Marketing to Millennials

Adjust your marketing approach so it resonates with Millennials.

Who are these Millennials, anyway, and what makes them tick? These are questions marketing professionals like me wrestle with every day. Personally, I think of them as a fourth generation that we have to account for, often alongside the other three generations. We have never faced a multi-generational marketing challenge of such scope before.

How to tell the generations apart

  • Traditionalists are over 70
  • Boomers are over 50
  • Gen X-ers are 35 and older
  • Millennials are under 35

Facts on Millennials

Most advice on selling to members of any large group, by definition, is over-generalized. But “big picture” facts are not generalizations; they are just facts.

  • The Millennial generation consists of more people—80 million—than any generation before it.
  • Approximately one in six Millennials was born in a foreign country.
  • The Millennial generation is incredibly diverse (that is shorthand for a variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, languages, religions, etc.)
  • Millennials are surrounded by, and most are blasé about, technology that would amaze Edison and Einstein.
  • They are going to be running the world in a few years.

Generalizations on Millennials

“All generalizations are false, including this one,” Mark Twain once said. Twain was right, of course, but generalizations are not 100-percent false and some are close to being 100-percent correct.

Generalizations help us target and develop content, tone and—especially important in the case of Millennials—media choice. Even sweepingly vague generalizations can be viewed as “odds are” propositions as in “Odds are your Millennial prospect is…” Generalizations about Millennials are more likely to apply to individuals in that generation than to individuals in any other generation.

  • Millennials are tough to reach via traditional media such as radio, TV and print advertising.
  • Most of the messages that resonate with them come via text message, social media and the Internet.
  • Millennials prefer smart phones and tablets. They are about active communications, using their multi-function electronic devices to get news and information, contact friends and family, and access entertainment media.
  • Millennials can sniff out a Millennial imposter like a dog can sniff out a fresh bone. So unless you are a super-hip 28-year-old digital whiz yourself, do not try to sound like a Millennial. Be yourself with a few tweaks: 1) Get to the point quickly (your offer and why it’s a good idea for your prospect); 2) Keep it short and relevant; 3) Make sure you can back up every claim you make, because “odds are” your Millennial prospect will check the veracity and accuracy of everything you say–online, immediately.
  • While Millennials can and do make decisions quickly, they are not in a rush. This can be a problem if you’re used to direct marketing where the basic rule is if you do not get a response right away, you’ve lost. That’s not necessarily true with Millennials. They can take months to decide on even the most basic proposition for a major purchase. This does not mean they are patient about getting information. They want what they want when they want it.
  • If you are on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any popular social media platform, make sure to provide access (links) to relevant photos, graphs, charts and videos. Millennials tend to be visual.

What Millennials Want

Millennials are less interested in the traditional trappings of status—or at least status as we might think of it. What interests them are friends, family, community, being creative, security and having fun. They like to see those interests mirrored in the communications they receive. They want you to understand what motivates them. They are serious but not to the exclusion of enjoying themselves. You do not have to be like them but you do have to speak their language and demonstrate your understanding of what they want and what is important to them.

In general, the traditional corporate approach turns them off. For example, an appeal to authority won’t impress them at all and corporate gobbledygook makes their eyes glaze over (and ours too, actually).

Once your Millennial marketing efforts get rolling, make a point of compiling insights on what works and what does not with members of this fascinating generation. Do not be afraid to make generalizations based on your observations. Because ultimately Millennials are spenders—not big spenders, but they buy what they need and want. And you can be their reliable go-to insurance source.

Lois K. Geller is president of Lois Geller Marketing Group in Sarasota, Fla., and a contributor to Forbes.com.