The millennial generation is an 80-million-strong group born between 1982 and 2000, and it already exceeds the baby boomers in size and influence. Now the largest generation in the workforce, millennials have changed how companies do business, develop products, and go-to-market.

More importantly, they’re still changing how companies engage with consumers. This generation above all others is not afraid to tell the world exactly how they feel about a product or service, and they have plenty of platforms to choose from: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Tumblr, etc.

So just how do you engage millennials in a meaningful way? Well, by learning about them. By becoming relevant to their lives, maintaining authenticity—and by speaking their language.

Turns out, however, that mastering “millennial speak” may not be so easy for those of us from the salt-and-pepper generations—people born before 1979 with some gray in our hair. In our day, we said “booyah” and “she’s the bomb”—phrases so out of date and mortifying to millennials that it makes their blood run cold. But if you’re over 40 today, you’ve probably never even heard of most of the new terms, like “stan”, “bae,” “trill,” “hundo P,” or “on fleek.” (I asked my millennial son about “on fleek”—and he seemed to say they don’t much use this one anymore. Always pays to stay current!) Suffice it to say that if we want to talk to millennials on their own terms, and truly decipher what they’re saying and stay relevant, then we have to do a bit better all around. Although that, of course, does not mean you should memorize vocabulary lists (although knowing current terms can occasionally help) that will quickly go out of date in a few years anyway.

That said, there are some universal truths in the best ways to connect with the millennial generation. In his excellent October 2015 HBR article, friend of TopRight and former colleague Brad Power highlighted the 3 Ways Big Companies Are Connecting with Younger Consumers:

  1. Start Conversations, Stop Selling Products

Understanding Millennials is a significant challenge for the financial services industry, especially when 71% of Millennials say they’d rather go to a dentist than listen to a banker’s advice. How can a company understand a consumer that won’t engage?

This led MassMutual to make a risky shift from selling products to starting conversations. The company opened Society of Grownups, a storefront that integrates financial literacy sessions, like “How to Buy a Home,” with classes on travel and wine. The entire staff was hired externally and brought in from outside of MassMutual. Many of the classes have been sold out, but MassMutual realizes it still has a long way to go to meet millennials on “their true home ground.”

“We have been successful in starting to understand this generation and their needs, but we have the humility to realize we have a lot more to do.”
~ Nondini Naqui, CEO Society of Grownups

  1. Make the Startup Hookup

Marriott is learning about millennials by working with local startups. Once the company learned that many millennials identify themselves as localvores, it decided to bring local flare to their hotels.

Marriott created a food and beverage incubator (“CANVAS”) to identify local food and beverage stars and offer them space to do their thing. By turning the hotel’s bars and restaurants into local hotspots, Marriott hopes to attract younger consumers. The company also reinvented its product development process and now rolls out new initiatives in 4-6 months, rather than their previous 12-24 month cycle.

  1. Provide Instant Gratification

Starwood is the most technologically savvy hotel chain in the world. The company’s technology-first strategy is designed to keep up with millennials’ ever-increasing expectations.

The hotel has launched two smartphone-enabled services: SPG Keyless and Botlr. Guests can use their smartphones as digital room keys, allowing them to bypass check-in and walk straight to the room. Botlr allows guests to request items like toothpaste or shaving cream and delivers these requests via a robotic butler. Starwood also uses feedback to make immediate product iterations. Originally, when a hotel room door was opened by “SPG Keyless” it flashed amber, but Starwood learned quickly that this confused millennial guests, so they changed the unlocked light to green and added a vibration on the mobile device as further confirmation.

The millennial generation and the rise of digital, omni-channel marketing has shattered the standard or more predictable path to purchase. Connecting with younger consumers requires an innovative approach to the overall customer experience – and this also applies to non-millennial consumers.

“The struggle is real!”

Often, when a millennial says this to you in a certain mood, be aware that it’s possible you’re being made fun of (just something I, you know, learned recently). They’re saying that that thing you’re taking so seriously? It’s not that important. So just relax.

But, in fact, the struggle to connect with millennials really is real. It’s an honest issue that plenty of companies are facing, with plenty on line. As a marketer, you would do well to take it seriously and really investigate how you’re brand can connect with youth. Not only millennials but sooner than you think Gen Z—the cohort following millennials—will be out there throwing around their own slang and bringing their own sensibility to market.

Some leading companies are literally obliterating their customer processes in order to reach, connect, and engage with millennial customers. What about you? We’d like to hear from you. Do you have any interesting stories about marketing to millennials?

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