Ford, Twitter discuss the keys to attracting Millennials

Want to attract Millennials? Understanding the key characteristics of a generation is essential to smarter marketing, according to Twitter executives.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Although Millennials might want to be defined as individuals rather than a group, understanding the key characteristics of a generation is essential to businesses -- at least based on a discussion among Twitter and Ford representatives during a roundtable event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

Defined as anyone aged 32 and under, Millennials are "a generation that has this expectation that they can have anything, anytime," said Shane Steele from Twitter's sales and marketing department, adding that 55 percent of Twitter users fall within this demographic.

Using Twitter to attract Millennials cannot be a one-way street. Brian McClary, who manages social and emerging media at Ford and dubs himself as "Ford’s resident geek," said that Ford has learned that "there needs to be a conversation with our audience rather than hitting them over the head with marketing."

Not only do Twitter users want to be engaged and receive a human, personal response from their favorite brands on the microblogging site rather than just something corporate, but there are a lot of other mediums Twitter offers that have boosted Ford's social media presence. McClary offered the example that Ford aligns its social media marketing with events and also buys promoted trends and search terms around the major shows like CES.

Sheryl Connelly, global consumer trends and futuring manager at Ford, argued that while Millennials often have expensive tastes and appreciate designer goods, but ownership has become less of an issue. It's all about having access to a particular product without breaking the bank. This can be seen very clearly in the growing popularity of car-sharing programs in urban areas down to accessory rentals from Bag, Borrow and Steal.

"Netflix has taught us that it doesn't matter if you own the movie as long as you have access to it," Connelly said.

However, it's not also just about saving money. Most of the panelists agreed that Millennials are more educated and concerned about sustainability than any other generation that has come before them.

Ryan McGee, who works for Ford's research and advanced engineering department and specializes on electric vehicles, posited that if businesses want Millennials, whatever the product is must have a green context.

He added that the other key requirement with this age group is undoubtedly connectivity. McGee noted that connectivity, especially to the cloud, offers a lot of opportunities for emerging technologies as most customers expect newer vehicles to already have Internet-connected features to make their driving experiences more efficient.

Of course, whenever the topic of bringing more technology (and therefore, distractions) into the car, questions about security arise. Connelly explained that as more and more states take legislative action against texting and calling while driving, Ford is actively pushing hands-free technology into the car, primarily via Ford's AppLink platform. For example, the service can read Tweets aloud and enables voice commands for various apps, such as Pandora.

But going forward, Ford reps noted that while understanding Millennials is a key issue for them, they don't build cars and add features to them for a single demographic.

McClary affirmed that "social media in cars is for everybody," but there are "different channels that skew a bit differently." Connelly added that although Millennials might prefer to have multimedia in cars for social reasons, boomers want it all the same for business and productivity.

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