If you don’t look at your old work and see room for improvement, you’re probably not evolving enough — that’s especially true in the ever-evolving world of youth marketing. In fact, one of the most informative parts of our process is examining the results of every project to learn what worked, what didn’t, and, most importantly, how we can improve.
This year marks We The Collective’s 15th anniversary and we’re happy to say that our values haven’t changed, and the methods driving every one of our projects remain solid. And through applying those core principles of examining our own work, we’ve landed on 15 evergreen lessons to guide your brand toward connecting with its young fans — one for every year we’ve been in business.
1. Don’t chase trends
If we could, we would write this in the sky where everyone could see it. Following the right trend at the right time isn’t the secret to connecting with a young audience. By the time you’ve heard about the hottest new thing or read the results of a well-funded trend forecast, it’s already over.
Instead, focus on examining the context behind any given trend. That way, you’ll gain a greater understanding of the audience need just underneath the surface of the fad and how to address it with your marketing.
Read more: How your brand can get ahead of youth trends
2. Talking down to your audience takes your brand the wrong direction
In the same way that jumping on a TikTok challenge won’t move the needle for your brand, you can’t reach young audiences by trying to sound “cool.” Just be clear, direct, and authentic to your brand.
Granted, language differences exist between a marketing director and the teenage audience of fans you need to reach. But good design is universal, and creates a more sustainable connection than pretending your brand is something it’s not.
3. Emphasize emotional benefits rather than flashy new features
The details about your game engine or other practical details won’t create a real connection with the audience your brand needs. Instead, you have to focus on the real moments your product creates and how it will make a difference in their lives.
Ultimately, marketing to young people can be an unsavory business. By looking past the hard sell to focus on how your products will make people feel, you create a more lasting message and avoid ethical pitfalls.
4. The right amount of research matters
You need to understand your audience, but a multiyear demographic study will never capture the information you need in one fell swoop. A comprehensive, inclusive approach to research that draws from multiple sources is the surest way to identify your brand’s real problem. And, in the process, direct you to the right solution.
5. Demographics profiling is fleeting and limiting
Whether you know your audience as Gen Z, Zoomers, or any other label, you need to look past the demographic data. Traits associated with your target market today will inevitably pass — and along with them, any lasting connection with your brand.
Instead of staking a claim along shifting divides between age groups, you need to focus on building a generational brand. That way you avoid becoming another fleeting interest your audience can outgrow.
Read more: Your guide to creating a generational brand
6. Tap into communities to create connections with your brand
The marketplace is too fragmented to rely on a few specific age groups to move the needle for your brand. But marketing to the specific niches within your audience provides a more effective way to connect with your audience.
Instead of targeting a broad segment of women aged 15 to 18, look to puzzle solvers, “cozy game” fans, and other communities. Through community-based marketing, you empower your brand’s fans to find you, express themselves, and form a stronger connection.
7. Earning and retaining fan loyalty requires work
Capturing the affections of fans is the goal for any youth entertainment brand. But attracting fan interest doesn’t signal the end of your campaign. Fan connections and communities require consistent care, and you need to tap into the right platforms to nurture a potentially life-long connection.
8. Your product’s website is no longer the star of your digital ecosystem
At one time, the success of your brand’s marketing depended on driving customers to your website. But those days are over as young audiences fragment across multiple channels.
While we don’t suggest totally abandoning your website, you need to remember that it’s only one piece of a much larger digital puzzle. With a broad reach and increasing capacity to discover information, social platforms are the best way to reach young users.
9. Prioritize strong content over a specific channel
Instagram, YouTube, Twitch, and Discord are just a few tools of the trade when it comes to connecting with young audiences. But the channel you use isn’t nearly as valuable as the story your brand tells.
A billion active users on TikTok are behind the bonanza of brands flooding the channel. But before you create an account, you have to understand who your audience is, what they’re looking for, and what they want to hear from your brand.
10. Know the specifics of every channel for any campaign
Producing a video spot for your brand and expecting to reuse it on a social platform like YouTube or TikTok does a disservice to your brand. Each platform has distinct audiences and expectations you need to address with your campaign.
For example, YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram all offer possibilities for your brand to apply influencer marketing. But the norms differ for each channel, and they require a specialized approach to successfully navigate.
11. Size matters when considering an agency partner
As conventional wisdom once held, no one gets fired for hiring a massive, name-brand agency. However, you need to know what your brand is really getting for its investment.
From knowing creative talent who is dedicated to your brand to effective communication patterns, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to agencies. Not sure what we mean? We should definitely talk more about that.
12. Approach your agency with problems, not solutions
Coming to an agency with the “perfect” brief outlining everything you want may alleviate anxiety going into your next project. But the more you define and restrict your project in the brief, the less likely you are to see the innovative work your brand needs.
We’ve learned we thrive when we see only about 75% of the information from a brand like yours. What we discover from there once we start working together is the best part.
13. Embrace the power of planning ahead
Evergreen deadlines like Black Friday are daunting, especially when all your brand’s sales goals depend on a single upcoming event. So no matter far out your biggest deadline may be, what are you doing now to release that pressure?
Getting started early is your strongest weapon against deadline pressure. You may not know all the facts yet — that’s fine. The right creative agency doesn’t need every detail in order to thrive.
14. Trust the process to generate the creative ideas you need
Discovery is important, but creative problem-solving isn’t magical. Any agency worth working with will apply a proven, repeatable process that defines how their work gets done.
With a proven process in place, we don’t worry about how to start working on any project. That way, we can better focus on learning more about what we’re creating and for whom.
15. Relationship retrospectives keep collaboration in tune
Too many agency-client relationships are only examined after the collaboration has started going wrong. Instead, you should expect an agency to be proactive about protecting your partnership by conducting regular relationship retrospectives.
The best creative work is only possible when both sides of a partnership are working at their best. Facilitated relationship retrospectives allow you and your agency to identify potential issues before they develop and keep functioning at a high level.
And just one more: Always check your work
Given at the time of this article’s publication we’ll in fact be celebrating our 16th year, we thought we’d include a bonus lesson. Delivering beyond expectations is a big part of how we work — as is consistently searching for ways our work can improve.
Our experience coupled with a dedication to research and planning allows us to ensure a strong launch for everything we do. However, no matter how successful a project may be, we still need to check our work. And even great work can always get better.
At We The Collective, we need to know the full picture of your project, which requires knowing the benchmarks for success, setting a goal, and tracking KPIs against that goal. Whatever aspect that doesn’t hit the mark leaves for improvement.
Ultimately, these lessons may not work for every agency — but they continue to work for us. But after this many years, we feel strongly that many of the strategies will work for your brand as well.