Nine ideas to market to young people who avoid marketing

marketing to young people


I was recently talking with a young influencer and I offered to send her one of my books.

“I don’t read books,” she said.

“OK, how about an audiobook?”

“I don’t listen to books either. The only content I consume is YouTube. I have the ad-free version and that is all I watch all day long.”

This story is not unusual. Younger people are moving away from traditional media, burrowing themselves in private communities, and moving out of reach of marketers.

So if you’re a brand … how do you reach her? How do you market to young people who seem unreachable?

I posed this question to the smart marketers of the RISE community and thought I would share their insightful and creative answers!

1. Short form and influencers

Brian Piper, Content Consultant, Author, Speaker

To market to young people, you have to learn how to deliver your message on the channels where they are. Repurpose your content into short-form videos for social and get your expertise into places being scraped to build AI data models (sites like Reddit and Quora, featured snippets in Google, and guest blog/vlog appearances).

Engage and collaborate with influencers and participate in online communities where your audience finds trusted answers. By participating and getting involved, you can establish yourself as a go-to resource.

Research shows that 37% of consumers trust influencers over brands, with Gen Z and Millennials being twice as likely to do this compared with their Boomer counterparts. Further, 32% of Gen Z rely on social media influencers to help them discover brands and products.

2. Stickers rule

market to young people

Valentina Escobar-Gonzalez, Bilingual Marketing Consultant

I recently spent time with several 12-year-old Girl Scouts; they are still too young to be joining social media platforms.

I asked them this question — if they needed to market a hypothetical friendship bracelet business for an entrepreneurship merit badge, what would they do? They said this:

  • Billboards/posters (in the hallway in school, bathroom stalls, and in theaters)
  • Ads/ sponsorships on Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora,
  • Stickers on desktops, phones, and their Stanley mugs

I guess you’ve really made it if your sticker is on their precious Stanley cup!

3. Solve their problems

Emiliano Reisfeld, MBA, L’Oreal

These generations will not seek brands with AI or search — they are seeking solutions to problems. Therefore, for the case of ChatGPT, a consumer from this group might ask, for example, “What perfume would you recommend to dazzle at a party?” To which the AI will search for information across millions of pages. Consequently, presence in recommendations, brand mentions, press releases, etc., will lead people from these groups to find your brand.

I think the same will happen for social search in terms of search behavior. Consumers inquire about solutions to problems. In the case of TikTok and Instagram, I understand that the algorithm sorts content based on the impact of the generated content. Therefore, to market to young people, it will be highly relevant for a brand that content generation focuses much more on the solutions or needs that your product satisfies: content about usage rather than product functionalities.

4. Get with the memes

Aaron Hassen, Chief Marketer at AH Marketing

Instead of talking about commercials around the water cooler like past generations, Gen Z and Gen Alpha are more likely to share short videos, GIFs, and image-based memes that reflect their perspectives and values with friends. Brands have an opportunity to create entertaining and thought-provoking assets that include subtle product placements and have those assets distributed by trusted influencers.

5. Explore the world of gaming

market to young people

Anna Bravington, Marketing Strategist

100 percent human contentI recently received an email from a UK brand called Clarks, a shoe shop not known for its forward-thinking nature. The email shared pictures of their latest kids’ shoes and mentioned that they had a Roblox game with characters from the shoes.

Gaming and kids’ shoes might seem like an odd combination, but let me share some figures with you.

  • There are 3.32 billion active video gamers worldwide, that’s about 42% of the world’s population. In places like the US and the UK, over half the population plays games.
  • Around 60% of those gamers are under 35, mainly encompassing Gen Z/Gen Alpha. That sure is a lot of people! Now, when we say gaming, remember this doesn’t just include playing on the PC or console; mobile gaming is huge, too.

Yet many brands don’t see gaming as a marketing channel, even if they’re aiming at the Gen Z/Gen Alpha audience. But there is so much opportunity to engage with this audience on a channel they love and spend a lot of their time on.

There are so many ways for brands to interact through gaming:

  • Branded games, such as Clarks Playprints and Walmart Discovered on Roblox
  • Custom DLC (digital content) such as clothing, accessories, and items.
  • In-game events. DJ Marshmello’s event in Fortnite had 10.7 million attendees.
  • If you want something that’s a bit more like traditional advertising, then sponsorship, product placements, and ads. London-based startup Bidstack allows brands to have dynamic ads in video games, such as the banners around the pitch in FIFA, the popular football game (think of it a bit like a digital version of out-of-home advertising).

Instead of brands expecting the audience to come to them, it’s time for them to go to the audience and interact with them in a way that feels comfortable, builds trust, and brings value to their lives.

6. Immersive experiences

Joeri Billast, The Web3 CMO

Diving into the world of AR and VR to create experiences that blend the real with the digital is like inviting Gen Z and Gen Alpha into a story where they’re not just observers but active participants. For example, letting them try on clothes virtually before buying or taking them on a virtual adventure that starts in their living room but feels like they’re exploring another world.

This approach builds engagement, and moreover, it builds a bond between them and you, making each interaction more memorable and personal.

7. Win AI search

Joanne Taylor, Professional Editor

To earn awareness and be discovered by AI search, you need to be an excellent communicator who understands your audience. Double down on meaning because semantics are coming to the fore.

AI is increasingly good at interpreting user intent due to its ever-growing understanding of the semantics of natural language. So, word-specific search terms are becoming less important than the meaning and context behind those words. This is particularly relevant to AI voice search as queries become longer and more conversational.

Expertise, authority, and trustworthiness still matter for AI search, but don’t get sidetracked attempting to jump through hoops. Earn awareness by answering the questions of your specific audience – and do it better than anyone else. Meaningfully address their genuine needs. Get your message across clearly by being a great communicator, whether written or otherwise. Excellent writing, for example, often lies in clarity of expression, depth of human insight, and ability to engage and move the reader.

Keep in mind that the people you want to serve come first. You can win AI semantic search by clearly conveying meaningful value to your specific audience, and AI will tell relevant users about you!

8. Meet them where they are

Zack Seipert, Marketing & Communications Specialist

How do you market to young people? Let’s look at where these individuals hanging out. Where do they spend their time? Who are they with? What interests them?

Now, this undoubtedly means digital spaces such as TikTok, Instagram, etc. But it also means meeting them where they are in real life.

Recently my coworkers and I were contemplating this exact same question. How can we get our important messages seen and heard by this young segment of our audience? One potential solution rose to the top of our list — host a trivia night!

We called up local pubs and asked if we could host a trivia night. We would provide the necessary equipment, run the trivia show, and supply awards for the winners.

We prepared trivia questions in advance on a variety of topics, but they all revolved around water and conservation (our message!). So we created questions about water in cinema, water in music, water in pop culture, and we even threw in some questions about our organization (who we are, what we do, etc).

QR codes made it easy to follow us on social media and our website.

9. Re-mix, re-create, reimagine

I’ll conclude this post with an idea of my own.

Nearly all social media and content strategy up until this point has been about broadcasting a message.

But if you look at the culture of TikTok (the culture of youth), the space is about appropriating ideas, messages, memes, and music to create something new. There are entire genres of content re-mixing commercials for car companies, movies, and other products.

There is probably nothing your marketing and legal department will fear more than customers re-mixing your commercial, and yet, that’s how the messages are being spread today. This suggests two ways to connect with youth culture: create content that is very re-mixable and re-mix memes yourself to include your brand. This is already happening in small ways, but I think it will emerge as a larger trend.

Need a keynote speaker? Mark Schaefer is the most trusted voice in marketing. Your conference guests will buzz about his insights long after your event! Mark is the author of some of the world’s bestselling marketing books, a college educator, and an advisor to many of the world’s largest brands. Contact Mark to have him bring a fun, meaningful, and memorable presentation to your company event or conference.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram

Illustration courtesy MidJourney

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details