IBM engages Generation Y

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Pamela Evans
Pamela Evans

Generation Y, the millennial cohort that came of age at the turn of the century, is beginning to join the ranks of decision makers, and business-to-business marketers are having to adjust to their changing tastes. Pamela Evans, global digital marketing manager of IBM Corp., interfaces with them regularly through the growing ranks of software developers. She offered some advice during the Digital Media Days Conference & Expo.

DirectConnect: Gen Y is such a hard market to peg, how do you handle it in b-to-b?

Pamela Evans: Back 11 years ago, we established a website that's just for (software) developers, targeted toward Gen Y and what that particular audience really needs and wants to see. We're continuing to evolve that as the technology evolves, with sites that really do relate directly.

We're thinking about it in terms of building communities. We're not looking to push them to go places where we are; we really want to intercept them where they are.

DC: How do you intercept them?

Pamela Evans: We know mobile is important, but so is word-of-mouth. Some things never change; word-of-mouth is very important to Gen Y. They want to understand what their peers view as valuable.

Another surprising thing is direct mail. While we are transitioning with Digital Days, the generation that grew up online really sees it as unique to get a direct mail piece.

I have a 23-year-old college grad and I asked her what her favorite media is. She said: "Direct mail. That's something I don't get often, and when I do, I open it to see what it's about."

DC: What about Gen Y's short attention span from growing up with all this media?

Pamela Evans: We've got to intercept them where they are, we've got to be engaging and we've got to recognize that every day will be a change. I've been with IBM for 30 years, and that's the one principle you can always count on: A new day, a new change.

DC: So the message has to be constantly changing?

Pamela Evans: It has to be. It has to be relevant, it has to be adjusted, and we have to look for ways to be able to target and personalize in new ways.

We did a viral video last year using (personalized URLs) for something called IT Superstar. It was kind of a gag, because we wanted to have fun with the IT audience. We were using it to increase subscriptions in a newsletter and we got phenomenal response, a lot of pass-along.

That's another way to consider reaching this millennial audience, because word-of-mouth is so important. We have to look for opportunities for viral pass-along. Look at YouTube.

DC: It always seems to go back to social media.

Pamela Evans: It does. I think the challenge is how we measure it. To me, things come full circle. We're really in a position right now where it's all about that data. Does that sound familiar? 

DC: Going back to basics?

Pamela Evans: It is, but in a different way, and that's what makes it fun and exciting. Our current advertising campaign is a good example. Smarter Planet — that really hits at the core message.

One of the things we started with was something called Smarter Cities. We were going to have two events and this got announced to all our offices worldwide — we have 400,000 employees — and instead of having two events, local communities decided:  “Well, this is neat. I'm going to have an event.”

Instead of having the two that were funded, we had 100, because the local offices said, “We don't need the corporate funding, we have enough groundswell right here.“

It's nice to have an umbrella that we can do so many things under. And that's one of the advantages of IBM.

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