What Taylor Swift Taught This Non-Millennial About Engagement

Cover image for  article: What Taylor Swift Taught This Non-Millennial About Engagement

I am not a Millennial. But, I can’t escape them as a marketer.

The lion’s share of my co-workers are Millennials, and every brand I touch wants to figure out how to “engage Millennials.” So, irrespective of the hundreds of articles, surveys, polls and white papers I’ve collected and read on how to engage with them, you can imagine my shock when I begrudgingly shook it off at the Taylor Swift concert this summer and unexpectedly found my “aha.”

I went into T Swift’s concert kicking and screaming. I knew one song, and even that wasn’t on my playlist. Yet from the moment I walked through the turnstiles, Taylor offered up a truly engaging experience.

We talk a lot about driving fanaticism with our clients and how fanaticism is the ultimate form of engagement. But it can only happen when the right storytelling tactics are put into play to make the listener (aka your target consumer) want to continue the conversation.

What T Swift taught me is that there are really three simple rules of engagement:

1.  Make them ask, “What’s next?” A glow-in-the-dark bracelet was slapped on my wrist when my ticket was scanned -- ooh, mystery; I was intrigued! I took my seat and was surrounded by screaming fans (of all ages, surprisingly) that were talking about whom Taylor’s surprise guests would be that night. Boom – I was even more intrigued (turned out to be Nick Jonas and Taylor’s “squad” of Super Models). Then the stadium went dark, the crowd erupted and suddenly there were twinkly lights as far as the eye could see. It was magical. I quickly realized they were coming from the bracelets, and I couldn’t help it … I started cheering, too. I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. And that’s when it hit me: I was truly engaged.

How can this translate to your brand? Look at your annualized program and figure out how you can break down your larger story into chapters and then create some suspense. For example, if your innovation pipeline will unveil new products or services this year, figure out a way to tease the release and involve your target in just how much information gets revealed based on social interaction, tweets, use of hashtags, etc. In the past we’ve launched new flavor innovations for our food and beverage brands by releasing muted imagery and asked consumers to submit their guess as to what’s coming next. This tactic builds a groundswell of buzz and creates conversations around new innovations before products actually launch.

2. Let go. While Taylor’s set may have been the same night after night across her world tour, you can tell from her Instagram (62 million followers strong) just how different each concert was. Crowd interaction, audience response and the volume of cheers led to how she revealed and brought her special guest stars to the stage. Surprise and delight layers fueled real-time social sharing; I saw fans posting feverishly to Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook in the moment. Taylor framed the narrative, but then let the story unfold in a participatory, two-way format. It was living proof that if you allow your target to contribute to the story versus just asking them to listen, you end up with a much richer, more generative story.

How can this translate to your brand? If your brand isn’t currently leveraging user-generated content, figure out ways to involve the consumer through contests and rewards-based initiatives that are more than simply offering free product. Reward them with experiences at which your brand sits in the center.

3.  Be a part of their life, not just a brand. Taylor’s diatribes between sets were a bit much for this GenXer; however, I watched in amazement as she waxed philosophical about owning independence and self-validation. As many around me were crying and laughing or screaming, “I love you, Taylor!” I thought, “Wow, how can a brand harness this power?” Then I realized that she commanded this reaction because most of the audience felt like they knew Taylor on a personal level; that she was truly a part of their lives because of the media and her social footprint.

How can this translate to your brand? Craft your key messages and then support them with content and social posts that reinforce the role you play in your target’s lifestyle. For example, in our work for Bugaboo strollers, all of our key messages ladder back to the emotional pull between a mother and wanting to do what is best for her baby. We tug at her heartstrings by positioning Bugaboo not just as a stroller, but as a baby’s first set of wheels.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought Taylor Swift could impact my thinking around engagement. Where I netted out is that it’s not something you can dictate or force. You can strategize and plan and put a smart offering in place that has all the makings to stir engagement.  But real engagement happens where the head meets the heart.

I should have known, as soon as those lights dimmed, that girl was trouble when she walked in.

Image at top courtesy of Corbis. The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of MediaVillage/MyersBizNet management or associated bloggers.

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