How to Start Marketing for Millennials

About a year ago I had a conversation with a client who was desperate to target Millennials. This brand has been around for a long time, and is trying to figure out how to reposition itself to seem relevant to a Millennials audience. Since then, almost every new client I’ve worked with has had the same goal: increase brand awareness among the Selfie generation.

These brands certainly aren’t alone in trying to target a generation that feels so elusive to marketers. Many brands have figured out that they will quickly have to adapt to Millennials’ preferences if they want to remain in business. In 2015, Millennials are projected to overtake Baby Boomers as the largest generation in the US, and on top of that, they spend about $1.3 trillion a year.

Based on that, Tom Devaney and Tom Stein argue,

Millennials are your most important customers right now – and will be for years to come.

Who are Millennials? A snapshot

I’m sure most of you have a decent idea of who Millennials are, but it’s worth going over a few stats.

Generally, Millennials are:

  • Unmarried, racially diverse, between 18-34 years old

  • Unattached to traditional religious or political institutions: many are registered Independents, few identify as religious, and only 26% are married

  • More socially liberal than older generations

  • Burdened by financial hardships more than previous generations: the average Millennial has $25,000 in student loan debt

  • Sceptical and less trusting than older generations: only 6% of Millennials in the US consider online advertising to be credible

  • Digital natives, heavy social media users: Millennials spend 1.8 hours a day on social media

  • Deeply impacted by the Great Recession: 76% of Millennials worry about lack of work

  • Influenced more by friends, family, and online reviews than “experts”: 95% of Millennials say friends are the most credible source of  product information, and 91% of Millennials would consider purchasing a product if a friend recommended it, according to SocialChorus.

Of course there are many more insights available about Millennials; Pew Research Center has a report about Millennials that is full of great information.

How do Millennials want to interact with brands and products?

NPR recently ran a series on Millennials called New Boom. As part of this series, they interviewed a handful of Millennials on their thoughts around marketing and brand relationships. The insights NPR gathered support survey data asking the same questions. The quotes below are taken from those interviews, which can be found here.

1) They want to experience invitation, not intrusion

Millennials have been quite clear about wanting brands to give them space to explore the products/brand experience on their own. They want brands to invite them to interact, not intrude on their process. Jacob Weiss, 28, says “we don't want to be bombarded with advertisements or other bits of marketing in [spaces] that are personal to us.”

Another Millennial, Antonus Siler, 34, takes it a step further when he says, “If I could say anything to the advertisers, it'd be this: Entertain me, make me happy, capture my attention, speak to my [conscience] and then leave me the heck alone.”

Because Millennials grew up online, advertising and marketing are second nature to them. They know when they’re being marketed to, and they don’t typically bite--only 6% of Millennials consider online advertising to be credible. Given that, brands need to “advance beyond traditional marketing campaign approaches… with relevant, valuable and non-promotional interactions,” says CMO Paige O'Neill.

But what does a non-promotional invitation to interact with a brand look like?

When asked, James McOmber, 28, gave this example:

When asked why he liked it, McOmber had this to say, “I personally just liked it because it wasn't too loud or in your face. It kind of just stayed quiet. It was subtle. I like subtle.”

The subtlety of the Ikea ad is what makes it feel more like an invitation to interact with the brand, rather than in-your-face marketing, which feels more like an intrusion to Millennials.

On the other hand, an intrusive campaign that Mamie Young, 31, reported hating was this one:

Young says, “I think they're trying so hard. And that kind of turns us off because there's a lack of authenticity. When you want us to buy a car, you're trying too hard when you're putting people in hamster costumes and hip-hop dancing and driving through neon-light cities. It's just too much.”

Kia struck out by forcing connections that didn’t make sense for their brand: hamsters, hip-hop music, break dancing, etc. The result was anything but subtle, and therefore felt intrusive.

What does this mean for your brand’s marketing?

Don’t force it

Desperation in marketing shows. One way to avoid this is by not forcing ideas and connections that aren’t there for your brand--stay true to your brand’s identity, and target Millennials from within that sphere. Kia keeps trying to reach Millennials, but the message isn’t on brand, and has bordered on offensive. The inauthenticity is especially apparent when you compare Kia’s hamster ads to their other ads, like this Pierce Brosnan one.

Another way to make sure your brand doesn’t come off as too forward is by thinking about what the ideal customer experience should look like when interacting with your marketing campaigns. Is stuffing helpful content with too many internal links back to your other pages (that may or may not be relevant) going to be distracting and overly promotional to your readers? Is including 2-3 different pop-up windows with aggressive copy going to irritate readers (I’m looking at you, Neil Patel)? If the answer is yes, then back off a bit.

Don’t focus on immediate sales

Millennials care more than other generations about having a personal connection with a brand, so focus on brand relationships first. Erin McPherson says,

This generation doesn't dislike brands, what they don't like is advertising.

With that in mind, don’t structure your marketing campaigns around immediate sales, structure them instead around building a brand’s relationships and community, which will ultimately lead to sales.

2) They want value and usefulness

Millennials love to be entertained, but brands often forget that they also want content that is useful and provides them value.

When asked about her favorite marketing campaign, Caroline Sharp, 34, referenced Lowe’s Vine campaign (#lowesfixinsix). “My favorite one, the one that I can think of: If you have a stripped screw, you can put a rubber band on top of the screw and stick the screwdriver through the rubber band, and it gets the screw out! I've used that because of Lowe's vine! They're really informative. I would tell people about that, because they're really cool little videos," says Sharp.

This campaign is particularly effective not only because the tips are useful, but because Lowe’s designed them specifically for Millennials. Since Vines can’t be longer than six seconds, Lowe’s is forced to cut away all the clutter in the content, which results in really useful Vines, with no added fluff--something Millennials appreciate. Lowe’s also created these videos specifically for Vine, which reaches Millennials where they already hangout: on social media.

What does this mean for your brand’s marketing?

Think about their needs first

Katie Elfering, a CEB Iconoculture consumer strategist, maintains “Brands that understand this generation’s mind-set focus on solving real consumer problems and are able to show Millennials how their product or service can be a useful tool in their daily lives.”

Millennials are interested in solutions, and by giving them what they want, you can secure your brand a place in their purchasing habits and lives.

Approach your marketing strategy with two questions:

  • Given what we know about our Millennial audience, how can we provide them with something useful and valuable?

  • Where does that intersect with our brand’s identity and goals?

While you want to provide solutions, Millennials value reputation and authenticity, so your content needs to make sense in light of who your brand is.

3) They want authenticity

"The new authority is authenticity," claims Erin McPherson, CCO at Maker Studios. Since Millennials align more closely with brands personally and emotionally than older generations, it’s important to them that brands be genuine to their own brand identities.

Jacob Weiss, 28, says “We're skeptical, we want something that's innovative. But at the same time, we want it to be genuine and heartfelt,” and the data supports this. Millennials value authenticity more highly than the content itself when consuming news, according to a survey of 1,300 Elite Daily readers.

Valuing authenticity means that Millennials have a good nose for it, and can easily pick out brands who are being disingenuous. Many brands have been met with angry backlash as consumers see their marketing ploys as phony. One such example was a tweet AT&T sent out to commemorate 9/11.

Most consumers viewed the tweet as a cheap ploy to advertise by newsjacking a trending topic. AT&T was forced to make a public apology and remove the tweet.  

If Millennials view their brand choices as a statement of their own personality, it makes sense that they want brands to be genuine, real, and reliable.

And there are many brands who are doing a great job of creating authentic content that’s relevant to their brand identities. One example is Clean & Clear’s See the Real Me video campaign:

See the Real Me has received over 10.5 million combined views since launching, partly because young women are opening up and being vulnerable about their struggles. This kind of open authenticity strikes a chord with Millennials and creates a deeper emotional connection to the brand.

What does this mean for your brand’s marketing?

Know who you are as a brand

The first step to authenticity is knowing exactly who you are as a brand. What’s your story? What’s your personality like? How do you talk and interact with customers? Ensuring everyone internally is well briefed on the brand story will give your brand a cohesive feel to customers, no matter which department they might interact with.

Don’t force connections that aren’t there

The majority of brands never set out to be inauthentic, it’s more about trying to seize opportunities that are too far stretched, too forced. One of the hardest jobs as a marketer is knowing when to turn an opportunity down, but the better acquainted you become with the brand story, the more confident you’ll be when assessing whether or not a tweet or campaign is aligned with your brand’s identity. If something feels like a stretch to you, it will certainly feel that way to your customers.

Key takeaways

Many marketers confess to being unsure of how to target Millennials, which is understandable since they’re reshaping the way we communicate, interact, and purchase. But many brands can’t afford to miss the chance to target Millennials,

this is a massive generation with a population size of 76.6 million, surpassing even Baby Boomers. NOT understanding them, NOT finding ways to be relevant or engaging to them, NOT adapting to their new expectations— it’s the easiest way for a brand to fail,” says Elfering.

Marketing to Millennials is complex, but you can start by working the strategies below into your marketing plans:

  • Invitation over intrusion

  • Usefulness

  • Authenticity

And like any new marketing strategy, it will likely take trial, error, and a lot of data to find exactly what your brand's Mellinnal marketing rhythm looks like.

How well do you understand your audience? If you want to hear more from Kyra, check out the first chapter of this guide on creating focused content

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