How IBM enlisted a 'millennial corps' to tell its stories

Marcomms leaders from IBM and Home Depot shared their strategies for reaching the elusive millennial at PRWeek's Swipe Right conference on Thursday.

Photo credit: Alison Kanski
Photo credit: Alison Kanski

NEW YORK: Each brand communications team has a different strategy for reaching millennials. Some, like Home Depot, focus on storytelling, while others, like IBM, spread millennials throughout its staff to attract the demographic.

Home Depot focuses on storytelling via its corporate website, Built from Scratch, to reach millennial audiences, said Savannah Huddleston, corporate communications editor at Home Depot, at the PRWeek Swipe Right conference on Thursday.

The stories on Built from Scratch range from do-it-yourself projects, which Huddleston said are surprisingly popular among millennials, to stories about Home Depot’s disaster relief efforts.

"It launched because in the corporate communications department, we didn't have an ownable channel to tell these stories," she explained. "First and foremost, we want to be telling stories; you're not going to find marketing or sales stuff on here. At the end of day, we’re a retailer and we care about selling products, but we needed a way to communicate these stories on a channel we could control."

Millennials often interact with Home Depot during disaster relief efforts. Huddleston cited both big and little stories, like the company’s financial commitment to disaster relief and the on-the-ground work by Home Depot employees.

For story ideas, Huddleston mines social media, gets emails from store managers, and stays in touch with Home Depot’s volunteer groups.

"In the climate we’re living in, expectations for brands and companies are higher," she said. "People expect companies to exist for a greater reason than just to make money."

Millennials, more than other generations, expect brands to step up on social issues, and they’re changing how companies function and communicate with their employees.

IBM has implemented an internal "millennial corps" that tackles a project every few months to tell the company’s story to younger audiences. The group looks for "opportunities for IBM to showcase its work in areas that have great social impact," said IBM CMO Michelle Peluso.

The results from this team are videos and partnerships that show IBM making a difference, whether working with groups that track endangered rhinos in Africa or highlighting how tech enabled the organizers of the Women’s March.

"Being able to reinvent yourself requires being open to new, fresh ideas and being able to take in new perspectives," Peluso said. "The millennial corps team is one of the things I’m most proud of in helping translate what IBM is to the next generation."

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