Effective marketing requires you to know your target audience, and while marketers have their opinions on what works and what doesn’t, few topics have gotten more buzz than the discussion around how to market to each generation.
At the top of the buyer wish list are millennials, the generation of consumers born between 1981 and 1996. This is the group of adults who, as kids, experienced the fast growth of the digital age and fondly remember the birth of streaming movies, high-speed internet, and everyone getting their first mobile phone.
How did this technological boom affect these shoppers now? What experiences and values are they hoping to buy with their hard-earned dollars? Let’s take a look at one of the most coveted shopper personas today — the millennial — to see how you can more effectively anticipate their needs with your product or service.
What is millennial marketing?
You can probably assume that marketing to this generation of consumers has a lot of similarities to marketing to every other generation. On some level, you would be correct. They have a need to be met, and many of the marketing truths you’ve come to know will work on this group.
However, you would also be wise to understand the unique traits of millennials regarding how they buy things.
When looking at consumer spending by generation, millennials exhibit these specific shopping behaviors:
- 43 percent regularly shop by smartphone
- Popular online shopping categories include takeout dining, fashion, beauty, and travel
- They prefer omnichannel experiences, like buying online and picking up in person
They’re also geared heavily toward entertainment spending. This generation has no problem putting part of their income toward experiences they can enjoy and remember later, such as concerts and movies.
Then you have the sheer numbers of this group. They have recently overtaken the baby boomers as the largest living generation. If done correctly, marketing to millennials — and more specifically, marketing well — can boost your business in ways you haven’t imagined.
How to market to millennials
While there are no hard and fast rules to abide by, trends exist. Here’s what we know about how this generation wants to be marketed to and what they are hoping to get when they buy your product or service.
1. Choose values over value
While millennials are just like everyone else when it comes to watching their pennies, they don’t always consider price as the most important factor in choosing between brands. A higher percentage of this generation (91 percent) will be loyal to a brand that supports a cause than the larger population (85 percent).
Not only is this generation driving brands to be thoughtful about what they say online, but they also want brands to be vocal when it matters. The term “brand activism” is usually associated with millennials, who know they have a choice in where to spend their money, and they actively seek out brands that have stated their position on some of the hot-button topics of today.
While it’s not always a good idea to have an opinion on matters outside your brand’s scope or expertise, simply knowing that today’s shopper seeks out like-mindedness in brands can help you develop a message that resonates. If you haven’t crafted a brand values statement lately, consider how doing so may be part of a larger marketing strategy to tell millennials who you are and what you stand for. They are expecting it.
2. The journey is the goal
Another differentiator between millennials and their counterparts is how they see shopping as part of an overreaching set of goals. They want products and services that support their values, and values often drive their decisions in career, family, and passion pursuits. How can your product help them not only solve the problem of today but also support them in a lifelong customer journey?
While it may seem that a cup of coffee or an athletic sock can’t do more than meet an immediate need, brands are proving otherwise. Take Bombas socks, for example, which has captivated marketers with their “buy one, donate one” charity model.
Yes, they make buyers feel good and meet that “values” requirement with this action. They also make a comfortable sock with colors, sizes, and styles for more than just your average athlete. They moved from a basic sock into gripper socks for little kids and underwear for women, all with a focus on comfort and durability without forgetting that “buy one, give one” model. Their online content is increasingly targeted to highlight the life journey.
They’ve embraced the fact that millennial advertising isn’t about getting consumers to the sales finish line. It’s about coming alongside for their entire product lifecycle.
3. They reserve the right to change their mind
Have you seen the news about the job market lately? It seems obsessed with what millennials are doing in the workplace. Are they coming back from remote work? Do they want benefits or high pay? How can companies possibly attract great talent in times of low unemployment?
The workforce is in flux, and part of it is due to the millennials’ insistence on working for more than money. They want (as discussed above) employers to reflect their values. They want to live out their values. They also want to change their minds as their values change.
Product marketing to this group needs to reflect a respect for their evolution as a person, one that’s sure to change what they value as they meet new milestones. What a millennial wanted pre-COVID may not be what they want now. The health goals or financial advice they worked toward before kids will certainly not be what they need once their first baby arrives.
While this is true for all generations, millennials are unapologetic in telling us this, and they expect content to mirror where they are at in their lives. Blog content, for example, should acknowledge how millennials grow and change over time, rather than assume people are basically the same from birth to end of life.
Best marketing channels to reach millennials
The best places to reach this group are where they already hang out — but where is that? Currently, social media channels change from year to year. However, according to the University of Southern California, millennials still actively engage with brands more on social than other generations, including following them and using social to research a product before they buy.
So where, exactly, are they hanging out?
TikTok is highly influencer-driven. Books, movies, and food have found their way into the limelight when the right TikTok star naturally embraces the brand. TikTok “houses,” where groups of influencers live and work together is a new trend that demonstrates just how few boundaries there are between marketing and life.
Just over 44 percent of the 78.7 billion users fall in the 20 to 40 age group, with women more likely to use the platform than men.
This innovative platform allows for disappearing messages and videos to be sent between users, and brands have to work a bit harder to make their mark here.
Still, with 30 percent of social media users claiming to use or like Snapchat, it’s impossible to ignore as a possible avenue for brands geared toward younger users.
Long-running Twitter has gone through many changes over the years, with it earning a reputation as a quick way to send off a hot take or comment on current events. Does this make it an ideal opportunity for brands? Twitter’s own research suggests that activism may be the future for brands on this channel, with 8 in 10 people looking to brands to affect change.
Given what we know about how millennials feel regarding the alignment of values in a new product or service, this could be the way for change-driven brands to get their word out.
No millennial marketing trend list would be complete without Instagram, a more aesthetically focused way to communicate with the world. Millennials on this platform use it to share photos, videos, and other visually pleasing content, and they expect the same from brands who frequent the channel.
With the recent Reels offering, an alternative to TikTok, brands can capitalize on meme-worthy trends and video fads without some of the uncertainties that plague the Chinese-owned TikTok.
Blogs and long-form content hosted on your own sites still offer multiple benefits and are a better fit for brands uncomfortable giving brand voice over to another.
- Control over your message, even after its original publishing date
- Ability to build SEO
- No limit to links, characters, photos, and videos
- Direct linking to the products and services of your choice
There’s more good news when it comes to blogs. Millennials are not as likely to respond to direct advertising as other groups, with Crowdtap’s data showing that just 1 percent of millennials trust ads. They do, however, like to research. Your blog posts, whitepapers, and other long-form content pieces can help them answer questions they have while building authority and creating a reputation for being there for them when they need it most.
That’s far more likely to get them to associate your brand with a solution for their lives, and as we discovered earlier, they buy for the journey. While they may not hit “purchase” today, they will think of your brand the next time they need a problem solved.
However, no matter what platform you use, authenticity matters. Millennials are quick to reject brands that creep into their social environments with anything less than a genuine approach.
Actionable ideas for marketing to millennials
Ready to get started? Here are some possibilities for reaching this audience in an organic way.
Solve a problem with a guide or ebook
You don’t have to guess what’s troubling today’s millennials. You only have to look at the news or hop on Twitter to see they’re concerned about the cost of starting a family, affordable housing, quality health care, education, and finding work-life balance (among other issues). Does your product meet any one of these? If it doesn’t, could it be authentically framed as doing so?
Whether you offer an ebook helping them plan for the cost of childcare or you give them helpful home maintenance tips so they can sell their home faster, you should meet their needs first, then organically introduce your product as just one vital part of their toolkit.
Ebooks should be written with authority but not without warmth and empathy. Make it easy for them to download and share with few or no gated URLs or registration pages. (They may not come back.)
Create an SME video series
Millennials, like everyone else, love advice, and video is widely recognized as a way to get advice quickly. Help this generation with everything from career resumes to eating better by getting top subject matter experts (SMEs) to share what they know. Yes, this advice is often sold as a course or seminar, but by offering it free, you are building trust in your brand. By creating a series, you make it hard for them not to come back for more.
Go behind the scenes on social
Remember those values we talked about? Millennials will not be satisfied with a mission statement or press release simply stating your values. They want to see it lived out. Whether your aim is to be more sustainable or you commit to changing hiring practices, let them see what that looks like on a typical day at your company.
Share photos, videos, and employee testimonies of what is really being done to uphold values, and do it throughout the year — not just during holidays or specially designated months.
By taking potential customers behind the scenes, you’re sharing a piece of your world and inviting them to be a part of something bigger. We already know they want to change the world. How will supporting your business help them do that on a larger scale?
Use (select) UGC
User-generated content (UGC) can be very effective, but it also creates some legal and ethical challenges. Yes, you could ask your fans to submit a video and then repurpose it for your advertising campaign, but millennials are especially leery of doing the hard work for brands and want credit for their input. You also have to consider privacy permissions and intellectual property (IP) rules.
iPhone’s “Shot on an iPhone” campaign is a clear example of UGC that worked. New iPhone owners were encouraged to share their original videos for possible inclusion in the national ad campaign. Not only did it provide iPhone with hours of footage demonstrating the quality of their phone’s video technology, but it also made users feel they were building something for a larger community.
By engaging your already loyal fans and asking for UGC as part of their natural day-to-day, you are both acknowledging their important role in the community and not creating additional work for them. This group already shares so much of what they do on social media; if you can capture even a part of that to help boost your brand signal, you can consider that UGC campaign a success.
The bottom line on content marketing for millennials
If there’s one mistake that will certainly be made, brands could fall into the trap of thinking they have it all figured out. What we need to remember is that this coveted generation (like all generations) is growing up. In short, brands targeting millennials won’t be able to coast to win over this group in the long term.
Marketing to millennials will be an ongoing field of study, with living, breathing branding efforts and a content marketing plan that anticipates each milestone this group will encounter and seeks to meet them there, just as they are, and not as society wishes them to be.