5 Ways You Need to Rethink Your Institution’s Young Adult Strategy

Originally appeared on The Financial Brand

To craft an effective marketing strategy for young adults, you have to start by tossing out all your assumptions, generalizations and stereotypes about this valuable segment.

Original article

Original article

Attracting young adults has been a focal point across the aging credit union industry for the past decade. On the community banking side, there isn’t as much marketing energy applied to young adults, but it’s still a concern. With more and more young adults gravitating to large national and international financial institutions, reaching this audience segment is a struggle for community banks and credit unions alike.

Over the past ten years, marketing to young adults has been based largely on generalizations and assumptions. Here are five areas you should reevaluate as you formulate your marketing strategy.

1. Think about layers, not about a magic bullet

In this age of social media marketing, digital marketing, content marketing, mobile marketing and whatever-comes-next marketing, it’s easy for financial marketers to eschew marketing basics and simply glom onto the next thing. This is especially true when we think about attracting young adults to financial institutions. Jumping to rash generalizations like, “Why would we use old-fashioned media to attract young people?” can result in subpar marketing performance.

Instead, take an integrated marketing approach.Build your marketing plan around a great product offer and a differentiated market position. Start there, then layer on your media and tactics (traditional and non-traditional). If radio or TV can make an impact with young adults and is affordable in your marketplace, don’t discount it just because it’s not presently celebrated as the next, great, magical marketing vehicle. Add it to the media mix along with social, digital and content.

Key Thought: Don’t let the media you employ drive your marketing strategy. It should be the other way around. And media channels should never be viewed in isolation (think: “integrated”).

2. Think life stages, not demographics

Instead of thinking in terms of generational segmentation, like, “We need a Gen-Y strategy,” think about life events and what your bank or credit union can do to be helpful at these times. There is a tremendous amount of change and disruption in a young person’s life as they transition from high school to college, and from college to the real world. They are buying their first cars and first houses, they are dating and getting married and are beginning to build a family. All of these events represent opportunities for credit unions and banks. Young people are looking for a car, not a car loan. They are looking for an education, not a student loan. They are looking for a way to build credit, not a credit card.

Key Thought: Concentrate on life events. Make your financial institution relevant, useful and visible as young people look towards building their future. Generations will come and go, but life events will continue to impact all young people as they move through their late teens and early 20s.

3. Think tech dependent, not tech savvy

As the era of the personal computer emerged, young people of the day— myself included— emerged along with it. We learned how to navigate a DOS prompt, how to install a new graphics card and a power supply. We discovered and experienced the internet as it grew from its crude, tender beginnings. We hacked together rudimentary websites. We grew up with an appreciation of how technology was fundamentally changing before our eyes. And yet, we herald today’s young people as more tech savvy than ever. In actuality, the young adults of today are tech dependent, not tech savvy.

Gen-Y doesn’t know how to fix things when they aren’t working. An iPad doesn’t even have any screws, so young people can’t poke around inside to see how it actually works. Young people don’t know where they saved their files, because the very concept of a “file system” is disappearing. Young adults have no patience for — or even the ability to use — technology that isn’t extremely intuitive. An iOS or Android app that isn’t polished and engaging gets tossed aside seconds after the first use. An online banking experience that isn’t dead simple is deemed useless by increasingly judgmental young adults. An overly cumbersome account opening process is abandoned more times than it’s completed. Think of the user first in everything you create, deploy and promote.

Key Thought: It’s not about providing technology-centric solutions. It’s about making it easier for people to get what they want.

4. Think human, not robotic

Social networks have become the dumping grounds for every marketer in the known universe and people, especially young people, are becoming immune to your one-way corporate blasts. Insightful conversations have been replaced by cutesy hashtags, promoted posts and marketing automation that misses the “social” core of social media. Your links to the latest Dave Ramsey budgeting tips cannot compete with the emotion-filled bonanza at the other end of a Buzzfeed or Upworthy tweet.

There’s a glut of content being shared, and your young adult followers aren’t interested in your attempts at being a thought leader or your obsession with how many people clicked on your latest Bitly link. They are interested in help, humor and humility.

Key Thought: Don’t fall into the trap of sharing more links to stuff you didn’t create than actual original words that you thought of all by yourself.

5. Think real world, not virtual reality

Did you know that there’s a world outside of the internet? It may seem hard to believe, when everything is digital these days. But most of the sharing that occurs in social settings still happens when phones and laptops are turned off. As you develop your young adult marketing strategies, make sure that there is a healthy dose of real-world activities in your integrated marketing mix. Consider event sponsorships, street teams, brand ambassadors on campus, guerrilla activities and stunts, student orientation events and sports.

Key Thought: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that marketing to young adults is purely on online affair. Get outside and mix it up in person.

What do you think?

That’s just five topics to rethink when crafting your young adult marketing strategies. What do you think? What other young adult marketing stereotypes need debunking?


Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec, and co-creator of the CU Water Cooler.