If your company's intent is to capture the hearts and dollars of consumers of all ages you're in for a challenge. After all, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials have vastly different experiences, values and preferences, which means connecting with each will necessitate different tactics.

U-Haul EVP Stuart Shoen knows all about it. The 34-year-old grandson of the iconic moving company's founder says that while anybody over 40 probably has, at some point, stepped foot inside a U-Haul truck or trailer or purchased boxes from the company which sells them cheaper than Walmart, it's not a slam dunk when it comes to people younger than 24 who have a smartphone in hand nearly every waking moment.

U-Haul's strategy is surprisingly fresh for a 70-year-old company: Slap thousands of customer-taken moving photos onto all of its trucks through a #uhaulfamous campaign. Even though there's no money to win, more than 15,000 people have submitted their images to the campaign via Instagram and uhaulfamous.com, apparently digging the idea of selfies that are GPS-enabled so if they wanted to take a photo of their photo on a truck they can stalk the vehicle and go find it in the real world.

Here's what Shoen says companies need to do in order to connect with a younger demographic.

1. Craft a robust online presence.

Young people perform online research before making purchases so make sure they can get answers about your products and services online and pay for them digitally, as well, whether it's on a laptop, tablet or phone. Also, have a blog with content that's actually useful. In U-Haul's case it's one called MovingInsider.com where the company posts articles that explain how to do things like make Christmas tree ornaments out of moving supplies or throw an amazing Minecraft party using boxes. And your social media team needs to be engaging with fans and customers seven days a week. "We're finding out that against our assumptions that people would prefer to not call us," Shoen says. "They would prefer to deal with it electronically whether that's through a social channel or email and resolve problems never even speaking to us on the phone."

2. Create a sense of community.

Millennials seek online advice and affirmation more than any other generation. Just look at the popularity of platforms such as Twitter and Instagram which are all about people sharing mundane habits and behaviors. Not only do they care how others perceive their posts, they'll take them down if they don't get enough comments or likes. Shoen says that's where U-Haul's #uhaulfamous photo campaign comes into play. Whereas the company could use the exteriors of its trucks to advertise its own products, instead it wants customers to feel like they're part of a larger community of people undergoing a huge milestone--moving. "We see what they're doing and we want to dignify it, we want to affirm it, we want to give credit to it," he says.

3. Respect their online space.

A much larger proportion of a younger person's life is online, compared with people who grew up without the Internet or smartphones. Many companies exploit this reality and use the wealth of information available about online consumer behavior to inundate people with targeted advertising--much of it unwelcome. If you're interested in building brand affinity only push out content customers actually want and only on the channels they're using to interact with your brand. Not only will you build trust by honoring your customers' online attention, you'll be using your own resources smartly.

"If you're not careful you will have a massive social part of your organization [and] you'll have to commit a ton of cost to it and now you're going to have to demand these massive results," he says. Now it's about you and it's not about the customer."

Published on: Dec 9, 2014
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