First, video killed the radio star. Then, CDs, MP3s and the iPod caused the death of their predecessors. From the 1990s to the mid-2000s, it seemed like the future of music was directly headed for increasingly smaller players in increasingly intangible formats. But just when the last iPods started giving way to entirely online streaming services, millennial audiophiles suddenly fell back in love with vinyl records — a music format they never even knew growing up.
How curious, it seems, that a similar thing is happening between millennial shoppers and mobile and physical coupons.
The supporting data comes from a recent study conducted by Quad/Graphics: "Millennials: An Emerging Consumer Powerhouse." While conventional wisdom would state that millennials are the most suited of all for the ongoing crush of mobile coupons and digital rewards programs, more than half tend to ignore these types of discounts. Joel Quadracci, CEO of Quad/Graphics, noted that the only explanation for over 50 percent of millennials opening and reading emails from retailers and giving the greatest amount of attention to direct mail and print advertising is that they're looking for something different than what common sense marketing thinks they do.
“Millennials are a connected, media-astute generation, who are completely in control of when and how they engage with content across an ever-growing number of media channels,” Quadracci said in a statement. “This has created a crisis of measurement for marketers, who are challenged to optimize their marketing spend across channels to break through the clutter, engage with the end user and increase response and loyalty. Our report shows that millennials engage with different channels for different reasons, with all of them contributing value on the path to purchase. Further, our research supports that brands perform better when using a balanced approach with online and offline channels.”
As a commercial print services company, Quad/Graphics' results should be taken with a grain of salt. However, they shouldn't be entirely discounted, either. A Sept. 2015 study from Epsilon (reported on via Adweek) found that mobile ads barely registered on millennials' radars heading into the holiday shopping season — just 2 percent of consumers reported being influenced by mobile ads. In comparison, magazine ads reached 4 percent of pre-holiday millennial shoppers, direct mail ads made it through to 12 percent and newspapers managed to reach 19 percent of young consumers.
What's behind this turn towards the old in couponing and discount retail? The lazy marketing professional might throw his or her hands up and grumble about the fickleness of the younger generation, but it might be just as, if not more, likely that marketers themselves have driven away what's thought to be a generation inseparable from mobile technology. FierceRetail reported on a 2015 Urban Airship study that found retail experienced the largest year-over-year decline in opt-in rates for mobile push notification programs.
It was enough to make CEO Brett Caine caution mobile marketers about a potential upcoming engagement cliff.
"As more and more apps turn to notifications for four times greater engagement and two times greater retention, it's natural users will become more selective about which apps they allow to send push notifications," Caine said in a statement. "There's no other business-to-consumer communications channel that, on average and across every industry, achieves at least one-third of the audience opting in."
If retailers can't make mobile marketing work with millennials, they're not likely to have a much easier time with their older counterparts as time goes on. The inverse applies as well: As millennials are replaced by even younger consumers, who is to say that they won't be even better at tuning out the white noise of mobile push notifications in favor of other, older ways of engaging with their favorite brands?