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Three Key Ways for Snow Sports Retailers to Connect with Millennials on Social Media: It’s All About Simplicity, Consistency and Authenticity


September 16, 2014

millenialsWhen it comes to connecting with Millennials, it turns out that less is more. This will certainly come as a relief to many smaller brands and retailers, who may feel overwhelmed by the possibilities. In our last article about Millennials, who are also known as Gen Y, we learned that you have to meet this generation where they are, which is most often on social media. As snow sports’ fastest growing demographic, this group simply cannot be ignored, and engaging this potential customer base has sometimes proven difficult, especially for independent retailers who may have a small budget or who might consider themselves “technologically challenged.”

To find out more about this issue, we spoke with Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer at The Center for Generational Kinetics. Dorsey is commonly known as “The Gen Y Guy,” and has been featured on 60 Minutes, 20/20, The Today Show, and The View, and his client list includes Mercedes-Benz, Four Seasons Hotels, SAS and VISA. We explained that, for our retailers specifically, many are mom and pop shops that may be owned by people who don’t even have a website, much less a presence on social media. These retailers are also often on a limited budget, both with time and money, and may feel overwhelmed by the prospect of joining in.

millenials2Dorsey had some encouraging news for these retailers. He explained that a big budget and traditional marketing techniques are not going to be needed to reach this new generation. “Throwing lots of money at Millennials is not the solution,” he said. “In fact, many traditional brands are doing extremely poorly in spite of continuing to spend more and more trying to reach Millennials. The secret is to adapt your messaging and channels to meet Millennials where they are with a message that actually resonates at the exact moment they need it. For example, many traditional advertisers use loads of copy on their website and even in-store. All our analytics show that Millennials skip those blocks of text and go straight to the video, picture or bullet points. When we re-design sites for brands and mom-and-pop shops, it usually saves them a ton of money because Millennials actually want LESS on a website—not more.”

Kjersten Klein, co-owner and social media coordinator for Willi’s Ski and Snowboard Shop in Pittsburgh PA, runs one of the most successful social media programs we’ve seen for independent snow sports retailers. And she agrees that the secret to success is not about a big budget. “We were early adopters of social media, and we have learned a lot over the years. One of the main things we’ve found is that it’s not at all about spending money, it’s about being creative and most of all consistent. We picked a few key platforms that we thought worked with our customer base and we committed to staying consistent with updating and engaging with our customers there.”

She said she’s found that giving people what they want at the time they want it is certainly easy on social media because if you stay on top of it consistently, you’re able to quickly answer people’s questions, or engage with them after they’ve liked something you’ve posted. “I’ve found that with millennial customers especially, sometimes the relationship comes first, before they even step into the store. Once you’ve established that rapport online by opening up a conversation with them, inevitably they’ll be in to look at the items you’ve discussed or to continue the conversation in person.”

millenials3Klein explained that it’s something you can do in response to a pent up demand, like pre-season excitement, and you can immediately see the results based on people’s response in the form of Likes on your page, or entries into a contest you run. “An example of something we did recently, which is very simple and got people excited, is our billboard contest. We like to do these Facebook contests where we offer some nominal thing, a gift card or something, but people love it because it gives them something to do as the season ramps up. They’re so excited for the season and it gives them an outlet for that. For example, recently for our Labor Day sale, we asked people to post pictures on Facebook of our billboards, which are up all around Pittsburgh, and the person who found the most won a gift card.  People love it – they were out driving all over Pittsburgh looking for them.”

millenials4“Another contest we ran was on Instagram,” she added. “We had people post pictures of the gear they bought at our Labor Day sale, and the person with the most Likes for their photo won a gift card. This is a great way to get your name out there, because someone who likes you then shares it with their friends and it’s that whole ‘and they told two friends, and they told two friends’ kind of thing. Its spreads your name around, and it’s a very simple thing to do.”

This is a perfect example of what Dorsey sees as a huge advantage for snow sports retailers in connecting with Millennials. Since Willi’s is a second generation, family-owned business, they are well known in their community and can use that to their advantage, as seen in the billboard contest above. “We believe and have seen that mom-and-pop stores actually have an advantage with Millennials,” Dorsey said. “They’re locally owned, a family business, highly connected to the community, independent and entrepreneurial—all of which connects with Millennial hot buttons, but only if you’re willing to be vulnerable and tell the story.”

That’s something that Klein does very well, as shown with this recent Facebook post commemorating Willi’s first generation owners’, (her in-laws’) 50th Wedding Anniversary. She says posts like that are always popular and people seem to like knowing and connecting with the Willi’s story. “People love knowing our family story and seeing things like this on our page,” she said. “It makes them feel like part of the family.”

Dorsey further explained that one of the key ways to connect with Millennials is through authenticity. “You don’t need a flashy video on Youtube with a $100,000 production budget,” he said. “Many of the best videos are made by amateurs with their cell phone. Why? Because it feels genuine and that’s what’s been lost in all the pre-packaged branding and advertising that makes Millennials feel like a number. The best part is that almost all of what Millennials want in terms of engagement and connectivity is measurable, so if you do it right you can quickly build on it and if your efforts are not working you’ll know fast and can change.”

This is exactly what Klein has been doing, and she adds that it has an added benefit of giving her employees a chance to get involved and use their talents. “We have a wide variety of ages and talents on our team, so if I millenials5have one employee who videos out on the mountain all the time, I won’t let that go to waste. We’ll use all that video on our YouTube channel, and our Facebook page, and I’ll also use it in the store. Customers know that’s the real deal – we are people who are living this life every day and using this gear. We’ll give you real opinions, and they know we’re the experts. They trust us to post our true opinions and sort out which gear is best suited to each individual customer. I think millennials especially appreciate that these are not prepackaged answers to their questions, and with all the research available out there for them to do, they are very well informed. I know that if they trust us as the experts to tell them how it is, they’ll come in and see us.”

Klein also notes how easy it is to quickly measure your results, as Dorsey advocates. “Social media doesn’t do anything if it doesn’t get people to walk in your door,” she said. “We spend time every day answering questions and having conversations with people on our Facebook page, and then it’s a very measurable return, because we see them walk in the door to buy that thing we talked about with them on line. We run reports regularly to show whether the people who like us on our Facebook page have come in to see us, and if they haven’t I might follow up with them with a personal email. We’ve built a whole different customer base by working on customer relationships outside the store first, and then seeing them in the store second. It’s amazing how well it works.”

For some specific tips and tricks for using social media for your shop, check out our Retailer to Consumer Marketing Guide. It’s filled with step by step instructions for how to get started in social media and there are loads of ideas to help build a following and keep customers engaged once you’re up and running. Click here to download the Retailer to Consumer Marketing Guide, and see the article below for more about this valuable publication. For more information about Jason Dorsey and the Center for Generational Kinetics, visit his website at And stay tuned for our next Millennials installment, when we’ll get Dorsey’s thoughts on how snow sports brands can succeed in marketing to millennials, and we’ll get insights from some brands who are doing it right.