Advancing communications measurement and evaluation

Millennial Moments Matter: Getting the Most from Sponsorships

Millennials take selfie

This excerpt from Synergy Sponsorship’s Now, New & Next is part of Chris Pinner’s ongoing series on measurement of events and sponsorships.

Millennials. Yes, they’re taking over the world. This global group of two billion 18–34-year-olds is larger than the Baby Boomers and – thanks to social media – exponentially more influential. In five years they’ll contribute to one-third of retail sales and by 2020 will dominate the global workforce, spending $2.5 trillion. With new priorities, expectations, and desires, shaped by social media and global recession, the power of this group is certainly undeniable. Event marketers and brands: ignore this group at your peril.

Since surmising the importance of live events and enhancing the live experience in 2014’s Now, New & Next, we have a greater understanding of the dominant Millennials demographic. Now, we can start to understand more about the desire for live events, what constitutes memorable and engaging moments, and new trends in creating unique experiences.

For Millennials, money isn’t everything. The Cassandra Global report – produced by Synergy’s sister agency, the US-based Intelligence Group – which surveyed 3,044 respondents aged 18-34 across 10 countries, found that 86% would rather be healthy than wealthy. This demographic also places greater importance on events than previous generations, turning away from materialism and consumer goods towards more meaningful experiences. The U.S. Harris Poll surveyed over 2,000 Millennials to understand the extent of this trend. 78% of Millennials chose to spend money on an event or experience over a traditionally desirable material object, whilst 8 out of 10 people attended or participated in live experiences in the past year. But what is behind this trend?

Ironically, the success of social and digital media is driving this audience offline for a number of reasons. With the rise and rise of the virtual world, Millennials feel increasingly disconnected from the real world and crave physical, real-life experiences. Millennials want to live for the moment, be with others, and seek fulfilment. Digital interactions can’t replicate the real-time atmosphere and energy of a packed stadium or the intangible feeling of togetherness that this generates.

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is huge amongst this group, fuelled by social media. EventBrite’s survey of UK Millennials found that 73% of respondents agreed FOMO often drives the need for experiences – it is hard not to feel that you are missing out when Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are plastered with friends and acquaintances experiencing the ‘next big thing’. Millennials want to be there: see it, hear it, touch it and, most importantly, share it. And FOMO is contributing to the rise of a booming events industry, with 62% of Millennials planning to increase spend on experiences over the next 12 months.

So, given event marketing is perfectly placed to connect with this very commercial and brand-savvy audience, how can brands deliver the best experiences to engage with them?

The most successful brands in 2015 will have a deep understanding of Millennials’ behaviour – what they do and how they do it, and will connect with them more effectively through more – and better – experiences.

Translating this to sponsorship, brands will build every experiential campaign from a base of superior audience understanding, with brand knowledge and an objective evaluation of how assets can help engage their target audience. These brands will grapple with the paradoxical demands of Millennials today – they want to be different, like all of their friends – and be all the better for it.

Successful campaigns will, therefore, be those which are:

  1. Inclusive – creating group-oriented bonding experiences between people
  2. Individual – communicating directly with each audience member
  3. Physical – showing, not telling
  4. Shareable – generating a sense of community with an ability to share
  5. Impactful – fostering memories for people to keep

Google’s ‘Be Together. Not the Same’ campaign for its Android platform targets the paradoxical nature of Millennials head on. Albeit in a digital setting, Google offers people a chance to imagine, invent, make, or buy whatever they want across the open Android platform. While not every Millennial will care about every detail of every software release, creating a communication platform through which a global target audience can become a global community is something all brands can learn from.

Brands must also embrace Millennials’ hunger for global interaction with local pride. The success of Eatwith, a passionate community of food lovers and world travellers who join one another at dinner parties across the world, demonstrates the importance of engaging Millennials across different cultures while retaining a focus on local traditions.

Tapping into how Millennials interact offers fertile ground, as Birdseye also demonstrated with its pop-up restaurant activation, in which patrons could pay for their meal using a hashtagged photo on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Its genius lay in bringing a personal recommendation (hugely important to Millennials) via social channels (also hugely important to Millennials).

Beyond being sharable and memorable, great campaigns make a physical connection. Millennials need to see it, touch it and feel it if they are to believe in a brand’s story. This principle underpins the recent success of Tate & Lyle’s smile-activated syrup dispenser, which has connected brand and audience by bringing a much-needed smile to the people of London.

Drawing on the insight that Millennials value shared experiences – over 50% say friends are key to their success in life – can also underpin effective activation. Gaming company Paf demonstrated the importance of a shared experience through Experiment Ensam, which analyses the role community plays when it comes to human enjoyment. By putting individuals in situations where company is taken for granted – being at an amusement park, at stand-up comedy, or even a performance by Bob Dylan at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music – and filming this moment, it became clear that being a solo participant at an event usually attended by crowds of people makes for a very different, and often inferior, experience.

The world’s first tech-enhanced interactive LED court, meanwhile, gives Nike and their ‘House of Mamba’ basketball court a credible claim to have hosted one of the most personal sports activations of 2014. Assisted by LED visualisations, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant mentored 30 young basketball players as part of the Nike Rise basketball contest and reality show based in China. With individuals at the heart of such a cool campaign, Nike’s wider target consumers couldn’t help but share their thoughts.

But cool campaigns don’t just mean sports stars and top-of-the-range technology, as demonstrated by FIFA’s healthcare partner (until 2015) Johnson & Johnson through a ‘Tour Do Carinho’ (Tour of Affection). Over three months, the tour visited 12 FIFA World Cup host cities via a branded bus, to collect ‘acts of affection’ in the form of blood donations. In building a personal connection with the 20,000 Brazilians who helped fill the four giant blood bags pictured, Johnson & Johnson have saved lives – impactful activation at its best.

SSE’s #GoGlasgow campaign, meanwhile, is a textbook example of how to connect with Millennials. As a partner of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the energy provider created an inclusive online fan community by igniting, celebrating and aggregating the global social conversation around the Games, with a series of nation-specific hashtags. Knowing Millennials crave more than online interactions, they also delivered a physical, real-life and local experience, with a giant interactive hashtag where fans could personalise and capture their own #Go moment. After all, it’s about showing not telling.

Each aforementioned campaign earned some amazing coverage and, most importantly, connected brands with their respective audiences – sponsors take note.

But it’s not easy. Understanding Millennials is hard and, even if you know what will catch their attention, excellent execution is essential. Heineken’s Open Your City campaign caught the attention of Londoners with the prospect of experiencing the hottest social locations their hometown has to offer. But Millennials have great expectations and, at least in the eyes of one Synergy colleague, being left bereft of a beer at one of the Heineken-hosted events was enough to leave him disappointed in the campaign’s end point. Likewise, Virgin Media’s TV Diner pop-up restaurant had real potential to build audience affinity to their huge entertainment library. But while the promise of cult-classic inspired dishes cooked by a celebrity chef whet the appetite of another Synergy Millennial, small portions and minimal dwell time meant an experience which failed to meet expectations.

Both cases serve to demonstrate the execution of experiential moments is as important as understanding what will attract the audience in the first place. The relationship between brands and Millennials is two-way – especially when events are involved. Failure to fulfil on the brand promise is not only a failure to commence or enhance an audience relationship, it’s real break-up potential.

So what does it all add up to?

When it comes to sponsorship, the fundamentals remain – connecting asset, audience and brand insights to engage consumers through passion points. The risk is that, as understanding your audience gets ever more challenging, brands will miss out on the chance to deliver great campaigns.

As the world moves forward at warp speed, Millennials are increasingly after new ways to ‘live’, and are increasingly hard to please. It has never been more important to value meaning over money when connecting brand, asset and audience.

It has never been more important to deliver a great experience.


Chris Pinner

Chris Pinner

Chris Pinner is Sponsorship Analyst at Synergy Sponsorship. His experience in economics and strategy consulting are being put to good use in helping brands use Synergy Decisions. Outside helping brands measure and evaluate sponsorship, he is a keen football and tennis fan. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrisPinner.
Chris Pinner
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