennials about oil and gas. Using a combination of Mindfire (Ketchum’s crowd-sourced platform for gaining insights/ideas from university students around the world) for directional research, and then scientific research to confirm our hypotheses, we were able to segment Millennials into different types of influencers, and ID those who were pragmatic and open to having a conversation about a seemingly non-sexy topic. Even realizing the nuance that “energy” was a much better door-opener than “oil and gas” proved highly valuable.

I also have a soft spot in my heart for our work on launching a new snack product, Cracker Jack’D, to Millennial guys. Our work focused on the monumental difference between the banality of something that was just “awesome” vs truly EPIC. I think I used “epic” in every other sentence for an entire year.

Lastly, I was just in Miami for Ultra/Miami Music Week where our client 7UP was launching year two of #7X7UP, which includes an exciting collaboration with Tiesto and Martin Garrix (and a new track!) The brand’s commitment to raising the bar for the EDM community at multiple festivals throughout the year via exclusive opportunities such as a “7th stage” is heartening and authentic – the energy on the project has been nothing less than infectious.

What challenges do clients have when trying to target 16-24 year olds?

Sarah/Angela: The world is changing so quickly – tastes, trends, channels – that it is a sprint for any brand to stay relevant to today’s discerning youth. We know the key to connecting with Millennials is through raw emotion or joyful humor or serendipitous timing – the most surefire ways to extend the olive branch of relevance. Or, if you score the marketing trifecta – all three! Yet, a new cohort is emerging that is going to, once again, change the marketing game. Gen Z, youth 18 years and younger, is a generation of creators and curators that is already used to interacting with brands on an emotional, humorous or surprising level. What sets Gen Z apart from their Millennial “siblings” is their even shorter attention span, proclivity to (digital) action, and realism, rather than optimism. Marketers will need to shift their focus, giving over the reins to this younger audience who is on a mission to change their world, as they grow up in it.

The years between 16 and 24 years represent a huge range. While considered “youth,” the life stage of 16-18 year olds is vastly different than that of 19-24 year olds. Think about what 16-18 year olds are facing: high school, bullying, graduation and the prospect of college or jobs. Technically part of Gen Z, this cohort wants to make the world a better place but with a more cautious and skeptical approach. Often times, we work with our clients to better understand the nuances of the various life stages within the vastly dynamic youth demographic – we blend generation with lifestage to get a more accurate picture ofmindset. When we do that well, we are better suited to build creative ideas that get noticed.

What’s your favorite example/case study of a brand that has done this well?

Sarah: Red Bull is a brand who has defined the gold standard for marketing to Gen Y & Z. Masters of content – a full on publishing house -- who also happen to sell a beverage. Everything they do feels 100% authentic because the company doesn’t just talk the talk – they walk the walk. From the days when they were handing out free product on college campuses, to the creation of the Red Bull Music Academy in Tokyo to the compelling journalism featured in The Red Bulletin (which has become my favorite monthly read, because of the crazy new adventure sports I discover in each issue), this is a brand that brings true value in each interaction with the brand, and isn’t afraid to morph when the times change.

What’s the most important trend for youth marketers to take note of over the past 12 months? And what future trend are you excited about right now?

Angela: With so many messages bombarding us on daily – albeit hourly basis – we are always asking ourselves “how can we break through?” Attention is the new currency. Boredom is a brand’s nemesis – particularly for Millennials and even more so for Gen Z. It will be a fascinating ride to watch how brands redefine and reinvent ways to capture (and measure) consumer attention.

What can people expect from your session at YMS? What secrets will you be revealing?

Sarah/Angela: We love research. And matching consumer insights with communications tools gives us an adrenaline rush. We will be taking you on a Gen Z journey that gives you an understanding of how Gen Z’s outlook and attitude was shaped by the world in which they inherited, by the Gen X or Y parents they have and by the path their Millennial older brothers and sisters forged before them.

And finally a few fun questions...
Best moment of your career so far?

Angela: When I first started my PR career, I was assigned to be the “handler” for the Strawberry Shortcake costumed character at Toy Fair. My job was simply to lead Strawberry out of the building to the character parade outside. I learned two important lessons that day: 1) Strawberry’s head doesn’t fit in the revolving door; and 2) Youth marketing can take many forms… and having a three-foot wide head stuck in a revolving door can capture quite a bit of attention.

Sarah: I’d be lying if I didn’t say that making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list wasn’t the most surreal moment of my professional career. But it’s truly the everyday moments with colleagues that make up the best parts. I’ve learned so much from my Ketchum mentors in hallway conversations that I still pinch myself to know I work among such smart, savvy people.

Favorite app? Why?

Angela: I recently read about an app that I’m excited to try out. It’s called RunPee. When you are in a movie theater, it will notify you of the best moment to run to the bathroom. And when you return, it will give a you a written synopsis of what you missed. Genius!

Sarah: I’ll disregard all the apps that have become a commonplace part of life (like Uber, which is as essential as toilet paper) and instead focus on my obsession du jour with Drizzy – the app that lets you text or e-mail exclusively in Drake lyrics. I haven’t been this excited since the app “I Am T-Pain” came out a few years ago, letting me auto-tune everything I said.

Something few people know about you?

Angela: Years ago, I illustrated a published book on dating that my hairdresser wrote. I’m sure one day it will be a classic.

Sarah: My light blue eyes are quite sensitive to light – so much so that I am technically supposed to wear sunglasses as much as possible in daylight. I always forget, so if you see me outside sans shades, full permission to scold me.

What are you most looking forward to at YMS?

Angela: I’m returning for a second year and am looking forward to the smart research and youth insights that I was able to reference and employ all year long.

Sarah: What Angela said :)

Finally, what we should of asked you that we didn't?

Sarah/Angela: How to reach us, perhaps? Because we could (and would) talk about this topic forever! (Can you tell we’re obsessed?!) But we won’t add anything, because we’ve kept your attention long enough. Go on now – do something fun!

Sarah and Angela will be speaking at YMS NYC on May 20th, presenting ‘Gen Z: Redefining everything you just learned about Gen Y’. Register for the event here.

Image credit: Gerardo Lazzari