Traditional advertising – commercials, billboards, paper signage, Internet ads, flyers, emails, etc – is quickly losing its effectiveness.  Millennial-age customers, like me, suffer from chronic ad overload. We are looking at screens on our phones, TVs, computers, tablets, etc., for most of our waking hours. With ads constantly popping up, we get tired of them and are now working hard to avoid them. I commonly use AdBlock for my web browser, watch TV shows online to avoid commercial interruptions, opt out of nearly all advertising emails, and throw away junk mail. And I’m not alone. These are all common practices for the connected generation:

– Last year, Forbes reported that nearly ¼ of web users are blocking ads, and that number is increasing at around 43% per year.
– According to a report in the Latin Post, 67% of millennials prefer streaming videos and TV shows online to watching cable or satellite TV.
– Google has implemented an automatic sorting system in Gmail that puts all promotional emails in a separate tab, away from the Inbox where users would be most likely to see it.

Bombarding us with interruption advertising is not the answer; it will just continue to get less effective. Instead, businesses need to harness the growing marketing power of social media and interpersonal connection to attract and keep millennial customers. When done well, businesses can successfully turn customers into free brand ambassadors. But the business must cover a few bases first to develop and provide a solid foundation for a shareable product.

1. Have an Amazing Product

This is a no-brainer. Customers are only going to share products they like – and ruthlessly give damaging reviews to ones they find particularly bad.

2. Give it Something Different

Once the product itself is good enough to be sharable it needs a good story to complement it. For example, what follows is a hypothetical attempt to share an utterly unoriginal brand:

“You guys, I need to tell you about this awesome clothing store I found!”

“What about it was so awesome?”

“Uhhh…. It was exactly like five other clothing stores I’ve been to.”

That doesn’t work – I need something worth telling. Create a story, do something different, have a unique feel or culture around your product, and I’ll be more willing to share it with my friends in-person and online. It doesn’t even have to be really conspicuous. Just an attention to subtle details, chosen by design and with creative intent, will do the trick.

So let’s try that conversation again:

“You guys, I need to tell you about this awesome clothing store I found!”

“What about it was so awesome?”

“The music was really chill, they had SUCH great beach style – shoes, coverups, bikinis, and all – and I found shirts and stuff made for pretty much every popular beach in America. You would love it!”

Now that is a conversation I can have.

3. Enlist Brand Loyalty

If I’ve gone through the work of talking about a brand, sharing it with my friends and social networks, and frequently buying the product, I would love to have some kind of reward with it. Just the satisfaction of the good product sometimes isn’t enough. Implement loyalty programs or rewards, notice when I’m sharing good information about you by tracking (and even rewarding) Twitter or Facebook hashtags and mentions, and keep me excited with limited-time promotions and product launches. Then I’ll be more likely to keep coming back and keep the conversation about the business alive.

4. Bring Social Media to Us

This is the area with the most room for businesses all over to grow and really mobilize their customer base. Customers tend to visit retail outlets, restaurants, and every other business imaginable with their smartphones in hand. Many of them have social media accounts. Encourage them to access those networks while in the store to talk about the product or experience, and customers will do it. You can even make it fun with interactive opportunities such as cute photo ops or digital dashboards that track activity about your business from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for shoppers to see. Customers LOVE to see themselves featured on a big screen, especially in a store they frequent.

(Side note – if you don’t have easily accessible Wi-Fi, you don’t have happy customers)

So there you have it – build a marketable product and make it easy and rewarding to promote it, and connected customers like me will happily use our sharing power to sell your product for you.

– Submitted by Samantha Knowlton, Marketing