On the pulse of youth

Effective marketing requires knowledge of the target group. When it comes to youth marketing, companies often lack the knowledge and proximity to young people. They found both at the "brandBoost". Plus: Fabio Emch is a specialist in youth and student marketing. In an interview, he explains how companies address young people in the right way and why a deeper engagement with them is indispensable.

Many companies want to target young people specifically. After all, young people with purchasing power are both today's customers and those of tomorrow. The only problem is that communication is anything but easy. If adults try to come across as cool, young people usually find it embarrassing. You don't do yourself any favors by saying "totally rad," "crazy" or "easy. What's more, young people quickly see through marketing messages and reject them as soon as they seem untrustworthy.


Companies lack sensitivity not least because of their distance from young people. "To know what makes young people tick, it's not enough to read magazines, ask around or be present on social media platforms," says Fabio Emch of Jim & Jim, an agency specializing in youth and student marketing. "You have to engage very intensively with young people." To do this, Jim & Jim relies on quantitative and qualitative market research. In addition to representative surveys, the agency offers so-called brand sessions. At these, companies can exchange ideas directly with young people and have their products and services, their advertising and communication analyzed by young people.

Four such sessions took place on February 21 at "brandBoost" in Zurich. Among others, the free advertising platform Ricardolino. ch, the little brother of Ricardo.ch. The online platform was particularly interested in finding out more about the usage behavior of young people, as Oliver Schibli, Managing Director of Ricardolino.ch, explains: "Digital natives tick differently when it comes to media usage."

Ricardolino.ch under the magnifying glass

Armed with a notebook or tablet, the 25 young people are waiting for their turn at the brand analysis. They don't yet know which company is behind the session. Because Ricardolino.ch first wants to ask the young people about the topic of classifieds in general. Do you sell or buy used things online? Which platforms do you use? Only then will the secret about the customer be revealed and the young people will be asked in two further questionnaires about their opinion of Ricardolino. ch in two further questionnaires. Have you already heard about Ricardolino.ch? Where from? Have you already used the platform? Are you familiar with the commercials? Do you like them?


The real core of the Brand Session, however, follows after the survey, when the debate is opened. In rounds of five to seven people, the young people discuss together with a Jim & Jim employee. How is the handling? What could be improved? What features are missing? At this point, the representatives of Ricardolino.ch, who have held back so far, also join in the discussion. Schibli and his team ask more questions, dig deeper. What did you mean by that? Why is an app important to you? The young people have more than enough suggestions. Even when the session is officially over, one or two comments are still made, the young people pester Schibli with questions. Does it already have that? And what about...? Quite to the delight of Ricardolino. ch: "The session has opened our eyes in some areas and provided us with valuable input," says Schibli. "We got a sense of what young people think of Ricardolino.ch and our advertising campaign. And how they feel about the topic of free classifieds in general." Now the evaluation of the session or the questionnaire is still missing. Until the results are available in black and white, Ricardolino. ch will have to wait a few more days.

Isabel Imper



In a nutshell

"brandBoost" (formerly Trend Day) is one of the three sub-events of the Swiss Forum for Youth Marketing and Youth Culture Boost, which took place in Zurich on February 21. In addition to the brand analysis, marketers could expect a series of lectures in the afternoon in which they gained insight into trend research, marketing practice and the lifeworlds of today's young people. The speakers included Kris Hoet from the Belgian agency Duval Guillaume Modem and Alexander Mazzara from Joiz. Finally, the "talent boost" followed in the evening, where young people and students presented their talent companies - in the categories Multimedia & IT, Art & Design, Science & Technology and Entertainment. Initiators and organizers of the forum are Jim & Jim, an agency specializing in youth and student marketing, and the University of Applied Sciences (HTW) Chur.


Young and cool - that's not enough
Fabio Emch is a specialist in youth and student marketing. In this interview, he explains how companies can address young people in the right way and why it is essential to engage with them in depth.

WW: When it comes to youth marketing, companies can do a lot of things wrong. What is the biggest mistake you can make?
Simply put: ingratiation. When companies try to act young and be cool. Young people don't like that. They immediately realize when something is not genuine.
Can you give an example?
In most cases, ingratiation is seen in industries that are far removed from the lifestyles of young people. When banks or insurance companies target young people, there's a great danger that the marketing will have an ingratiating effect. I also feel that the current organic advertising of a retailer with rappers goes in this direction. Our studies show that organic is not such a big issue for young people. Whereby one must say here: The company probably wanted to generate attention precisely through this slightly ironic content.
How do companies avoid ingratiation? Or, to put it another way: How do they communicate properly?
This varies depending on the brand and the industry. There is no patent remedy. Basically, it's not enough to say "we're young and cool. You have to immerse yourself in the lives of young people and find out what offers are exciting for them. What are their exact needs? A company has to offer young people a real advantage. Let's take insurance: Adults are security-oriented when choosing their insurance model, whereas young people are more interested in saving and making a profit. Marketing must be specifically geared to this need.
How does Jim & Jim find out what young people are interested in?
On the one hand, as a specialized agency, we draw on a wealth of experience. On the other hand, we seek contact with young people. When we design a campaign, we ask young people what they think of it. In addition, we offer brand sessions, such as those that took place at Boost. Companies benefit enormously from direct exchange with young people.
In what way?
Customers can have a conversation directly with the boys and follow up if necessary. The youngsters, in turn, share what they hope to get out of a fire. At the TCS Cooldown Club, for example, the focus was on the attractiveness of offers. It emerged that the young people want added value in the area of cars and mobility. They don't want to go to the movies for less because they are members of TCS, but rather to benefit from cheap tires or a discounted toll sticker.
How important are brand ambassadors in positioning a brand with young people?
The use of brand ambassadors has been proven to work well. Successful examples from the youth and lifestyle scene are Michael Jordan (Nike Air Jordan), Kelly Slater (Quicksilver) or Iouri Podladtchikov (Quicksilver). The situation is different when working via seeding in the scene. This does not work for every brand and not systematically.
When does it work - and when doesn't it?
There are the hip brands that come out of the underground and are suddenly in, without you knowing exactly why. At the moment, for example, the Revolution fashion label. Such brands usually have brand ambassadors from the scene who appear on blogs and are photographed in 20 Minutes Friday. However, as a big brand, this system is difficult to use. An insurance company can't simply hook itself such a brand ambassador. That would be untrustworthy. Both from the point of view of the brand ambassador and from the point of view of the brand.
Does it make sense for established brands to target young people with a new brand?
Provided the new brand is in line with the corporate strategy, absolutely. Fashion and sports brands regularly launch new labels that are based on the young. But also the cantonal banks, which appear together under a new name with the "STUcard," or Mobiliar insurance with "MobiJeunes." The idea is to attract the young with entry-level labels with which they can better identify. The goal must be to introduce these customers to the "old brand" through efficient community marketing.
We always talk about THE young people. In fact, it's not a uniform target group. Is it true that young people can be differentiated by music, fashion and sports?
Yes. Music in particular is very important in the lives of young people and therefore offers great emotionalization potential for brands. Orange, for example, works with the music streaming service Spotify and offers young people the opportunity to access their music from their smartphone. Or festivals are also an ideal positioning platform. The challenge is: Where is the "brand overkill"? How do you appear as a brand?
Does youth marketing have to go beyond advertising campaigns? Or, to put it another way, do you have to offer young people a service?
I think it's going in that direction. Young people pay a lot of attention to discounts and special offers when making purchasing decisions. How can I profit? Where can I get something cheap? They are familiar with the tricks of how to save.
Are teenagers bargain hunters?
In principle, yes. Often inevitably. According to our studies, price has an above-average influence on young people's purchasing decisions. But if a product is particularly trendy, they'll buy it - no matter how much it costs. If the new iPhone is hot at school, they'll get it.
Keyword digital natives: What implications does the media use of young people have for marketing?
Thanks to the Internet, blogs and social media, young people today are very well informed about offers and the latest trends. Even if they live in a remote mountain village. At 13, when they open their first bank account, it's still their parents who decide. Relatively soon, however, things reverse. Then parents ask their children whether they should buy a Mac or an HP computer. Youth marketing is therefore very demanding. You have to know which channels young people use for information and what influences them. Otherwise, you're quickly out of the window.
Would you describe young people in general as open to advertising?
We've already touched on it: Young people are not a homogeneous target group. Market research (Sigma study, Sinus) segments them into milieus: The consumption-oriented hedonists are very open to advertising. The conservatives are influenced by advertising, but do not admit it. The progressives, on the other hand, tend to be critical ... Basically, I would say: If something comes across as cool - and if the offer is suitable for the young, young people are open to advertising.
Youth marketing has not been practiced professionally for too long. How would you describe the status quo?
There are major differences throughout Europe. In England or Germany, professionalized youth marketing is already a huge topic. There are specialized agencies and media that approach young people separately and deal intensively with how young people are socially embedded and what concerns them. In Switzerland, the idea that you have to empathize with young people in depth in order to appeal to them is not yet as widespread. At the moment, people are starting to deal with the topic more actively.
What is the evidence of this?
Recently, there have been youth media like Joiz that clearly position themselves above young people. VW has specific offers aimed at young people between the ages of 18 and 28. So does TCS with the Cooldown Club. Targeting young people is important. Studies show that people become attached to a product or a brand between the ages of 15 and 20. This is the age at which people begin to engage with brands (Generation Network 2011).
How do you think youth marketing will evolve?
I think there will be even more experts who deal specifically with young people. Banks, insurance companies and telcos already have youth officers and young customer advisors who look after young people. Specialization will continue to increase. Recently, a CEO of a large agency told me that the measurability of campaigns is becoming increasingly relevant. Knowing the target group precisely is therefore becoming a more important criterion for campaigns.
Media interest is currently focused in particular on the Ü-50 or Ü-60 generation ...
The fact that older people and senior citizens are a big topic at the moment shows that it is important to address the target group specifically and to deal with it intensively. You have to know what makes the target group tick. In my opinion, this focus will continue to increase.
Interview: Isabel Imper

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