Millennials. You know the word. From news articles to Twitter threads—this is a prevalent topic of conversation. Whether discussing millennials and technology, millennials and entitlement, or millennials and work ethic—they get a lot of press, and much of it tends to be negative.
Despite their reputation, this term is more than just slang for “lazy young person,” and it should not be disregarded as a pejorative slur. Millennials are largely underestimated, and they are defined by a series of overlooked attributes that entail a significant set of implications in the ever-evolving business and marketing world.
What’s a Millennial, and Why Should I Care?
Millennials are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as the group of individuals born between 1982 and 2000, currently comprised of Americans 20–38 years of age. In 2015, numbered at 83.1 million, Millennials represented over one fourth of the U.S. population.1 This number exceeded the existing number of individuals within the Baby Boomer generation, numbered at 75.4 million.2 The Millennial generation is quickly overtaking the consumer landscape, spending about $1.3 trillion each year.3 Not only do they wield this significant buying power, but Millennials are also increasingly stepping into professional roles of decision making for large corporations. According to EY, 62% of the global Millennial workforce occupied management roles in 2015, and in the U.S., more Millennials (compared with individuals of Generation X and Baby Boomers) were reported to hold management positions.4
Millennials have a profound quantity of personal wealth to spend, and they are becoming the sole decision-makers for how to spend the wealth of businesses. If these numbers are not compelling enough to convince you to take notice of these up-and-coming members of society, they also tend to be extremely brand loyal to those fortunate enough to secure their business. A Forbes survey found that 60% of Millennials stated that they “are often or always loyal to brands that they currently purchase.”5 Not only are the members of this generation capable of investing great quantities across the consumer market, but they are also likely to become enduring customers, ensuring the profitability of their chosen organizational entities.
The Millennial Profile and Its Implications for Advertising
Contrary to popular belief, Millennials are far more than entitled former members of youth soccer leagues where all received participation trophies. Today’s Millennials seek connection, value authenticity, utilize technology regularly, prefer experiences over material goods, are highly educated, and value humanitarian causes.
Members of the Millennial generation are constantly seeking connection, particularly through the use of social media platforms. According to data gathered by the University of Southern California, 89% of Millennials routinely utilize social media, and 82% engage with brands or retailers via social media.6 Millennials are happy to interact with businesses through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest—forging connections with entities that they find to be meaningful. Millennials are even happy to see advertisements from those entities if they find the product or service personally relevant. USC found that 85% of Millennials are likely to make purchases that are personalized to their interests.7 An ad for a highly desired product or service can establish a sense of connection when the consumer perceives that offering to meet their needs in an almost custom fashion.
With this in mind, it is imperative to utilize social media platforms to provide opportunities for consumers to connect with your brand. Launch multi-tiered digital marketing campaigns that position text, image, and video ads across various platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Google, LinkedIn, and more. Invite the public to engage and identify with your brand through various promotional events; for example, give them the opportunity to take photos of themselves using your products, and then repost their photo on your Instagram account.
Another crucial implication of the relational desires of Millennials is the necessity of strategic targeting. Informed targeted through social platforms can identify the ideal type of individual who would consider your products or service to be a personalized recommendation. Utilize targeting to reach people who have already expressed interest in similar products or services. Millennials actually want to see ads for things they are interested in—take advantage of this!
As much as Millennials want to connect, they want to establish meaningful, genuine connections. A Forbes survey found that 43% of Millennials value authenticity over content with respect to news sources.8 If they do not trust the source, they are likely to not even proceed to engage with the content. The survey also found that 99% of Millennials do not put stock in (even “compelling”) advertising. Perhaps due to the growing prevalence of collegiate courses with titles like “Media Ethics” and “Persuasion and Propaganda,” Millennials assume that advertisements are inherently biased or misleading.
In light of this impediment that automatically accompanies the realm of marketing, advertisers must choose both a voice and a medium that communicates authenticity. Rather than a cliché print advertisement portraying a historically “traditional” family enjoying cleaning products with pasted-on smiles, tap into the consumers’ sense of irony, humor, or simplicity. Whatever you do, avoid coming across as another corporate entity trying to pull the wool over their eyes. Develop your brand voice and embrace it fully. Demonstrate goodwill and respect with the awareness that your potential consumers are capable of recognizing insincere messages.
Better yet, utilize advertisements that do not look like advertisements. A branded baseball cap may speak volumes louder than a cheesy television commercial. A website offering blog posts on cooking hacks truly provides a value add to the customer without coming across as aggressive or salesy. A virtual reality experience allowing the public to test out your products is more of a demonstration opportunity than an ad. There may be a time and place for traditional advertising, but these innovative marketing techniques are invaluable in reaching Millennials who are looking for authenticity.
3. Technologically Advanced
Speaking of virtual reality, Millennials are particularly drawn to innovative technologies, even on a smaller scale. According to Forbes, 87% of Millennials utilize multiple (2–3) technological devices every day.9 The Pew Research Center found that 93% of Millennials own smartphones,10 and according to USC, 53% of Millennials make online purchases. 11
The conclusion here is simple—strategically utilize technological channels to advertise your products and services. Digital marketing is a must. With consumers consistently engaging with various devices, it is important to ensure that your digital advertising methods are optimized for different viewing options, from mobile to desktop. The repetition of ads across multiple platforms is a powerful technique to achieve brand awareness. Providing multiple touchpoints for consumers to engage with your brand makes your brand more accessible and convenient, empowering Millennials to connect with you more often and more easily. When the Millennial sees a well-placed ad on their phone hours or days after viewing a similar ad on their desktop computer, this might just be the nudge they need to click that link.
Millennials as a whole tend to seek out experiences rather than things. A Harris Poll survey, cited by Forbes, revealed that 78% of Millennials prefer to spend their money on an experience rather than physical products. 12
This consumer propensity drives the paradigm of narrative-driven marketing. In essence, all advertising is inviting others to join in your story. The development of a brand origin story and cohesive sub-narratives is the most basic way to demonstrate to consumers that you are offering an experience rather than a mere product or service. This can be established through an “Our Story” section on your website, intentional lifestyle photography portraying the intangible benefits of your product or service, a relatable tagline, a corporate film, and virtually every marketing asset. Identify the values embodied by your organization, and demonstrate how your clients and customers benefit from those values by partnering with your organization.
A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that 33% older Millennials had obtained a four-year college degree or higher, which makes them the most highly educated group of American young adults to date.13 This education has led to more informed consumer habits. Millennials often research products and services before making purchases, and they are more likely to look to user-generated content, such as blogs, rather than traditional news and resources, such as television, magazines, or books.14 They trust people—even strangers—over corporations to provide them with an accurate assessment of goods or services.
The modern marketer must not overlook the education of the new consumer market. We must acknowledge their intelligence through avoiding condescending messaging and incorporating multiple voices into our brand narratives. What this means is allowing non-employees to assist in telling the story of your business. This can be done through including customer reviews on your website or creating client testimonial videos. Social media platforms also allow users to like, comment on, and share your posts—increasing brand visibility without forcing a sense of obligation upon potential customers.
6. Community and Sustainability-Focused
Part of the Millennial generation’s new level of education is an awareness of the effects of corporations on the environment and community. In a USC survey, 91% of Millennials demonstrated a preference for brands that identify with a particular cause.15 Whether humanitarian or environmental, Millennial consumers want to know that their purchasing choices are having a positive impact on the world around them.
Invite Millennials to take part in your charitable footprint through communicating your community involvement, partnerships, and sponsorships. Feature a page on your website outlining your commitment to giving back. Post Instagram photos of your team members volunteering for a local cause. Implement promotional events wherein you donate a portion of your profits to a charity your customer base holds dear. An excellent way to garner participation in your brand is to invite them to share in your meaningful causes.
Millennials today comprise the majority of the consumer market, and they have a great amount of money and loyalty to give. Understanding the Millennial allows marketers to shape their advertising to be relational, authentic, integrated with technology, experiential, supported through user-generated content, and cause-focused. These advertising strategies will effectively engage Millennials and secure their business for years to come.
2 United States Census Bureau, 2015
3 Boston Consulting Group, 2014
4 EY, 2015
5 Forbes, 2015
6 University of Southern California Dornsife, 2020
7 University of Southern California Dornsife, 2020
8 Forbes, 2015
9 Forbes, 2015
10 Pew Research Center, 2019
11 University of Southern California Dornsife, 2020
12 Forbes, 2014
13 Pew Research Center, 2014
14 Forbes, 2015
15 University of Southern California Dornsife, 2020