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Young people are people too

Estimated read time: 8 minutes

Youths. Kids. Gen Z. Young people. Whatever you call them, if you’re on this website and reading this article then, chances are, they’re a key audience for you and you probably want to know how to reach them. Luckily, our pal Ben Capper is here to offer some advice 👇

How do you “engage” with “young people”?

How do you get them to interested in your brand.

How do you get them to think your (quite dull) new initiative is “cool”?

Well, shock news, guys.

It turns out that “young people”, far from being the mysterious, conceptual beings that communicators over-35 have come to assume they are; are actually normal human beings, for which the usual rules of communication still apply.

Most discussion about connecting with young people seems inevitably to focus on what comms channels they’re currently using; and which popular trends that us old-folk can merrily ruin by doing ham-fisted corporate dad-dancing all over.

It should go without saying that keeping up to date with changes in trends in tech and comms channels is vital. If it’s not something you’re inherently fascinated and excited by, then it’s time to look in the mirror and consider whether working in comms is really for you.

And thankfully there are tons of resources and research findings out there to help with this: The Native being the ultimate go to for me as someone who fits very neatly into the “Over-35” category (Ed: your cheque is in the post Ben 😉).

But it’s equal parts hilarious and infuriating to me how even youth-focused organisation still struggle with understanding the basics of good communications.

When you consider that, across the Students’ Union sector in particular, student election turnout averages around 18% nationally; you have to wonder whether something fundamentally might be wrong in the way we’re talking to young people about ourselves.

Think about the way we frame our conversations when planning campaigns and comms initiatives with young people, by looking at the way the first three questions in this post are phrased. Inevitably it tends to follow this format:

How do we get them to think we are / our thing is great?

The inference in this way of thinking is: we’ve decided to do something, without understanding whether there is any appetite for it among our target audience, and now we need them to like it, use it and find value in it.

If you’re in a comms team, you’ve probably had a senior manager lurking over your shoulder blaming your team for the low or non-existent take up of a service by young people, on account of the fact that “they didn’t know about it” or “the marketing was crap”.

Put aside the arrogant and condescending way of thinking here (i.e. “there’s definitely nothing wrong with our thinking – it’s our audience that’s at fault for not sufficiently appreciating our inherent brilliance”); the biggest crime here is that it breaks the Rule Number One of all successful communications. That rule being:

Know. Your. Audience.

Whether it’s targeting Gen Z, Millenials, Pensioners, or any human being for that matter; any initiative is doomed to fail if you don’t start with this rule. All the Snapchat filters (which, at the time of writing, are still a thing – just), and boomerang-heavy Insta-stories in the world will be pointless without the basic understanding of:

The target audience

  • Who the initiative is for
  • What problem of theirs it’s solving
  • What will motivate them to take it up
  • What their barriers to take up are

The proposition

  • What it is in the most basic terms
  • How it’ll work
  • Why they should care

The desired outcome

  • What you want your audience to think
  • How you want them to feel
  • What you want them to do

At this point, (and only at this point) there are a few other questions to consider:

The delivery

  • How to make it relevant
  • How to make sure it’s timely
  • How to make sure it’s interesting

As communicators, who are naturally interested in the creative solution and the small details of the comms channels, the next bit then becomes easy. Your learning from attending ASDIE or reading The Native will easily guide you to the right solution.

Sure. Your solutions will be fun. They will be engaging. They will be utilising the latest tech. They will represent the hopes, desires and trends of your young people.

But without this thinking, all you’re doing is guessing.

These four steps aren’t some magic formula for “Engaging with Young People”.

They represent the basic steps that all communicators need to go through to create effective creative solutions for whatever audience. They should serve as a handy checklist to help comms teams to challenge the “I want a poster / can’t you just do a tweet” demands of our esteemed colleagues that want us to perform magic on their ill-thought-through “ideas”.

By taking this approach rather than relying on our years of assumptions, the SU I was at managed to increase its election turnout from 15% to 26% in a year (more than doubling the actual votes cast).

And the learning from ASDIE this year backs this up too. I love this insight in particular:

Whether we’re young, old or (I like to think in my case) somewhere in between; we still respond, first and foremost to the basics of what makes us human.

Young people have always been the trend-setters. That’s just the way life and culture is. And it’s the way it should be.

But they’re still people.

Let’s remember that.

Ben is the big boss at Grey Fox Communications and Marketing Ltd. You can find him on Twitter and on LinkedIn, while you can find about about Grey Fox on their website. Oh, and be sure to check out Ben’s podcast too!