Credit for the term “millennial” goes to historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, who coined the phrase in their 1991 book Generations. Millennials are also known as Generation Y, as in the generation following Generation X. Just to make things even more confusing, some also refer to this group as “echo boomers”: children of baby boomers.
Further muddying the waters is the fact that researchers and commentators seem to have trouble agreeing on when exactly this particular demographic begins or ends. Let’s just stick with what Wikipedia says on the topic: millennials, generally speaking, were born between 1982 and 2000.
While naming conventions and age ranges aren’t always consistent, we know this diverse group exceeds 83 million, represents more than a quarter of the nation’s population, and is widely considered the largest generation in U.S. history.
Just how big is the millennial market? These young consumers are collectively expected to spend more than $200 billion annually starting in 2017, and $10 trillion in their lifetimes. It’s no wonder so many companies are trying to figure out how to connect with the millennial mindset.
Best Practices, Redefined
Millennials can be anywhere from their teens to mid-30s, and despite media clichés, they occupy a great variety of life stages and lifestyles. However, one thing most of this group has in common is a general dislike and mistrust for traditional advertising.
According to a recent study, less than 3% of millennials rank traditional media sources like TV and print advertising as influencing their purchases. Only 1% of millennials said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more. Plus, they’re not just sick of ads, they’re avoiding them altogether: 84% of millennials admit to blocking or skipping ads all or some of the time.
Tried-and-true Madison Avenue tactics simply don’t work with the younger generation. It’s time for brands and agencies need to rethink their approach, because the truth is, millennials aren’t just representative of a hot current market — they’re the leading indicators of large-scale changes in future consumer behavior.
Learning how to reach and retain millennials will be critical for every brand, because this is the generation who is likely changing marketing forever.
5 Steps to Success When Targeting Millennials
1. Recognize Market Diversity
Millennials aren’t just the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in the nation’s history, they — just like any other group — vary in their technology habits, political beliefs, shopping behavior, food preferences, media consumption, and more.
Don’t make the mistake of applying overly broad generalizations about what every millennial thinks. When you cater to demographic stereotypes, you miss the opportunities that come with a more nuanced approach.
Pay attention to attitudes, behaviors, and preferences, and adjust your outreach accordingly. In a group with such a large age range, it’s particularly important to recognize the importance of lifestage when it comes to shaping millennial behavior.
In a nutshell: treat millennials like the individuals they are, and definitely don’t buy into those offensive generational myths.
2. Be Socially Relevant
Digital communication is second nature to Millennials since they have largely grown up using laptops, tablets, and smartphones. These days you can expect to reach the younger generation where they spend the most time: their mobile devices. Millennials are using their phones for gaming, shopping, listening to music, watching videos, messaging, reading news — and most of all, for social networking.
90% of young adults use social media, and they’re far more likely than other generations to reference social media networks when making purchase decisions. Millennials aren’t just sitting back and passively consuming content, either. They’re sharing, rating, reviewing, liking, tweeting, Snapchatting, commenting, Instagramming, live-streaming, and pinning.
In order to stay current in this rapidly evolving landscape, brands need to be willing to explore new platforms and content strategies. Prioritize authenticity over pitching: on-message promotion is far less important than providing useful, relatable content and sparking interesting conversations.
Successful social media marketers know that the end goal isn’t a sale, it’s a relationship.
3. Visual Content is Key
Between dwindling attention spans, the human brain’s natural preference for processing image-based information, and millennials turning to images and video as their primary means of communication, it’s no surprise that visual content greatly outperforms text when it comes to driving engagement.
Social image-sharing platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are ideal for brands looking to reach millennials. Consider a crowdsourcing strategy that taps into this market’s affinity for on-the-spot photography: with smartphones on hand at all times, there are endless opportunities for audience participation.
Video has become an incredibly effective tool for reaching audiences, and with the ability to embed or share clips, it’s often a platform-agnostic choice for marketers (after all, a view is a view, whether it’s via YouTube, Facebook, a web page, or Snapchat). It’s predicted that 74% of all Internet traffic in 2017 will be video, and 93% of marketers are using video for online marketing, sales, or communication.
Millennials are used to apps and platforms that help them discover new content every day, learn about the latest trends, and be part of a community. Take advantage of this environment with captivating, authentic images and video that bring your brand story to life.
More and more, people are making buying decisions based on recommendations and reviews from their community. How can marketers cut through the noise of information overload and become part of those conversations? It all starts with great content.
4. Be Real
Millennials don’t respond to gimmicks, artifice, or sales jargon. That doesn’t mean brands need to spend their time trying to glom onto the latest hashtag trend, it means they need to rethink their tone. Can a message be honest, genuine, relatable, direct, refreshing — and above all, transparent? If so, it’s got a much better chance of reaching this market than the old-school push-marketing ad brimming with big promises.
Authenticity in the millennial market means delivering a compelling, nuanced narrative in a way that drives engagement between consumer and brand. It means helping real people advocate for brands by sharing inspiring, useful, and entertaining content. It means being willing to hear criticism, and change direction when need be.
It also means allowing, or better yet, encouraging customers to contribute to and shape the brand story.
The most successful campaigns are those built on real relationships and honest exchanges. To that end, influencer marketing continues to skyrocket in popularity because it’s rooted in credibility and authenticity. When well-respected influencers spark brand conversations in an organic, believable way, audiences respond.
5. Find the Influencers
Individuals with large followings on blogs or social media can have a tremendous amount of influence over their audience. These are the lifestyle experts, beauty gurus, food bloggers, gaming YouTubers, and fashion stars who are sharing their interests and expertise online, and they’re exactly who brands should be connecting with.
For the younger generation, social media influencers are much more relatable than traditional celebrities. According to a recent Google study, 40% of millennial subscribers on YouTube say that their favorite YouTuber “understands them better than their friends.” 6 in 10 would follow advice on what to buy from their favorite creator over their favorite TV or movie personality.
This is part of an overall shift in how we prioritize word-of-mouth information over paid television, magazine, and newspaper ads. A whopping 92% percent of consumers around the world say they trust earned media, such as word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family, above all other forms of advertising.
Influencers have built trust among their millennial followers, and as a result, their opinions and recommendations carry serious weight. By partnering with influencers, brands can be mentioned and promoted organically within the influencer’s existing content strategy — as opposed to traditional advertising, which interrupts the consumer experience (and is largely ignored).
It’s now possible for brands to amplify messages exponentially to all of the influencer’s followers, then their followers’ friends, and so on, potentially reaching millions with just one campaign. Marketers are definitely seeing the results: one recent study revealed that 94% percent of brands and agencies find influencer marketing to be effective.
Whether an influencer strategy involves sponsored blog posts, Instagram collaborations, YouTube reviews, or branded giveaways, the payoffs can greatly transcend a one-time sale. When the relationship begins with trust in the influencer, brands have a better shot at winning long-term consumer awareness and affinity among their millennial market.
The bottom line: in the battle for millennial mindshare, brands who form the right influencer partnerships will be miles ahead of the competition.
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