What You Need to Know About Marketing to Millennials
By John Bonini
While waiting in line to check out at Barnes & Noble last week, I did what any other Millennial shopper would do; I perused the accompanying magazine rack for any interesting articles to check out for free on my iPad later.
What caught my eye both captivated and inspired me to put this blogpost together.
The cover story for the May 20th issue of TIME Magazine read: The ME ME ME Generation: Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents. Why they'll save us all.
I certainly wasn't offended by the title. After all, coming from the generation where insulting YouTube and Twitter messages are as certain as death and taxes, this certainly wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. The article does go on to praise Millennials (the 'ole bait and switch; Millennials are self-entitled brats who won't get off their smartphones....but they're great! Smart, adaptive, resourceful...they're going to save everyone!")
But like so many other generational generalizations (say three times fast?), it reminded me of the perception many marketers and advertisers have for us Millennials. I immediately started drawing parallels to inbound marketing as well as the advertising and PR industry as a whole, and how context and personalization has offered a more targeted message for a newer generation whose significance is at the forefront.
Are we, as Millennials, really pigeonholed as apathetic, tablet-toting hipsters who tweet "selfies" from our childhood bedroom?
If that's the takeaway traditional marketers have of the younger generation, it's no wonder the response to inbound marketing has been both instant and expansive. It's a refreshing change for Millennials, who are continuously looking for more engagement, personalization, and context in their marketing messages.
Last week I reached out to some of my colleagues – and fellow Millennials – from around the inbound marketing industry to get their take on how the baby boom generation can market more effectively to the largest demographic wave in nation's history.
Marketing to Millennials
Corey Eridon, Inbound Marketing Content Manager @ HubSpot
"One of the biggest misconceptions about the generational gap, and how Millennials communicate, is a true understanding of how we use social media. There's this misconception that social media is really impersonal and you can't really foster meaningful connections out of it – you need the face-to-face.
There's also this idea that you can just slap on old-school approaches to a new medium. Both of these are totally off base. Millennials have embraced social media as a way to communicate differently but still meaningfully with one another. That means we adjust our approach, knowing it's not the same as face-to-face communications, but no less important or legitimate."
David Wells, Founder of Inbound Now
"Millennials are a skeptical bunch. If I feel like there is a bunch of marketing/sale jargon behind a specific product, an alarm immediately goes off.
I feel as though products should sell themselves through an elegant user experience, amazing customer service and, most importantly, via word of mouth from like minded peer groups.
Google changed the way everyone researches and figures out what they actually want to buy. Millennials grew up with the search box and aren't afraid to use it. This will become increasingly more dangerous for companies who rely on their marketing/sales to drive their businesses forward because there will be nowhere for their bad product/horrible customer service to hide.
Excessive Marketing/Sales is a bandaid on a bigger problem. Make a product that is truly helpful, solves a real problem, and is a delight to users and you won't have any trouble getting people to buy and talk about it."
Pamela Vaughan, Inbound Marketing Blog Manager @ HubSpot
"As Millennials, we've grown up with access to so much technology that enables us to do things in our own time. It's why we prefer text messaging over talking on the phone, watching our favorite TV shows on demand, and why we don't wait around for the 10:00 news to stay informed – we get it exactly when we want it online and through our mobile devices.
Because of this, we're particularly averse to any marketing that doesn't cater to our inclination for on-demand content. Fail to cater to that on-demand nature, and you'll miss out on a big chunk of the Millennial pie."
Bob Ruffolo, Founder & CEO of IMPACT Branding & Design
"Traditional marketers need to shift their mindset from blasting out messages and hoping for a return to really understanding our buying behaviors and really providing us what we want. We don't want to hear a sales pitch, or telemarketing calls, or receive a spam text. We laugh when we see ads pop up on the Internet that are completely irrelevant.
I prefer to do my own research. I'm not waiting for a message to prompt me to buy, because I'm not going to respond to that. I am much more relationship minded. When I refinanced my condo, I went to my network of family and friends for a referral, I didn't respond to a direct mail letter prompting me to "refinance my house." There's no relationship there.
If someone is going to catch my attention for a product or service I'm not currently thinking about, it has to be remarkable and have context. Too many brands just do what everyone else is doing. We've figured out how to block that out."
Tracy Lewis, Senior Consultant @ PR 20/20
"I rarely see your traditional advertising. Aside from bills and birthday cards, mail goes straight into the recycling bin. I haven't opened a newspaper in years (preferring instead to get my news online), and frequently record my favorite TV shows, so I can whizz by the commercials.
I've become an expert Google searcher, and turn online to find information on just about everything — from recipes to recent events to health questions. If Google doesn't have the answer, then I look to Facebook and Twitter for recommendations/solutions.
Brianne Carlon, Content Marketing Director @ Kuno Creative
"As Millennials, we care about authenticity, we care about sustainability, and we care about making the most of life.
In short, we care, so marketers should, too. Don't try to trick us; give us something real and useful. Tell us a story. Better yet, make it funny. If what you provide can better our lives or the lives of the people around us, we will most likely get on board with it."
"Clarity is king. We've gotten incredibly good at multi-tasking and because of that we're heavily focused on noise reduction.
We want to make intelligent, informed decisions - but we're also short on time. Anything that helps us make what feels like an informed decision faster is going to get our attention and strongly influence our purchase process."
Jessica Donlon, Client Services Manager @ PR 20/20
"Like other Millennials, when I have a question, I Google it. (From my phone, I may ChaCha it for the additional convenience.) I appreciate brands that make useful product or service information easy to find online. I really appreciate it when brands do my homework for me and offer comparison guides too—yes, those include the competition.
If you want me to be a lifetime customer, connect with me on a deeper level. That lasting connection can spark from a range of activities. For example: the company is known for sponsoring a charitable cause; it's an organization that promotes and partners with local businesses; or the brand's marketing sticks out among competition with a fun event, video, app or campaign.
If you want my business, be helpful and be human."
Rachel Sprung, Brand & Buzz Coordinator @ HubSpot
"I think it's important to remember that Millennials want to digest everything as quickly and easily as possible. We want to read on the go on our mobile devices.
If your website isn't mobile, we will immediately go to another company's website that is. If you write something extremely lengthy with a lot of fluff instead of just getting to the point, you will lose our attention.
Thinking about ways to immediately give us your message - that's important."
Frank Isca, Account Executive @ Weidert Group
"As consumers we're now expecting a more personalized experience. This is a result of our current experience on the web where we spend the large majority of our time and where we're seeing more prevalent contextual experiences of content and messages tailored to our behaviors and needs. Marketers can continue to ignore this sea change in consumer expectations or play into it by fully understanding the personas they're trying to reach. When done right, we as the consumer instantly feel at ease and are more engaged on what the message is that is being marketed to us.
For me personally, it's the combination of a personalized experience and an inspiring message that motivates my purchasing decisions and this is hard to do using traditional marketing channels. Those who take their online presence seriously have the best chance of engaging me and moving me towards a purchase."
Anum Hussain, Inbound Content Strategist @ HubSpot
"As a Millennial in marketing, I want to first mention how I don't believe in the common stereotype of our generation not valuing "offline" concepts. Despite being a 22-year-old immersed in the marketing industry, there's a pure sense of excitement that emerges when my work is printed. It's like when you go to a conference and see a beautifully crafted agenda, or an awesome piece of swag. There's a sense of joy with tangible items that a tweet or email simply can't solve.
That being said, a business can't be successful simply by handing out free goodies to the lovers-of-free-swag generation. When I'm seeking information, I'm seeking clarity and efficiency. I don't want to wait on the phone to get what I need. I want an app like Uber that will allow me to easily call a cab. I don't want newspapers or flyers with coupons in them. I want a rewards card like the CVS one that automatically sends my coupons to that card, eliminating the need to print and empowering the ease of swipe. I don't want to carry receipts in my purse that I'll likely lose. I want an electronic receipt emailed to me the way Apple or Gap allows.
You may not see these examples as marketing, but I do. Marketing to a Millennial means showing the ease-of-use of your product. It means highlighting the integration of your service into our current lifestyle. How is your brand adding value to ours? How is your organization making our lives easier? We're consuming content on our phones, on our laptops, on the internet. If you're not there, I'm not listening."
Dia Dalsky, Consultant @ PR 20/20
"The most successful way to market to me and my generation is through a trickle down effect—break through to the early adopters, prove that it's a great product/service and let them market to the rest of us.
It begins with influencing the innovators and early adopters. When it comes to new products/fads, a large portion of us want to be a part of that first wave, the ones who can say "I found this!" Those people care less about the price tag, and more about the uniqueness of whatever the latest gadget might be.
We digest everything—from news and industry updates, to entertainment, friend and celebrity gossip—through online and and mobile devices. The trick is to figure out which channel is best suited for your product/service. For me, Twitter primarily functions as a news source, as well as a professional networking tool. The same goes for LinkedIn. Facebook is where I communicate with, and market to, my friends. Email is my preferred medium for receiving updates from my favorite bloggers, my bank, billing and finance alerts, as well as coupons/deals and updates from my favorite brands.
I skip commercials with DVR, I throw out almost all direct mail. However, in the event you have something truly special, captivating, I'll pay attention."
Tom DiScipio, Executive Vice-President & Co-Owner @ IMPACT Branding & Design
"I don't care about your billboard on the highway. I don't watch your commercials – unless of course they're humorous and you're not directly selling me something. Think Old Spice.
I spend more time ripping up things I receive in the mail than actually looking at them. And I rarely click the yellow box at the top of google's search page. Sorry for being so blunt - but it's actually frustrating and acts as more of a deterrent for how businesses are trying to attract my business.
If you're a business who's selling a product or service, it's not about breaking down our walls. It's about opening your doors and giving us various channels to willfully reach and connect with your brand. Using technologies like search and social to research and find what I'm actually looking for has been my only purchase method for as long as the technology has been available. That is why it's imperative that businesses today become the resource that will ultimately be the deciding factor in my buying decisions. Answer my questions with blog articles or provide a solution in a social media post and I will find you."
Brittany Leaning, Social Media Manager @ HubSpot
"The reason I wanted to work at HubSpot was not because of money. It's because I wanted to learn and have a flexible schedule and work with other people who are motivated to learn and work together on projects that actually make a difference.
I would say that concept also applies to how I wish to be marketed to as a Millennial. I want to learn which breakfast restaurant would be best for me based on my location and past behaviors – I don't care which brand spent the most money on their advertising campaign. If I'm a vegan living in Cambridge, I'd hope to find a breakfast restaurant that serves food I could actually eat ... in my location.
If I get results for a breakfast restaurant with no vegan options, located in California, I think I'd be a little miffed at the poor marketing folks are doing to reach the "correct" audience.
Google is definitely doing this right. They're focusing most on context as well as user experience and visual design – which is exactly where my brain is. If you catch my attention with content that actually applies to my life, is of interest to me, and is presented in the right way, at the right time, I will embrace your marketing with open arms. If you interrupt my day with a broadcast message for something I would never buy, I start to get angry and might try to avoid your brand in the future."
Shannon Johnson, Inbound Marketing Manager @ HubSpot
"I'm so used to only getting bills and other garbage mailed to me that I sometimes don't even open mail I should actually be reading, so mail is definitely a no-go if you want me to pay attention. My personal email is heading in this direction.
I don't answer calls from numbers I don't know, so cold calling me won't work.
I barely watch TV, so that's also a no-go. To me, TV equals Netflix or HBO Go, so I choose what I want to watch and when – without ads.
Online, I barely have time for content I really do want to consume, much less a YouTube video ad I never wanted to watch or some expandable banner ad that gets in the way of what I'm trying to read or watch. Most of the content I consume is on demand: It's something I sought out.
I rely heavily on the social connections I have on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to help steer me toward information I might find interesting.
The only way to get me to consume something now is to happen to reach me at the right time – most likely in one of those social channels – and teach me something, make me laugh, help me, or give me something I can share with my friends and peers that will make me look cool, smart or funny.
Sarah Goliger, Inbound Marketing Manager @ HubSpot
"To be honest, I'm probably not going to pay much attention to your company unless you're either selling something I already know I need, or you're actually exciting. I need a compelling reason to explore your website. You need to stand out from all the clutter that's drowning my inbox and my social media streams. Show me something that will stick with me throughout the day – a funny video, a thought-provoking blog post, something I'll want to post on my Facebook wall or go tell my friends about. Make it relevant to me and my needs and interests.
We have enough technology these days that it should be easy for you to get to know me before you reach out and start the conversation. And, on that note, make sure it's a conversation, not a pitch. Because the hard truth is, I'm probably not really going to care much about what you're trying to sell me until I actually like you. So let's be friends first, okay? If you want your marketing to be effective, you have to start there."
Hannah Fleishman, Brand & Buzz Team @ HubSpot
"Marketing to Millennials has become a buzz topic. How do marketers reach us? What works on us? What doesn't?
There's tons of research and content on what we are receptive to and how being digital natives changes our behavior. Marketers know we're immune to loud, flashy, traditional advertising and that scares them. But it shouldn't.
I think Millennials value honest brands with substance. You don't need the flashy ads and can save tons of money by having a valuable position in your industry and communicating it without frills. I am always on social media, I watch TV online, I shop online – I live online. If your brand is authentic and truly providing something awesome, I'll find you on the web.
So focus on bringing something different to the table, Millennials and the internet will take care of the rest.
Ginny Soskey, Inbound Marketing Blogger @ HubSpot
"As a Millennial, I don't care how a magazine ad feels in my hand and chances are, I flip right through the page without a second thought.
What really gets my attention is content that speaks directly to me – whether it's a personalized email, an interactive quiz or even a well-researched blog post.
With so much content on the web and so little time to pay attention to it, it's more important than ever to use extremely targeted, high quality content to appeal to Millennials.
Rosalia Cefalu, Product Marketing Team @ HubSpot
"They call my generation the 'digital natives.' We grew up with computers, on the Internet, in full control of our digital environments. That's why the one-way, analog nature of traditional advertising just doesn't work with us. We're itching for interaction and self-efficacy. We don't want to be told who to be and what products will make us that person. We want to figure it out ourselves, on our own terms.
Gone are the days of defining ourselves by a traditional set of societally-accepted standards. Millennials have multiple identities in the digital world, the workplace, on social networks and in the classroom. It's okay for us to straddle identity lines, so we don't feed into some of the traditional methods of advertising that attempt to appeal to a consumer's perception of a singular identity."
What are your thoughts on "digital natives" now representing the largest demographic in the U.S.? How can we all market more effectively to meet their needs? Learn how Inbound Marketing plays directly into the needs of the modern consumer in The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Checklist.
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