How to give youth what they really, really want

Banks’ targeting of young people betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of their attitudes to money. Adopting a more positive approach would be a change for the better. Nigel Morris is a director at Full Circle and marketing director of BBJ Me

Even with the finest media plan and best will in the world, an ill-conceived marketing strategy can seriously damage a campaign’s chances. This is best illustrated in the youth market.

There are now more youth marketing strategies than you could shake a Spice Girl at.

Young people are media advertising’s toughest critics. Even the most carefully constructed strategies are spotted a mile off, deconstructed and then ridiculed by young people if they don’t get it right. It used to be that “kids are fickle”. Now it’s “kids are advertising- and media-literate”. Not quite as prosaic, but it reflects a problem for brands that need to reach them with a product or a message.

To meet the challenge there are an increasing number of specialist youth agencies, researchers and consultants attempting to gain a deeper understanding of how young people think. They are skilled in discovering what motivates them, how they arrive at decisions, and helping brands communicate successfully.

However, there is a problem with consultants and clients becoming over-reliant on this extra knowledge to win young hearts and minds. If we simply try to understand young people to exploit them we will fail. We must try and contribute something to the culture. But how?

Financial services, for instance, has chased the youth sector for well over a decade, with a tenacity and an ineptitude that is quite awe-inspiring. Yet the banks are in a fantastic position to add something real.

Youth is the life stage of maximum energy, enthusiasm and opportunity, but with the minimum funds to fulfil desires. Thanks to the introduction of tuition fees, young people will probably continue to have little money and be saddled with debt into their late Twenties.

In response, the banks construct youth recruitment campaigns, complete with the freebie of the month, straining themselves to emphasise their empathy and street credibility to a degree that’s simply not credible.

However, once recruited, the majority of young people have a relationship with their bank that is a state of scarcely disguised warfare, with guerrilla tactics necessary to try and flush much-needed funds out of the system. There needs to be a new approach.

If banks focused more on the positive and really understood the role of money in young people’s lives it could be very different. It makes no sense to spend so much time and money attracting young customers and then not deliver a service that is oriented towards them.

Successful brands have to act as service businesses organised around the central proposition. Therefore, if you target young people, don’t waste your free CD vouchers, cinema tickets and 20 current account starter packs unless you are going to offer a service that meets their needs. They are less interested in savings and pensions, and more interested in finding ways of coping better.

Just think of the difference in the relationship if a letter was sent saying: “You’re only 50 away from your overdraft limit, please give us a call to see if we can help,” as opposed to: “You’ve gone over your limit, you can’t have any more cash and by the way here’s a charge of 30 just to make things worse.”

This is the true meaning of being customer-focused – and whoever gets it right first will enjoy a real long-term benefit.

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