The group known collectively as Millennials is already shifting the cultural and economic landscape in the U.S. The generation that inspired the front-facing camera and selfie stick, Millennials are coming of age and occupying a larger slice of the U.S. consumer population. With an annual buying power of $200 billion, this generation is expected to surpass the baby boomers in spending by the year 2017. How best to reach Millennials has become a trillion dollar question for marketers across the country.
So Who Exactly Are Millennials?
Millennials are loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 with ages ranging from 15 to 35. So while the youngest of this generation is still living with parents, many of them (numbering upwards of 75.3 million) are already well into their careers, starting families, and purchasing their own homes.
Characteristics of Millennials
- Value experiences over things: Millennials value experiences over things unlike previous generations. They’d rather spend $6 on one good cup of coffee for the experience instead of $1 on three cups of coffee.
- Risk-taking: Millennials are risk takers. They’re not chasing stability like previous generations.
- World travelers: They feel that America is a great country but also believe that ideas from abroad can sharpen our ideas and improve our culture.
- Passion matters: If they don’t feel the passion behind a brand or company, they don’t connect.
- Skeptical at heart: Millennials can be a bit mistrusting of businesses and corporations. They are more trusting of peers and information they find on the internet and social media.
- Generation Me: While having an open-minded and ‘do-gooder’ mentality, this is the most self-centered generation of consumers ever. To the ‘selfie generation’ broadcasting their own personal brand through social media is very important.
- Social consciousness: Millennials are more conscious of the greater impact of their actions. Millennials are more aware of how their goods and products are produced. They’re willing to spend more on a product or service that in some way makes the world a better place. They want to buy from brands they can believe in.
- Digital natives: This is the first generation that has grown up with digital and technology as an integral part of every aspect of their lives.
Millennials Live Digital
As the first digitally native generation, Millennials have been online for most of their adulthoods, if not their entire lives.
- They choose a restaurant with Yelp
- They get there in an Uber or Lyft using the app
- They stream their music from the cloud instead of buying CDs or mp3s
- They use Pinterest and Houzz to remodel their homes and decorate
- They use Instagram and Snapchat to stay connected with friends
- Relaxing before going to sleep now means spending an hour on Facebook and Instagram instead of watching TV
- They use Tinder to date
- They play games on smartphones instead of gaming consoles
- They shop for clothes online at work, using their phone instead of driving to the mall
- While previous generations are concerned about privacy, Millennials are more focused on broadcasting to the world where they are and what they are doing in real time
- While Millennials are more digitally savvy than older generations, they are much less patient with technology. If it doesn’t work or takes too long, they’re out - moving on to the next option.
- For this massive group now comprising nearly a fourth of the US population, digital technology is a necessity, not a luxury. The medium for reaching Millennials is clearly digital.
If brands want to tap into the massive Millennial market, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Provide a Seamless Digital Experience
While previous generations often consider digital as a nice-to-have addition to the traditional shopping experience, Millennials expect it. And they expect it to be a seamless digital experience at that - what may have been minor inconveniences to older generations have now become major setbacks for brands hoping to attract Millennials online. Digital hurdles like 404 pages (broken links), non-mobile websites, and slow loading times are detrimental to online performance, and are time-wasters that Millennials are unlikely to tolerate.
Because they’ve grown up in a digital world, Millennials are also all about on-demand satisfaction - they want immediate solutions to their problems. They put a premium on speed, ease, efficiency, and convenience in all their transactions. As technology becomes increasingly faster and more powerful, Millennials have innately come to expect instant gratification with digital technology. Simply put, they expect technology to work and will go elsewhere if it doesn't.
- Ensure that your website is fast and easy to use
- Focus on a streamlined experience online - information must be easily accessible
- Place important content above the fold - don’t make visitors hunt it down
- Continuously monitor for broken links or functionality
Mobile. Mobile. Mobile.
Millennials are the first mobile generation. Almost 88% of Millennials own a smartphone - to say that this generation is dependent on devices would be a huge understatement. This is especially true with shopping - nearly twice as many Millennials as baby boomers report that they research products, compare prices, or search for coupons or promotions on their phones while in a physical store.
Just how integral are smartphones in the lives of Millennials? According to eMarketer, nearly half of 19 to 22 year-olds spent at least 4 hours with the mobile internet every weekday. They are using mobile to engage in social media more than any other generation - according to comScore, the average 18-44 year-old smartphone social media user spends in excess of 25 hours per month consuming social content on their phone. The widespread use of mobile devices by this generation gives marketers the ability to reach Millennials virtually at any time and anyplace.
- Take a mobile-first approach to your website and digital marketing
- Make sure your website is accessible across devices
- Leverage geo-location technologies to provide real-time, relevant promotions
- Leverage mobile in your social media strategy
Another defining characteristic is that Millennials value relationships. More than previous generations, Millennials say that they look for opportunities to interact and engage with brands. Due to coming of age in an era of constant access, they expect to be listened to anywhere and anytime, and look for direct, person-to-person, real-time communication.
Millennials also tap their personal relationships to make purchasing decisions more often than other generations. Over 90% of Millennials in a recent survey say that they trust their friends for product recommendations and twice as many Millennials than baby boomers say that they are more likely to avoid brands that their friends disapprove of.
- Closely monitor social media to provide timely, direct communication
- Make it easy for users to share your content
- Incentive consumers to promote their recent purchases within their social networks
- Leverage loyalty data to personalize/contextualize promotions
While social media has become an essential tool for reaching Millennials, brands must keep authenticity in mind. As more and more brands attempt to target consumers via social media, Millennials have become skilled at blocking out unwanted noise from brands overtly promoting their products and services.
Unlike previous generations, Millennials are more likely to say that authenticity is important to them. They expect brands to speak to them in their language, in a consistent voice across all touchpoints. They can also sense when they are being manipulated by marketers (and will take to social media to broadcast it), so it’s more important than ever to stay clear from evasive or deceptive messaging.
- Stay true to your brand in positioning and voice
- Avoid ambiguous or deceptive messaging
- Listen in rather than forcing your brand into conversations
- Be transparent in your operations and branding
Be Socially Conscious
Of all characteristics that make Millennials stand out, their social conscious mentality is one that defines their generation. In fact, Millennials more than any other demographic report that they are more likely to support a brand that is socially and environmentally conscious. In a study from TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart, 7 out of 10 young adults consider themselves to be social activists.
In a study from research firm BCG, more Millennials than the average American consumer agreed that they are more likely to buy a product if they know that the company is “mindful of its social responsibilities” and that they support companies that “show concern for the environment and sustainability.”
- Highlight your brand’s commitment to social causes
- Continue to look for ways to improve your brand’s impact on the environment
- Don’t greenwash or overinflate your charitable work - Millennials will be vocal on social media about any perceived deception
- Don’t just write a check to a cause - use ongoing partnerships to show that you are invested in improving the world on a continual basis
Leverage Social Media to Co-Brand
As a somewhat self-centered and narcissistic generation, Millennials broadcast their own personal brand through social media. This is an opportunity if you can make your brand part of their personal brand (and vice versa). Millennials not only want to buy from a brand they believe in, they then want to broadcast this to the world to show what they’re buying. What better opportunity for brand marketers than a generation that wants to spread the word for you?
So how do you engage the Millennial machine and tap into this viral opportunity? Start from an authentic place. Shape your message to be real and capture what you do best (again, Millennials can sense fraud immediately so don’t even try). Show that your product or service truly helps people and changes lives. Share your mission. Make sure your voice and brand connect with your audience in an authentic way. Then, engage. Get active on social. Hero your Millennial consumers in your own marketing. Indulge their egos and make them the center of your messaging - in return they’ll be inspired to broadcast your brand.
- Start by creating an authentic, original voice and brand (don’t try to fake it!)
- Get active on social media
- Hero your Millennial customers in your brand marketing and they’ll return the favor
- Don’t use social media to sell your brand - use it to inspire others and further your mission
The Most Important Thing About Millennials for Brand Marketers: Don’t Ignore Them!
Ignoring the country’s largest and most financially viable generation ever is a risk that brands can’t afford to take. In the next five years it’s likely that Millennials will be the largest portion of your customers, if they aren’t already. By engaging in a direct, authentic way across a variety of digital platforms, brands can tap into the enormous influence and buying power of the Millennial generation.
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