By Patricia Redsicker published April 12, 2012

Digital Natives: How They Are Changing the Content Marketing Game

As a content marketer, you understand how our digital culture is changing the business landscape. What you may not be aware of though, is the impact that one particular consumer group now has, and why it has become too powerful for any brand or company to ignore.

This group has influence, money, and decision-making power. Indeed, its members are not just consumers; they are self-ordained experts who are accustomed to sharing their opinions and impressions of companies and products (both positive and negative) with the world!

They are known as the millennial consumer, or the digital native.

Who are digital natives?

Born between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, digital natives have grown up during our current golden age of digital technology. Now in their mid-teens to mid-thirties, people in this generation came of age knowing how to interact with technology and are comfortable using it to their advantage.

Currently, digital natives represent almost a quarter of the total market and by 2017 it is projected that they will have more spending power than any other generation in America.

They are called digital natives because digital connectedness is in their DNA. Communicating through technology is a way of life for them, and they are, at all times, connected to their social networks through various devices.

Consumption habits of digital natives

The cool thing about digital natives is their ability to incorporate technology and social media to become more effective in business and client relationships.

Their content consumption habits differentiate them from more traditional consumers in that they are:

  • Multi-platform consumers: Digital natives could be watching “American Idol” while simultaneously sharing that experience with their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and even their texting buddies!
  • Multi-device consumers: They consume content on different devices, such as their laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
  • In charge of the conversation: They want to determine when and how content is delivered to them — interruption marketing is offensive to them.
  • Disinterested in opinions of those outside their close social group, but are super-interested in what their friends think.
  • Hyper-connected: Their stories and word-of-mouth messages travel faster than any news network. Their thoughts and experiences are shared in real-time through updates, tweets, pictures, and video.
  • Very loyal to Facebook and will not be committing to Google+ anytime soon (here’s some evidence of this, straight from the horse’s mouth).
  • Enthusiasts of marketing that is honest and authentic.
  • Engaged: They don’t just consume content and information; they interact with it via digital expressions, such as updates, shares, re-tweets, etc.

How these habits influence content marketing

As you consider the habits of digital natives — their hyper-connectedness, their interaction with content and with one another — you begin to see that the social effect they have on consumerism is extremely powerful. So much so that brands are no longer defined by their own marketing messages but rather by the collective experiences of these young consumers.

When these experiences are shared online and offline, they become future guides for other consumers seeking input before making their own purchasing decisions.

So as brands try to figure out how to influence digital natives through content marketing, they must think about creating content that is engaging and share-worthy, and that enhances positive experiences amongst millennials.

How to influence digital natives through content marketing

First, understand that their habits regarding content consumption mean that you cannot entice digital natives with traditional mass marketing. Thus, you have to identify the best ways to deliver content through the six elements of engagement (defined in the Razorfish Liminal Report):

#1. Value

Above all else, digital consumers want to feel valued. They expect you to go out of your way to support their needs. This means that you have to create content that generates feelings of appreciation on their part. Examples:

  • Create content that solves their problems and shows empathy to their concerns.
  • Listen to conversations (e.g., on Twitter) that are not necessarily about your company and then respond to questions not directly aimed at you (e.g., Best Buy developed Twelpforce to answer people’s questions about electronic products in general).
  • Listen and talk with customers on your blog or social networks, and make sure to add a personal touch that resonates with them (e.g., sign off Facebook updates with your first name (especially if you have several administrators on your page).
  • Respond to questions (both online and offline) in such a way that they know you are working diligently on their behalf.

#2. Efficiency

Digital natives want quick and efficient service. Your brand should demonstrate that you value their time and energy. So create content that is easy and quick to access and that directly answers their questions. Examples:

  • Create mobile-friendly content.
  • Ensure fast download time of website content.
  • Don’t “post and run” — respond quickly to blog comments, Facebook questions, and tweet chats.
  • Eliminate cumbersome steps, processes, or requirements on your site that create user friction.
  • Keep your content brief and to the point (try using infographics to capture short attention spans).

#3. Trust

Millennial consumers want to know that brands they do business with can be trusted. Credibility is established through honest, transparent, and authentic engagement. Examples:

  • Drop the PR-speak or legalese from your organization’s content.
  • If something goes wrong, apologize publicly on your social networks (particularly on YouTube).
  • Don’t advertise; instead, deliver content that shows them “how-to” solutions to problems and ways to improve their lives or jobs.
  • Remove yourself from the brand story as much as possible.
  • Encourage their loyalty by giving away lots of free content without expecting anything in return.

#4. Consistency

Digital consumers do not want any unpleasant surprises. They will feel more secure if your branding, messaging, policies, and attitude remain consistent and reliable. Examples:

• Your brand message must remain consistent (remember what happened when GAP tried to change its logo?).
• Your content must deliver on any promises made.
• There should be no clash between policy and actions (e.g., if your Twitter profile says that you follow back everyone who follows you, be sure to do exactly that).

#5. Relevance

The digital consumer’s world is an “egosystem,” where everything revolves around himself or herself. They have empowered themselves through technology and their social graph. The only opinions that really matter are their own and those of their social network. So create content that is relevant to them. Examples:

  • Digital natives love cool stories – share stories about interesting things that involve your staff, employees, and other customers.
  • Use highly interactive content to encourage their participation (e.g., interactive white papers, flipped webinars etc.).
  • Use highly targeted Facebook ads that show how their friends are connected with your brand.
  • Offer them content that is customized to their needs and preferences.
  • Do not waste their time with boring or generic messages.

#6. Control

If there’s one thing that digital consumers are deeply aware of (even if company executives and CEOs are not) it is that they are in control of the conversation and, ultimately, the relationship. Rather than fight it, brands can use this to their advantage by empowering customers to become brand advocates. Examples:

  • Create platforms for user-generated content.
  • Ask customers to contribute content to your blog.
  • Invite customers to tell you what kind of content they want (crowdsourcing).
  • Create situations that give customers control while strengthening their emotional connection to your brand (e.g., Cisco Networking Academy normally invites select customers to become its Facebook Page administrators for periods of time).

Key takeaway

As technology changes, people change along with it. That might not always be good news for brands, but it’s something that they must accept and appreciate. The best way to truly accept this new digital culture and the business landscape that it has created is to observe, learn, understand, and then become involved with the digital native in order to create new opportunities for business and content marketing.

Over to you: How has the digital culture changed the way you do content marketing?

Cellphone photo image via Shutterstock

Author: Patricia Redsicker

Patricia Redsicker is a content marketing expert from Baltimore MD. As owner and senior marketing writer at WordView Editing Patricia works with healthcare organizations to develop content strategies that attract and retain customers. Her blog provides content marketing insights to aspiring bloggers and healthcare marketers. You may follow her on Twitter at @predsicker.

Other posts by Patricia Redsicker

  • cherylpickett

    Patricia, Really good information here, but I do have a question about a point you made in #3 and that was to “remove yourself from the brand story as much as possible”. Further down, you encourage the use of stories that involve staff, people in the company, as is the common advice/trend so I’m confused about how one would do both remove and include for better relationships.

    • predsicker

      Thanks for your question Cheryl, I was actually expecting it and so I’m glad you asked. 

      Personally I like the way SouthWest handles it. Their blog – Nuts about SouthWest is a great example of how they put the spotlight on employees, passengers, and other interesting things going on at various airports. In doing so they’re able to tell the SouthWest story without bragging about how their airline is the best in the country. Here’s a good example of such an article:
      http://www.blogsouthwest.com/blog/capt-joes-you-never-know-who-youll-meet-southwest-flight

      By doing that, they tap into and strengthen the emotional connections that people have with SouthWest Airline and that improves the perception of their brand. 

      I hope that answers your question!

  • http://www.facebook.com/shantanughosh123 Shantanu Ghosh

    Wonderful article,Patricia. Learnt a lot from this post.

    • predsicker

      Thanks Shantanu – glad you did :)

  • http://www.grovecanada.ca/ Sari Grove

    I get it…I have to be absolutely perfect & give 200% at all times while ignoring the fact that sales have been dismal since 2001…

    • predsicker

      Sari,

      Let me give you a different perspective. You’re not ignoring sales – you’re simply accepting the fact that this group of consumers are going to impact your sales from now on (whether you like it or not). 

      A study done by Edelman Digital in 2011 showed that millenial consumers/digital natives are very loyal customers once they find a brand they like. According to the study, 70% of them keep coming back to buy products from a likeable brand! Shouldn’t that be your brand? 

      I encourage you to look at it as an opportunity to engage (rather than resist) an increasingly influential group of consumers and grow your business at the same time.

      • http://www.grovecanada.ca/ Sari Grove

        You’re right Patricia…But it is a long con…(I use the term con with humility)…My Dad told me about the brilliance of Charles Atlas’s Dynamic Tension ads in comic books…All those young minds grew up to be clients,fans,supporters…I see the current patsy as a similar demographic…(patsy is also a colloquialism)…We are marketing now to the grown-ups of tomorrow…I do it & have been for almost two decades now, but sometimes it is not only ageist to ignore people who aren’t wired up to the net, but also a really stupid way to miss out on good sales to people who can pay now…