One of the challenges for many business owners is finding the right way to bridge the generational gap and appeal to new, young customers. Understanding the behaviors and values of this target market is extremely important, but small businesses already have an advantage. Quite often the millennial generation appears to prefer smaller companies, believing that large companies can be too slow to adapt to developing trends and care more about profit than people. Here are a few tips to appeal to the new generation of consumers.

Use Visual Storytelling

The strongest driving force behind popularity on the Internet is visual, meaning images and video are gold. Traditional marketing's reliance on just hoping that people will be excited over a new verbal twist or idea is long gone. Brands need to be constantly driving the conversation with images that consumers receive and appreciate. Large companies like Kraft have already caught onto the game, putting out videos, for instance, that are prime examples of how content excellence can drive a company forward. Small businesses can follow the model by incorporating image and video whenever possible and sharing images either directly through their website or from the social media platforms.

One of the more important underlying concepts here is that people who work in marketing departments should be solid "citizens of the Internet." Make sure you and your coworkers spend a good amount of time on popular web sites, keeping up to date with the news, as well as the latest memes and trends on sites like Reddit. Knowing what the huge hordes of young folks like to consume in their free time can give you potential ways to reach them about whatever product your selling. Visual storytelling is one of these ways, and you will pick up things like that if you're a functioning citizen of the Internet.

Develop a Sustainable/Eco-Friendly Image

Sustainability and environmental responsibility are at the top of many consumers' list of priorities, particularly the younger generation of millennials (who often hate to be called that incidentally). In fact, a recent survey showed that 55 percent of consumers around the globe are willing to pay more for products or services if they know that the companies behind those products are committed to being sustainable and socially responsible. Brands that develop sustainable fronts that consumers generally associate with green, sustainable, and trustworthy products often do better on the marketplace. This trend will continue to grow, driven largely by the significant number of millennials looking to be socially responsible in their consumption.

Incorporate Social Media Marketing

Undoubtedly one of the best ways to bridge the generational gap is to incorporate social media into the business model. There are several social media networks to choose from, and though choosing just one may be easier, giving customers several options to connect with is ideal. Just having a website isn't enough--small businesses need a solid Web presence that includes social media output on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Pinterest, and Instagram, among others.

Asking questions, paying close attention to followers' tastes, and holding contests are just some of the basics in this area. One clothing company ran a Pinterest contest giving winners a new prom dress. Big brands like Bravo even used a Linkedin contest to help promote a new show. Campaigns like these allow a fairly constant flow of communication and co-creation of new material which, in turn, keeps a company fun and exciting.

Why does this newer generation of customers love to "co-create" the products and services that are being sold to them? It's partly because they not only want, but expect, to have a relationship or personal connection with the companies they patronize. With social media platforms, small businesses have a much easier time testing products by sharing them with customers and getting quick feedback. By using Facebook and Instagram for instance, customers also have the opportunity to post on the products and feel like they are part of a larger network.

Don't Ignore Mobile

While older generations may be shy around technology, millennials are the mobile device generation and there's no way to ignore this fact if a small business wants to catch some of these customers. A vast amount of their content consumption is taking place on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, which means that optimizing websites for these small screens is essential. For smartphone users, one of the most frustrating experiences is landing on a page that loads slowly or isn't formatted for the device. Small businesses should take advantage of mobile marketing and make sure their online presence is equally suited for desktop or mobile.

As you work to target younger demographics, remember that the goal line keeps getting moved. Cultivating a base of fans and followers for you company or brand is a process that is never finished. People can be fickle regardless of age and their interests change over time. Marketing teams must to continue laying the ground work for attracting new fans by building compelling content staying engaged. If you want to build strong relationships with perhaps the most Internet-ensconced generation out there, you had better be Internet-ensconced yourself. Get creative and enjoy the ongoing journey of telling your brand's story to the world.

Published on: Feb 6, 2015