While we all work with, interact with, and/or raise Millennials, we still struggle to understand the 18-34 year-old wired generation. As marketers, we tend to treat them as one homogeneous group for targeting purposes and don't take them as seriously as we do Gen X or Boomers. That is a deadly mistake brands and agencies alike cannot afford to make.
The Millennial generation (currently 80 million strong in the U.S. alone) are spending an estimated $600 billion annually. That number is expected to increase to $1.4 trillion by 2020, according to Accenture. As the largest population transitioning into the workforce in a major way over the next five years, their influence as consumers and business-to-business 'buyers' will be unsurpassed. As such, marketers must start taking this powerful generation seriously by building brands and campaigns that resonate, without alienating older generations.
Most marketers understand Millennials (let's call them Gen Y henceforth, as it's faster for me to type) to be early technology adopters and social media abusers. Unfortunately, it's not that simple, and there are many misconceptions that need addressing before we talk about how to effectively influence Gen Y.
How Millennials differ from other generations
While a majority of Gen Y are heavy social media users that expect seamless interactions with businesses across a variety of channels, they do differ from other generations in a few notable ways:
- It's all about self-discovery. Don't spoon-feed marketing messaging to Gen Y. Build a path and empower them to find their way and build their own authentic connections to your brand.
- Don't sell at Gen Y. Educate and entertain them with compelling content that helps build trust and loyalty in exchange for value-added experiences.
- Gen Y does like watching TV, despite the fact they may not have cable.
- While Gen Y is primarily influenced by peer reviews, they also rely heavily on online reviews, due primarily to their preference to do extensive research before purchasing.
- Don't discount the value of in-person marketing, just because they are natively wired for social media.
- As a generation, Millennials can be just as brand loyal as others, especially if there is alignment between person and brand values or politics.
- Not only goes Gen Y appreciate advertising, they are likely to share commercials they like with their friends, especially if the ads are free of sentiment, action-oriented, or informational in nature).
- Gen Y consists of a variety of sub-segments, which YuMe synthesized into five major segments (per the chart below). Customize messaging to appeal to the discretely audiences for maximum resonance.
The strategies that really work
With the Gen Y marketing misconceptions out of the way, let's get to the effective strategies. I've outlined six primary marketing strategies that will resonate with Gen Y, when implemented properly. Feel free to add your comments below this article based on your own experience.
Start with mobile, but hit all (social) media channels
Research indicates that members of Gen Y touches their smartphones around 45 times a day. That validates that they are connected like no other generation. Gen Y tends to spend a majority of their screen time on social media, which typically consists of Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Brands that are already active on these platforms have an advantage over those that do not. Remember to expand your reach across all channels, not just social or even digital. Think about multiple devices or screens and evaluate offline media opportunities (pop-up shops, interactive kiosks, etc.).
Increase social media engagement via shareable content
According to Forbes, over 60 percent of Gen Y say that any brand that engages them on social networks is significantly more likely to gain their loyalty. A major motivator for Gen Y sharing is to gain insights from their network and to have the ability to share their own knowledge and opinions with others. The most shareable content tends to be informative, inspirational or entertaining multimedia nuggets (images, videos, audio).
This is the essence of the sharing economy and it is native to Gen Y. Gen Y appreciates content that makes them smarter, or at least feel smarter, as well as inspired, with the ability to inspire others. For maximum shareability, it's essential that the language feel natural and not forced or inauthentic. Don't forget to customize the content based on the platform, its users and originality counts. Last but not least, keep The Goldfish Rule top-of-mind: you have 8 seconds to capture their attention, which is 1 second less than that of a common goldfish. Brands that build around this motivator will see exponential engagement and loyalty.
Be exceedingly responsive
The most mind-blowing fact about Gen Y is that they have never known a world without the internet. As a result, they have high expectations when it comes to getting instant answers, acknowledgement, and satisfaction. The impact on brands is the expectation that response time will be lightning fast. Gen Y doesn't care about the challenges brands face in creating an instant-response infrastructure and culture, just make it happen. This holds true across all digital media: social platforms, websites, email, and text. If you as a brand cannot address Gen Y requests in a timely fashion, they will move on to a competitor. Despite this daunting challenge, Gen Y values relationships and wants to connect with the people behind the brand. Ensure communications are as transparent and authentic as they are timely.
Tell a good story
I've mentioned the need for transparency and authenticity previously, yet I can't stress it enough. Let all employees tell your story, not just corporate marketers. Be wary of brands or agencies that recommend all communications go through the PR, HR, or legal department for approval, if you want the message to be timely and resonate. Gen Y sniffs out corporate-speak and will be turned off immediately. Brands that are fearless and diligent about transparent, authentic communications will be rewarded with loyalty from Gen Y (and other generations). Let your brand personality come through, especially in social media.
As with other generations, telling your story through the eyes of your customer is far more effective than telling the story yourself. Millennials need to see and feel the personality behind the brand, consistently over time. Utilizing evangelists and ambassadors, particularly on social, can be very effective in engaging with Gen Y. While a lack of interest in material items may pose a challenge to marketers, the answer is to help inspire Gen Y to feel good about what they are buying based on how it will positively impact their lives and the lives of others. Brands that have a social and environmental responsibility component are also favored, as Gen Y wants to be a part of something with a greater sense of purpose. Communicate the good you are doing to make the world a better place across all channels.
Create positive experiences
More than previous generations, Millennials value the ability to create their own experiences, even more so than buying or owning products they may not need. Another way to create positive brand perception with Gen Y is to provide behind-the-scenes looks into your company, people, and products. You've heard about the importance of transparency, but take it to the next level by using the authentic back story to create good will. Leveraging influencers they respect to engage with your brand is an effective way to create connection. For example, McDonald's recently tapped LeBron James to unveil a new product. Other ways to create positive experiences include increased personalization and utilizing new technologies, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and live streaming. Gen Y appreciates brands that embrace technology, especially to help tell their story and create immersive experiences.
The strategies outlined above will help any brand create a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Gen Y. That said, developing brand loyalty can be challenging. Gen Y has higher expectations than previous generations, particularly in relation to communications. For starters, Millennials don't want to call you or you to call them. They prefer chat or text communication. Factor this into your marketing and customer service mix. When interacting, honesty and authenticity are by far the most important themes. This is a bit of a sea change for more traditional brands used to one-way communications. Loyalty can also be created via gamification (loyalty programs and apps) that encourage sharing, reviews, and usage. The prize at the end of the rainbow is a life-long loyalty from Gen Y that may surpass previous generations. This is a significant reward, as the largest generation of our time will have the greatest buying power and influence moving forward.
At the end of the day, any brand interested in investing in its future must start now by embracing Gen Y and the Millennial culture. Older generations may appreciate increased engagement via digital media, but Gen Y requires it. What is your Millennial marketing strategy?
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