How to get through to the Internet generation

Selling products to college students and recent grads?

Hang up the phone and pull down the billboards but make a lot of noise on the Internet and be sure to court the parents first.

A recent poll of youths aged 18 to 25 – the so-called Millennial Generation or Generation M spawned by the now aging Baby Boomers – indicates that the Web is the primary venue for selling products and services to this age group.

But while highly independent and tech literate, millennials still value their parents’ advice when it comes to financial matters, according to the survey conducted by Boston-based research firm Celent LLC.

“This group is coming out on its own and they are increasingly becoming a huge marketing opportunity for companies who know how to use the Internet,” said Ashley Evans, research associate at Celent and co-author of the study titled: The Millennials, Financial Services, and the Web – How 18 – 25 year olds view financial services.

Generation M is expected to grow in the U.S. to as much as 11. 2 million by 2010.

The age group is so entrenched in the Internet that Evans and co-authors Dan Schatt and Alenka Grealish shopped around for the 591 respondents by posting an ad on the social networking site Facebook.com and offering a US$5 gift certificate at the online shopping site Amazon.com as compensation.

While the May 2007 survey involved students or recent graduates in 34 universities across the U.S., at least one Toronto-based Web-marketing expert said the results very much mirror the market realities in Canada.

“Result would have been pretty much the same here in Canada, except we probably do a bit more online shopping over here,” said Ted Thrasher, owner and operator of Toronto Web Services an Internet marketing and advertising firm specializing in search engine optimization
(SEO).

“The use of the Web by this segment has grown exponentially. This generation is doing things totally different from how their parents did,” he added.

Here are some of the survey’s key findings.

Generation M is the first generation to grow up online and without a need for a landline phone. More than 85 per cent communicate via e-mail, 83 per cent use other Web-based tools, 72 per cent use a mobile phone, 48 per cent talk via instant messaging and 35 per cent use SMS (short message service) or text messaging. Only five per cent said they used landline phones very often.

In interacting with financial service providers, 36 per cent preferred to use the computer, 33 per cent favoured in person contact, 23 per cent chose phone conversation and six per cent indicated they used e-mail.

The majority (71 per cent) used online sources to access information about financial services and products, about 21 per cent went to a branch to speak with a representative and two per cent read financial blog postings.

When it comes to choosing a financial service provider the top seven factors are: rate and pricing; parental recommendation; good online service; brand reputation; good phone support; good e-mail support; and a friend’s recommendation.

“With less experience with the financial industry, young consumers, even when they’ve left the home, continue to rely on their parents for financial advice,” said Evans.

“This presents a golden opportunity for providers to mine their customer databases to cross-sell products and services to the next generation.”

Respondents registered distaste for the following top marketing turn offs: informational phone calls (56 per cent); SMS messages (54 per cent); podcasts on financial topics (50 per cent); blogs (44 per cent); and informational e-mail (37 per cent).

The leading products and services that the groups currently use are: checking account (94 per cent); debit card (89 per cent); savings account (80 per cent); health insurance (79 per cent); credit card (69 per cent); auto insurance 52 (per cent); and student loans (45 per cent).

Providers who take note of the prevalent use of debit and credit cards in this segment might also want to know that the preferred reward programs of Generation M are: cash back/rebate (67 per cent); frequent flyer miles (37 per cent); points and merchandise (36 per cent) and lifestyle rewards (16 per cent).

The highly desirable online advertising venues for this group are: customized search results (15 per cent); bank website (13 per cent); ad on a webpage (eight per cent); Google mail ad (seven per cent); and search engine paid links (six per cent).

Based on his experience with Canadian firms and the local marketing scene, Thrasher said bagging the pole position on a search engine result is critical for a company’s Web campaign.

“Consumers are less inclined to pay attention to the paid for links, but if you make the top three or top five organic results you have it made,” the online marketer said.

Building an online reputation and presence so that search engines such as Google and Yahoo will take notice can take anywhere from six months to a year, Thrasher said.

Here are a few of his tips on creating a noticeable site:

  • Create a user friendly and robust site – There’s no greater turn off than an unwieldy site with convoluted links and the inability to run flash media and video;

 

  • Support all browsers and machines – Some companies make the mistake of creating sites that can’t run on Mozilla which happens to be popular with Generation M. Others mistakenly believe they don’t need to cater to the Mac crowd;
  • Clean up your code – Don’t give the search engine robots a hard time indexing your site. They only have a few seconds to devote on each site and they tend to drop sites with messy coding;

 

  • Find relevant links – Hooking up with other sites that link back to your website boosts your authenticity with the search engines. The more people check you out the higher up your site moves in the rankings; and above all
  • Don’t cheat – Last year, Google blacklisted BMW from its site because the German car maker’s website used so-called “doorway pages” to ensure top ranking when users searched for “used car.”

 

The site used text-heavy pages generously filled with key words to attract Google’s indexing system. But once a user clicked on the link displayed by Google’s result window, the user is redirected to a regular BMW Germany page containing fewer key words.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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