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David Mills
By David Mills on August 17, 2016

Millennials Want Stories Not Just Ads

Story Collaborative recently completed a series of focus groups on millennial with the assistance of Honestly Magazine and the team at Workforce & Community Education from Germanna Community College. Focus group participants provided insights into their habits, preferences and life challenges which we combined with other research to shed light on strategies for effective business communication. This is the first of several articles.

Millennials Thrive on Stories

Story as a part of business branding, sales and communications has received lots of press lately. As we adapt our businesses and organizations to the emerging millennials generation - we don’t want to miss the power of story to connect and build loyalty. The top brands have shifted to story-based marketing, and research tells us that millennials will connect with brands that feel authentic and real.

Here’s the problem, only about a third of millennials think the brand content they are seeing online is helpful, and less than half feel they are finding anything worth sharing (according to a NewsCred Survey). What’s missing? Two things: first, the components you naturally find in stories; and second, our willingness to focus on something beyond our own products. To be effective, we have to share stories that focus on the needs, goals and lives of those we want to serve.

Here are some reasons why stories connect with millennials:

Stories help us be real and authentic

The trust for official corporate information continues to be very low among millennials. Advertisements rarely look or feel authentic, unless they are a story told in a visual format. But content that has the feel of a story, especially if it includes the real journey of the business, its employees or customers, helps convey a sense of authenticity.

Millennial Perspective: I want to be involved with people and experiences that are authentic and real to me in the moment.

Authenticity is something that is sensed and felt, more than analyzed. Stories that feel authentic and real connect with millennials.

marketing does not equal visibility

Stories connect us to a community

Millennials have a strong desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. They stay connected to their social network in purchasing decisions, become fiercely loyal to brand communities they love, and value the community more than older generations. The kind of stories that you tell help millennials know which community they are connecting to; stories are what mark communities and keep us together. Think about any community you are familiar with, alumni, church, sports, parent group, and you’ll see how the stories are unique in content, tone and even humor. If they story is absent, then their is probably no community present.

Millennial Perspective: Building relationships and belonging are important to me.

Stories put brand purpose and values are front and center

In a story-based content approach, the mission of your business and your core values are easy to communicate. If part of your mission is to improve your community, a story about the employee experiences is one of the best ways to share your business values and mission. Nine of ten millennials would switch brands to one that is cause oriented.

Millennial Perspective: I want my life to matter and the ways that I spend my time and money to make a difference.

Stories create a personal connection

The content that you share has to make a personal connection to be considered valuable to a millennial. If it is practical and meets a real need in their circle of friends, it stands a much better chance of being read and shared. Advertising typically has been all about the company, the product or service - not so much about the life of the consumer. While it may be counter-intuitive, stories that focus on the needs of millennials are what create brand connection, even though they aren’t directly selling.

Millennial Perspective: I am willing to be loyal and invested in a brand or company, but I want that brand to be invested in me too.

Stories help us try on the personality fit

Once a millennial is satisfied that the product or service is high quality, they want to see if it fits their personality. Would they feel good wearing, driving, or sharing it? Six in ten say this is a top concern. How does that fit with the need for stories? Stories allow us to see others try on the product or service and put it into context before it is purchased. They can feel and experience the personality fit in the story being told in written, video, social or photographic form.

Product and story are one

The content and the technology that you present to millennials are viewed as an extension of your product. If your technology doesn’t work on mobile, if the images are low quality, or if the story isn’t compelling, then it is assumed all of that is also true for your product too.

Millennial Perspective: I don’t have a lot of extra time, I am picky about where I spend it.

Why does marketing keep you invisible?

8 Ways to put stories to work reaching millennial customers.

  1. Ask yourself if your content, both written and visual, is telling a story that is meaningful to a millennial,, or just describing a product.
  2. Start upstream from the sale. What life experiences, goals and needs are your customers experiencing BEFORE they begin looking for a solution. That’s long before they start considering which product to buy. Get engaged in these stories.
  3. Use story form - share about the struggle, the process, the people and the solution.
  4. Don’t allow your website to only focus on what’s on sale. That is the path to just being a commodity instead of a brand.
  5. Use compelling visual images. The more authentic the better. If it looks like stock photography, millennials will know and avoid it..
  6. Tell cause stories. Celebrate and share the experience of helping others.
  7. Tell customer stories. The most important story is not just your business experience, but stories about your customers. Get engaged in these stories.
  8. Be helpful and useful. Ask a millennial or two if they would consider your content valuable enough that they would read or share what you are publishing.
marketing does not equal visibility
Published by David Mills August 17, 2016
David Mills