In 1964, Bob Dylan told us that the times, they are a-changin’, just as the Baby Boomer generation was coming of age and taking on the world’s environmental and social problems with protests and flower power.
In many ways, that era of empowered social action has returned. The millennial generation is more empathetic and more politically and socially active than their Gen X predecessors. Millennials are seeking jobs that impact society and look to contribute to change. According to Deloitte’s latest millennial survey, 63 percent of millennials donate to charities and 37 percent of those surveyed say they are receptive to cause marketing.
Image source: Fast Company
But on the other hand, millennials aren’t attracted to cloying appeals like Christian Children’s Fund commercials or Sarah Mclachlan’s animal cruelty donation requests. Gen Y has been pounded since birth with marketing messages and technology, and the mass and information it aids in delivering, has transformed this group into a generation of savvy consumers.
That’s why today’s most successful organizations are building brands and effectively using storytelling and social media to stand out, attract new supporters, and convert loyal followers into long-lasting brand advocates.
Storytelling Through Video
charity: water’s mission is to provide clean and safe drinking water to those in need. The organization’s website is filled with gorgeous, compelling imagery and statistics about the eight million people in our world who live without clean water. And there’s no better medium for describing the company’s mission than through well-produced, powerful video stories.
Rachel Bechwith was a nine year old from the Seattle area who dreamed of raising $300 for charity: water when, just $80 short of her goal, she died in a car accident. Hundreds of people around the world heard her story through local and national news, and donated to her campaign. Ultimately, $1.2 million was raised by supporters around the world. In honor of Rachel and her family, charity: water filmed Rachel’s mother and grandparents visiting the wells that Rachel and her supporters helped build in Ethiopia.
With the support of a community of donors who cover the high production costs in their videos and photography, charity: water is able to show off its storytelling techniques. The organization, one of the first non-profits active on Twitter and Instagram, extends this carefully curated narrative across their social media platforms. Their blog is filled with informal stories, like the “Where in the World is Tyler Riewer?” series, which showcases the human element behind the brand.
Be Careful What You Wish For: Authenticity Is Everything
But winning the hearts and minds of millennials isn’t as simple as slapping together a slick commercial and calling it a day. The more eyes you have on your organization, the more you have to truly live up to the values your brand stands for.
In March 2012, Invisible Children, an organization committed to raising awareness about Africa’s infamous Lord Resistance Army, launched its “Kony 2012” campaign with a 30 minute film. The company’s goal was to demonstrate to the world that Joseph Kony, head of the LRA, was a ruthless kidnapper who forced children to become soldiers in Uganda in his personal army.
The response was enormous, with the film receiving 50 million views on YouTube in its first five days. It contained all the textbook elements for attracting an audience: a compelling personal story, relevant supporting evidence, and a clear call to action. It even had a merchandising component to extend the message. And then things went horribly wrong.
The campaign’s global reach was the organization’s undoing: their international fame focused a bright light on the dark corners of some ethical shortcomings; big questions were raised about the organization’s structure and budget. And when its co-founder had a public meltdown soon after the film was released, many questioned whether Invisible Children was an organization they really wanted to be involved with. “Kony 2012” proved that idealism and passion aren’t enough to woo an astute generation that values authenticity and transparency.
Capitalize on Social Good
Millennials crave information. According to a study conducted by Tumblr and Yahoo, 76 percent of the millennials interviewed expressed a desire to learn things in order to become better informed about the world at large. They want to be inspired. And the massive recent successes of websites like Upworthy.com and PolicyMic show that millennials seek a strong emotional connection to content.
These sites are changing the tone of viral, shareable content. In fact, good marketing and brand building have always been about telling and sharing stories.
Chipotle and Always are two great examples of companies that have used cause marketing to great effect: Always’ “Like a Girl” video and Chipotle’s animated short about industrial farming connected with audiences by drawing attention to two meaningful issues, women’s rights and sustainable eating, and highlighting important facts and ideas about them.
Get Creative on Unexpected Platforms
How do you cut through the noise when most millennials don’t find normal content compelling enough to share on social media? Make it personal.
UNICEF created a mock Pinterest board that belonged to Ami Musa, a 13 year old girl from Sierra Leone. Instead of pinning bridesmaids dresses, recipes, or light fixtures, the board was filled with pins for the everyday aspects of our lives that we take for granted, like soap, clean water, and shoes.
Another successful example of creative social media marketing is the #nomakeupselfie campaign: the hashtag began with people posting pictures of themselves without makeup on Facebook and Instagram, but then Cancer Research UK jumped on the opportunity and asked people to post a message with their selfie to donate to the organization via text, thus turning a selfie into something meaningful. Less than one week later, and Cancer Research UK raised more than £8 million with #nomakeupselfie.
Millennials expect to engage deeply and in a meaningful way with any organization that they support through their purchases, donations, or social media endorsements. Any organization seeking to win their trust may want to consider this worldview.