Nora Ganim Barnes
Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
Millennials have been born and raised in the age of technology, and unlike past generations, they are not influenced by traditional “push” marketing strategies. Nora Ganim Barnes, chancellor professor of marketing and director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, spoke with eMarketer’s Lisa Barron about the implications for companies.
eMarketer: Millennials are notorious for the amount of multitasking they do with media. Does that make them too distracted to absorb a marketer’s message?
Nora Ganim Barnes: I don’t think that the effectiveness of marketing with the millennials has anything to do with them multitasking. It has to do with how they are taking in information, and it has to do with their preferences for taking in information. They want information to come to them, but they want to select it.
They seem to have been able to filter out advertising and commercial messages on social platforms across the board. They want to pick and choose what they want, and how they want it, and when they want it. Our studies seem to indicate that word-of-mouth is driving most of what we’re seeing in terms of purchasing. Millennials are looking for information before they make purchases, but they’re looking for it from their trusted sources, and their trusted sources are not the manufacturers or providers of products. They tend to be people in their social networks.
eMarketer: Do you see any significant differences between how marketing on social media affects the shopping process and the decisions of male and female millennials?
Barnes: There were some differences, and those differences were that females look at more selections before making a decision. They would look at up to 10 different inputs, whether those were specific reviews, or comments that they read or something else. Fewer inputs were necessary for male decision buying than for female decision buying. There’s also a difference in terms of categories, so that the female millennials are more likely to focus on health and beauty aids, and the male millennials are far more likely to focus on electronics and technology.
“Millennials are looking for information before they make purchases, but they’re looking for it from their trusted sources, and their trusted sources are not the manufacturers or providers of products.”
eMarketer: As a group, are they more receptive to marketing content on certain social networks rather than others?
Barnes: We found that they follow brands on Facebook, rather than on other media sources, platform or tools. They said that they did it to support the brand and to be the first one to hear about new innovations from the brand or from the company. So it seems that Facebook is still probably the tool for the connection between brands and the millennials.
eMarketer: Do millennials generally want to initiate contact with the brand via social media, as opposed to having the brand reach out to them?
Barnes: Yes. They want to control their messaging. Once they reach out to follow Apple or Volvo or whatever it is, they then expect that they will be rewarded for that or become engaged by that “liking” behavior, and so the expectation then is that they will get incentives. They will get coupons. They will get updates. They will be included in that company’s communications.
eMarketer: Brands have been creating shareable content that they hope will spread on social networks. Are millennials resisting being used as a hub for bearing content, or does it depend on the nature of the content?
Barnes: Everything always depends on the nature of the content, but ... [m]illennials are huge sharers, and everything that comes to them moves on somehow. If you look at their Twitter feeds, or if you ask them about what it is they’re tweeting, it’s almost always shareable content. So I think that makes good sense to do that with millennials.
eMarketer: How significant are apps?
Barnes: They are downloading apps at a furious level. They will download apps for everything. If there’s an app for—you name it—they’ve got an app for it on their phone. If I asked how many days are left in school, they’ve got an app for that. They’ve got an app for every store that they shop at. They have an app for spring break stuff, and who’s doing what, and an app for bands and an app for movies.
eMarketer: To what extent have blogs become less influential for millennial shoppers as they sense bloggers may be funded by brands?
Barnes: I started in 2005 or 2006 studying blogs—business blogs and commercial blogs. What we’re finding across the board is that the Fortune 500 [companies] are actually moving away from blogging. Companies are giving up their blogs and finding that to target the groups that they’re interested in now, blogs are not the way to do that. The exception is some fashion blogs, which are still very big with the young consumers.
“They want to be connected more easily and more often. They want to buy more things faster. They want to have them delivered faster. They want more.”
eMarketer: Millennials have gone through a lot of digital media and devices in a short time. To what extent will their appetite for the next new thing in technology wane?
Barnes: I think they’re always looking for new technology. They are in class talking about the next phone they are going to get, or if they were going to get the watch. They are very used to getting the latest thing, and they’re excited about it if it’s going to do something that they can’t do now. They want to do more.
They want to be connected more easily and more often. They want to buy more things faster. They want to have them delivered faster. They want more. They want more than what we’re giving them. They have a thirst for digital media and for social media. They’re very much entrenched in it.
eMarketer: Do you see signs of smartphone fatigue among millennials as the novelty wears off?
Barnes: They’re very attached to their smartphones, so I'm not seeing any slowdown with that. They may use their smartphone to download apps, use it as their cameras, do their banking. They very much have their smartphone working the way they want it to. But they’re also talking about wearable technology. They’re looking at the watch right now. So I think it might be supplemented with things that do other things that the smartphone can’t. But right now, the smartphone is the center of their world.