5 Ways to Activate Millennials to Connect with Your Brand and Inspire Change


New York Advertising Week kicked off Monday with a plethora of seminars and panels featuring industry leaders working in advertising, marketing, media and creative arts. They shared best practices and discussed a wide range of issues, challenges, and opportunities facing the industry today.

During “The Art of Activating Millennials” session, an all-star panel of women entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and game changers shared tips on how companies can engage with millennials and inspire them to make impactful changes in the world. The panelists included Tamika Mallory, civil rights activist and co-founder of the Women’s March; Lydia Daly, SVP, Social Media and Branded Content Strategy at Viacom; Aria Finger, CEO and Chief Old Person of DoSomething.org; Lydia Belanger; Chandra Stevens, global director of Cross Industry Digital Solutions at Microsoft; and Liz Wessel, the co-founder and CEO of WayUp.


[Photo credit: REX/Shutterstock | Image from left to right: Liz Wessel, Lydia Daly, Aria Finger, Chandra Stevens, Tamika Mallory, and Lydia Belanger] 
Here are five gems they shared to help brands activate and engage millennial and Gen Z consumers.


  1. Get Social


Millennials and Gen Zers have a strong need to be and feel connected to others, which helps explain why they spend countless hours speaking with others via text and social media. If company brands want to engage with this generation of consumers, then it’s crucial that they utilize social media platforms that are popular with this base, like Snap Chat and Instagram.

“It makes a lot of sense to try and activate millennials and Gen Z on social media because this is obviously where they are,” Daly told Black Enterprise following the panel. “And even if they’re doing things that older generations would have done in the past, like watching TV or consuming other media, they’re also doing social media at the same time. So you always need to stay ahead, making sure you’re on the emerging platforms [and] making sure you’re using the tools that they are using to connect.”


  1. Be Authentic


Young people have quickly and ruthlessly criticized companies on social media for putting on a facade or missing the mark in an effort to attract their business. Take, for instance, the infamous Pepsi ad released back in April that was scrutinized for insensitively appropriating Black Lives Matter protests. Shea Moisture also faced a marketing disaster earlier this year over an ad that featured two white women and a light-skinned woman of color talking about how Shea Moisture products helped them overcome their “hair hate.” The ad was blasted for its lack of representation that excluded the company’s loyal base of black women with kinky, curly hair textures.

During the panel, Mallory addressed the backlash Pepsi received over their notorious ad and talked about the importance of brands including millennial feedback when making marketing decisions.

  1. Build Community


Young people don’t like to feel like consumers. Rather, brands that connect well with this segment, such as Apple and Google, have created a community where they are welcomed to join and connect with like-minded folks.

It’s also imperative for brands to demonstrate a value system that aligns with their consumers. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, AT&T CEO Randall L. Stephenson, and hundreds of other business leaders signed an open letter blasting the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) earlier this month. This action sent a strong message to their employees and customers about where they stand when it comes to protecting immigrants.

“Millennials and everyone else care about social issues when it impacts their lives,” Wessel told BE. It’s also important for companies to “create something that’s memorable and that will connect with your audience so that you can really have a voice and a share-of-mind,” she said.


  1. Create a Supportive Company Culture


In addition to taking a stance on company values, it’s just as important for brands to create a company culture that allows millennial employees to express themselves, promotes inclusivity, and celebrates diversity. This message must be sent both inside and outside the company. “Do they feel comfortable being able to speak up to the issues that matter to them, or is there an ‘unspoken code’ that keeps them silent?” Mallory asked.


  1. Get Visual


Studies show that millennials are incredibly focused on visual communication through the form of memes, videos, photos, GIFs, and emojis. By 2020, 80% of internet traffic will be communicated by video. In order to engage and inspire this base, brands need to incorporate visual communication into campaigns targeting millennials. These tools allow businesses to also communicate powerful stories that can help shape a cultural narrative that inspires others to join in. “What we’ve seen recently is that images have really been telling the stories of so many different issues,” said Mallory during the panel.