Thursday, November 15, 2007

Interview with David Morrison, President/Founder,

I had a chance to interview David A. Morrison, President/Founder, TwentySomething Inc.. His firm specializes in helping marketers create targeted campaigns for the twenty-something segment. If you like his answers, go buy his book (“Marketing to the Campus Crowd”, Kaplan/Dearborn, hardcover, ISBN 07931-8600-5).

Here are ten questions for you-

1) How are today's "twentysomethings” different?

Today’s twentysomethings are completely unique from preceding generations as they exist at the epicenter of profound, unprecedented, accelerated change. Emerging technologies, worker mobility (and the “free agent” mentality), social networking, time compression, the portable ‘Net, and an enhanced awareness of the larger world are all collectively shaping a New Consumer. From a marketer’s perspective, young adults represent an incredibly savvy, demanding, and challenging customer base that represents both high reward as well as unquestionable risk. This coveted, yet elusive, group can just as easily make a brand as it can break one. Twentysomethings are exerting tremendous purchasing power; simultaneously, they are influencing buying decisions and brand attitudes across all other demographic groups (from tweens to grandparents). This is one key reason why our firm focuses on the larger market of 15-34 year olds.

2) What is the most common misconception about marketing to this segment?

One of the most common misconceptions surrounding the young adult market is that it’s monolithic. Nothing could be further from the truth as this cohort is the most diverse generation in American history. To approach teens and twentysomethings as a homogeneous group is a monumental mistake. Astute marketers recognize the endless sub-segments that exist within this target and carefully craft their efforts accordingly to reach the “lowest hanging fruit” for maximum ROI. Proper execution is a unique blend that’s part science and part art.

3) Is social media (especially Facebook, MySpace) a fad or is it a new way to connect with an audience?

Social media has fundamentally altered the consumer landscape. While the endless ways in which marketers try to leverage this P2P venue may result in a variety of fads, social networking is a natural extension of word-of-mouth which is the strongest driver behind young adult purchasing behavior and brand perceptions. There will always be change within the social media space; however, the enormous impact of this venue on consumer behavior is here to stay.

4) If you have $1 million to target college kids in America, how do you spend it?

There is no boilerplate response due to the intricacies of the competitive landscape. As an experienced consultant, my recommendation would be dictated by a combination of essential factors that must be taken into consideration such as the category, the company, the brand, the target audience, and a variety of other trends and fads occurring in real-time. Only by customizing a response to a particular client can decision making be optimized.

5) Is the youth segment more interested in green issues than the rest of the population?

Yes. Most of today’s 15-34 year olds are far more passionate about environmental responsibility. Unlike the Baby Boomers, today’s youth was raised on the concept of “acting green”; moreover, they have a more vested interest in the earth’s long-term sustainability. However, “thinking green” and “spending green” are by no means automatically interlinked. The majority of 15-34 year olds still don’t necessarily put their money where their mouths are. Looking at the automotive category, for example, most young adults are not driving hybrid cars. Why? Because, despite a genuine concern about the environment, young adult purchasing is still largely being driven (pun intended) by other, more pressing factors such as reliability, value, performance, utility, safety, and style. Despite all of the media hype, green is rarely a viable primary product positioning with the youth market. (At least for now.)

6) I represent a Fortune 100 company and I want to market to this segment. What should I not do?

As I mention at the very beginning of my book, “Marketing to the Campus Crowd” (Kaplan/Dearborn, hardcover, ISBN 07931-8600-5), the first mantra I advise marketers is not to erroneously assume inherent knowledge of the youth/young adult market simply because they were once part of it. This world is vastly different and continues to constantly evolve at warp speed. It’s important for marketers to understand the competitive landscape as well as their customers in the “here and now.”

7) How did September 11 affect the twentysomething segment and how does that affect marketers?

Today’s young adults were most certainly imprinted by the horrific events of 9/11: they were at such impressionable ages at the time. Twentysomethings yearn for brands that they can trust. Brands which betray that trust, or merely raise a hint of suspicion, risk alienating an entire generation. Another trend that we saw after 9/11 is the proliferation of nostalgia as a consumer hot button. The young adults of today yearn for the innocence and simplicity of yesteryear. A “remember when” positioning has the potential to be highly resonant, relevant, and compelling.

8) When I think of twentysomething males on college campuses, I think of "Animal House.” Is this still how it works or is this an outdated stereotype?

Marketers need to be exceptionally wary of stereotypes. While the “Animal House” mentality is most certainly alive and well on college campuses throughout the globe, it would be inaccurate to portray all college students in this light. Two apropos analogies: (1) most Generation Xers were never slackers, and (2) the majority of Baby Boomers were never hippies. It’s always particularly dangerous for marketers to rely on a Hollywood archetype to define their customers.

9) I belong to this segment and I am also a marketing student. What advice do you have for me?

Internships. Internships. Internships. Experience is absolutely paramount in realizing your professional aspirations. In addition, I strongly encourage students to truly take advantage of school resources. Attend marketing department events. Go to the conferences. Hang with the professors and go beyond the classwork. Listen to speakers that come onto campuses. Start a business! And, without question, take advantage of the fact that leading professional trade groups provide student discounts. The American Marketing Association and other industry associations are phenomenal places to expand your learning, gain hands-on experience, and create invaluable contacts.

10) Where is this segment going and what will today's twentysomethings be like in ten years?

That’s a big piece of what my firm, TWENTYSOMETHING Inc., does for a living! Those answers have to be saved for our clients so we can continue to provide them with long-term competitive advantage. But in the spirit of sharing, here’s a freebie: One touch-point that marketers should closely watch is social networking as it moves onto the much-heralded “third screen” and truly goes mobile. Once the wireless web goes mainstream, the world will truly never be the same.