Millennials. They’re a hot topic in marketing, and one that can lead a Gen Xer to feel a bit like chopped liver. But the simple fact is that this generation, born between 1980 and 2000, is both the largest generation in American history—numbering about 80 million—and the most potent when it comes to buying power. So it behooves any marketer to know what makes Millennials different from Generation X or the Baby Boomers.
Attention must be paid.
According to Pew Research Social and Demographic Trends, Millennials in general are collaborative, self-expressive, optimistic, mobile, and, above all, social. They’re also more ethnically and racially diverse, better educated and more liberal than older generations.
As “digital natives,” Millennials have grown up using the Internet. They feel free to chart their own paths when it comes to using technology, finding unorthodox ways to watch television, for example—streaming via Netflix or Hulu, seeking out free content online, binge-watching favorite shows—that leave marketers scrambling to come up with new ways to reach them. Traditional television commercials can be less effective at reaching this segment in part because they’re just not getting seen by as many people, and also because Millennials don’t always respond enthusiastically to outbound, passive marketing. The one time Millennials will watch live TV tends to be during very talked-about shows, where watching later would leave them out of the social media conversation.
By Advertising Age’s count, 91% of Millennials are regular Internet users, and they spend 25 hours online per week on average. So if you’re trying to catch the attention of Millennials, it’s clear that online is where it’s at.
So how do marketers best capture the imagination of Millennials online? For Taco Bell, engaging with Millennials is so important that they’ve tasked 20-something staff members with compiling a “Millennial Word of the Week.” But that strategy went south when the 41-year-old CEO called their marketing “on cleek” (instead of the correct term “on fleek”) during an investor call last year that invited widespread derision.
Knowing that Millennials enjoy collaboration and self-expression, one way to cater to them online is by ramping up conversations with your customers. Millennials are three times more likely than Boomers to seek expert opinions about products on social media—and value those opinions even more than their own friends’ and families’ opinions. This presents an advantage for brands that are great at soliciting feedback.
Make it easier to review your products. Respond to feedback via social media, and keep that conversation going. Show that you are listening to feedback by making improvements to your products and sharing the feedback that led to those improvements. Anything that shows customers you are legitimately interested in their opinions, and are acting on them, will shine a flattering light on your brand where Millennials are concerned.
Take advantage of social shopping experiences like Pinterest to show tantalizing beauty shots of your products and allow “regular people” to do your marketing for you. Millennials will trust them over your polished advertising efforts.
Create and share useful content that doesn’t pound customers over the head with “Buy now!” messages. Display your expertise and give customers information they can use; that authenticity will raise your profile in Millennials’ eyes.
Another underreported consequence of Millenials' search for authenticity is the pressure on brands to be, well, good. Millennials see through misleading and flashy marketing, in large part thanks to their passion for crowdsourcing product information and reviews. If there's any question about whether your product is truly market ready, take the time to make it right. Those early poor reviews can haunt a brand.
Social media is a very tempting arena for marketers to dive into, and it's essential to be active in posting timely content—but again, what's created for social media must be authentic in order to appeal to savvy Millennials. Check out Condescending Corporate Brand Page on Facebook for examples of marketers getting social media very, very wrong.
The bottom line: Millennials are pushing marketers to come up with innovative new approaches that focus on interactivity and—we'll say it again—authenticity. We can’t rely on the old chestnuts of advertising any more, which actually creates a refreshing opportunity for marketers, creatives and product developers alike to really push our capabilities. And when we develop a rapport, authority and trust level with our customers, won’t we all be just a little bit more “on fleek?”