Thursday, December 17th, 2015 | 10 min read
People can’t seem to stop talking about us. Every brand wants to sell to us. We’re revered, despised, and made fun of. We even make fun of ourselves. Whatever your opinion of millennials may be, there’s no denying that we’ve radically influenced the way brands do business and market their products and services, and many of us are about to enter our prime spending years.
Marketing to millennials can be tricky for a few reasons: we’re more wary of traditional marketing than our predecessors, we often seek information about products and services from a wide array of sources before buying, and we have more options than ever before when making a purchasing decision.
Still, armed with an understanding of millennial demographics, psychology, and buying habits, brands can be well positioned to get the attention of this coveted cohort. Here are five ways brands can up their game when designing campaigns targeted at millennials.
It’s tempting to assume that all millennials are more or less the same in terms of taste, interests, demographics, tech habits, and so on, but this is simply not true.
The millennial set is incredibly diverse: this Experian report points out that 45% percent of millennial adults identify as Hispanic and/or non-white, compared to 39% of Generation X (born 1961 – 1979), 27% of Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964), and just 17% of the Silent Generation (born 1925 – 1945). What’s more, millennials who identify as non-white aren’t necessarily bilingual; many are second-generation immigrants who feel more American than anything else but still hold cultural ties to other countries.
With the youngest millennials around age 16 and the oldest around 35, this generation also encompasses a wide range of identity-shaping cultural experiences. Just think about the kind of music that was popular when the 30-something millennials were teenagers (Blink-182, No Doubt, Aqua, Chumbawamba) versus what the youngest set listens to now (Drake, One Direction, Taylor Swift). Similarly, those in their late 20s and early 30s grew up with AOL chat, dial-up internet, and the Oregon Trail; the youngest set grew up with iPads, social media, and easy-to-use video editing software.
This means that there’s a lot of diversity in how millennials want to be communicated to—what resonates with one set might not resonate with another. So, don’t expect a marketing campaign to speak to all millennials; instead, identify audience sub-groups and then make your campaign hyper-relevant to them.
Millennials, also referred to as the “selfie generation,” are often characterized as narcissistic and superficial. This outlook is overly simplistic; the millennial propensity to document life through social media doesn’t come from self-absorption—it comes from a love of self expression. And the idea of self expression through imagery is nothing new; many early cave paintings show scenes with people.
But millennials are the first generation to have an unlimited amount of technology platforms on which they can express themselves, and they aren’t afraid to use them.
So, what does this focus on self expression mean for brands?
Traditionally, the driving question behind brand marketing has been “What does our brand say about us (the company)?” When marketing to millennials, the question becomes “What does our brand allow consumers to say about themselves?” This is a fascinating switch; brands have become another tool that millennials use to express their identity, and smart marketers weave this knowledge into their campaigns.
Apple is an iconic example; pulling out an iPhone or a MacBook Air makes an immediate statement about income level, tech savvy, and taste. It’s a symbol of coolness. The now famous “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” commercials get straight to the point: middle-aged, stuffy, poorly-dressed people use PCs while cool, young, charismatic people use Macs.
This shift toward using brands for self expression has a lot to do with the rise in companies that emphasize transparency, being “green,” sourcing local ingredients, and so on. Millennials are proud to wear clothes that were made in the U.S., they’re proud to buy products from companies that treat their workers well, and they’re proud to buy from brands that work with local craftsmen because it allows them to express their values through their purchasing decisions.
Because millennials see the products and services they select as a reflection of their identity, they are highly discerning consumers. They want to know why products cost what they cost, how they are made, and where the material comes from. Similarly, they don’t want to simply accept that there are bank fees; they want to know why they’re being charged fees (the rise of alternative banking solutions like Simple attests to this). And they want options: when evaluating a potential purchase, they want to be able to pick from a range of companies and services to find the solution that best fits their needs (and allows them to express who they are).
Brands that want to reach millennials should make ETC their mantra: Education, Transparency, and Choices. When designing a marketing campaign for this generation, remember that they want to be educated through compelling content, they want to know the story behind the product and company, and they want options that allow them to select the best fit.
Millennials are the first generation of digital natives—people who grew up living, breathing, and speaking tech. Most can’t remember a world without smartphones and the internet, and the majority of the media they consume—from TV, to movies, magazines, and news—is online.
What’s more, they jump from their laptop to their smartphone and their tablet all in the same day (or even within the same hour), and they expect the experience on each one to be seamless and intuitive. They might start a TV show on their laptop and then finish it on their iPad before going to bed. They send a tweet to a brand complaining about a problem they had with a product and then call the customer service line the next day. And they check out product pages on a company’s website and then ask their friends on social what they think before making a purchase decision.
Millennials are multi-channel, and brands should keep this in mind when creating campaigns. There’s no guarantee that an advertisement will only be consumed on one platform; it needs to look great on desktop, tablet, and mobile, and it needs to be shareable on all the major social platforms and via email.
Gone are the days when marketing messages were the primary means through which consumers constructed an opinion about a brand or product. Now, with the rise of digital, recommendations from friends, family, and other consumers play an enormous role in the purchasing process. Millennials in particular trust word-of-mouth buzz more than traditional marketing: 85% say they trust the opinion of people they know when seeking product recommendations. Thirty-three percent of millennials say blogs are their top source of information before they make a purchase.
Meanwhile, fewer than 3% of millennials rank TV news, magazines, and books as influencing their purchases, and only 1% said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more.
This is why user-generated content has become so popular; it showcases brand loyalty and love from people like them. It feels authentic (and we all know millennials love that word).
Brands that want to reach millennials can make reviews a large feature of their service or product page. Similarly, rewarding positive reviews can reinforce brand loyalty to those already doing the heavy lifting for your digital marketing efforts. One way to do this is by showcasing user reviews on your brand’s social channels.
As I previously pointed out, the “millennial” label applies to a broad age group with a wide variety of interests, tastes, and cultural backgrounds. If you recognize this diversity (and hone in on your target millennial subgroup), understand the generation’s love of self expression, make transparency a core part of your marketing, think multi-channel, and highlight customer voices, your brand will be well poised to resonate with largest generation in U.S. history—one that has completely reshaped how consumers relate to brands.
About the Author: Shama Hyder is a business strategist for the digital age, and serves as founder and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, an award-winning full-service online marketing firm. She is also the author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing (3rd edition), and the host of Shama.Tv. Connect with Shama on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.