Businesses Must Court the Millennials

Marketing instructor stresses embracing interactive media

  Twitter's blue bird icon. (Credit: Wikicommons). 

Twitter's blue bird icon. (Credit: Wikicommons). 

By Joseph Kellard

Leone Baum has problems with the way younger people are communicating, with text and instant messages, MySpace postings and Twitter updates. “I don’t think it’s helping our social situation by never looking at or touching people,” said Baum, vice president of the Hempstead Chamber of Commerce.

While some sociologists may agree with Baum, Mitch Tobol, a partner in the Amityville-based marketing firm CGT Marketing, sees that attitude toward interactive media as bad for business. “Instead of trying to push it away, embrace it,” Tobol stressed to Baum and some 70 other businessmen and women at a seminar on March 12, titled “Successful Marketing in Challenging Times,” at Hofstra.

Tobol’s oft-repeated theme is that there are always business opportunities, regardless of the economic conditions, and one of the places to find them is the rapidly expanding world of blogs, iPhones and Google alerts.

“It’s not just about the economy,” he said. “If you want to market successfully, you need to understand the environment you’re in.”

While Tobol’s PowerPoint presentation touched on everything from branding to pricing to purchasing patterns, he tied it all to what has become the marketing world’s major focus: the Internet and youth. As the relevance of the baby boom generation and traditional marketing methods — particularly advertising — wanes, interactive technology, and the new generation of “millennials,” are on the rise. By 2015, this generation, generally acknowledge to have begun in 1977, will become the U.S.’s largest demographic segment.

This has already caused seismic shifts in marketing, with tech-savvy consumers who can instantly find competitive services and products, Tobol explained. “The marketing message is now in the hands of the consumers,” he said. “They are all-powerful."

Technology allows them to send and receive messages in seconds, and they tell everybody — everybody — what they are thinking. This is a totally new dynamic in marketing. If you are not aware of it, you need to be.”

Today, consumers can register their evaluations of businesses and their products and services on Epinions.com, which offers “unbiased reviews by real people,” and similar Web sites. “When someone writes something bad about your business, engage that person,” Tobol said, noting that complaints are a window into a company’s weaknesses.

He talked about how CEOs of major companies, including General Motors, keep daily blogs, making it possible for consumers to write to them — access those consumers have never had.

The marketing message is now in the hands of the consumers. They are all-powerful.
— Mitch Tobol

Tobol stressed that in the age of the Internet, it is critical for businesses not only to have a Web site, but make it distinct from those of their competitors. “It’s where more and more people, every single day, will experience your firm for the very first time,” he said.

Gary Curley, a plumber from Suffolk County who attended the seminar, said he is “old school” when it comes to his Web site. “He mentioned constantly updating your site and being interactive with it,” Curley said. “That kind of put the light on me a little bit there.”

After listening to Tobol, Curley said, he understood that he needed to make better use of social and business networking sites to promote himself as an extension of his company. “He really opened my eyes to the fact that using them could be a good marketing strategy,” he said.

Tobol described Facebook, MySpace and other networking sites as the “new frontier” in marketing. He cautioned that while some people successfully use Facebook for business, the site focuses primarily on social networking. “If you go full force in business on it,” he said, “a lot of people are bound to turn you off.”

Many merchants fail to take advantage of the business-to-business sites LinkedIn and Plaxo, Tobol said. Another attendee, Carine Ulano-Firestone, who sells jewelry, gifts and accessories online from her Bellmore home, said she was in the dark about these sites until she attended Tobol’s marketing courses at Hofstra’s Entrepreneurial Assistance Program.

Another member of the audience, Pat Savella, who owns a decorating business, said she plans to take Tobol’s advice to nurture existing clients — the people most likely to do business, who he termed “low-hanging fruit” — because they are the best return on any company’s marketing dollar. “I’m going to try go back to those customers instead of trying to deal with the ones who are always trying to lowball everything,” Savella said. “I’ve learned to appreciate the clients I have and work with them more.”

Baum, who regularly attends business-related seminars and relays what she learns to the Hempstead Chamber, said that Tobol had impressed on her the importance of business Web sites and interlinking them. “A lot of our businesses in our chamber already do have Web sites,” she said, “but some are terrible, and I do think that they should be linking their sites with our Chamber and other Chambers.”
 

* This story originally appeared in the Long Beach Herald in 2009.