Marketing to Millennials: You’re Doing it Wrong


Millennials have it rough. Not only did they come of age in the worst economy since the Great Depression, but log on to any news site and you’re likely to find them assailed by older generations as selfie-taking, text-a-holic, unemployable idlers.

But perceptions of Millennials are beginning to shift. A slew of recent articles suggest Millennials aren’t worse than Boomers or Gen X; they’re just fundamentally different. These differences carry over to every aspect of Millennials’ lives — from work ethic and prioritization, to spending habits and how they use technology.

As a demographic, they present obstacles for marketers. To understand these obstacles and overcome them, it’s important to first understand what makes Millennials tick.

Who are Millennials?


The first rule of marketing is to know your audience. In the case of Millennials, we need to look at what sets them apart from other generations.


They have been the group hardest hit by the recent recession, which is why they make such tough, budget-conscious customers. And they’re digital natives — the first generation that has grown up online, in the era of infinite choice.

Why Millennials matter to marketers

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Because Baby Boomers have been the largest segment of consumers up until now, the advertising industry has largely targeted their buying patterns. Subsequent generations, even rebellious Gen Xers, eventually grew to fit the mold of Baby Boomers. But, as mentioned above, Millennials have intrinsically different purchasing habits.

The biggest threat to advertisers today is their over-reliance on “traditional” advertising, the kinds of tactics that worked on Boomers. The data suggests, after all, that the Baby Boomers will soon be eclipsed in numbers and spending power by Millennials.

How Millennials spend

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Millennials are more cost-conscious than your average baby boomer and, as a result, their spending habits depart dramatically from “the norm.” As a result of the economic downturn, they tend to put off purchasing big-ticket items like houses and new cars. They largely don’t identify with luxury brands, and spend far less on fast food and soda than other generations.

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More than half say they will switch brands for a mere cents-off coupon, meaning brands need to work even harder to retain Millennial customers.

But fear not. Many Millennials will return to brands that have earned their trust, and which have gotten to know them. Building that trust begins with reaching them where they are.

How Millennials use technology and social media

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Your brand likely has a social media strategy. But if it only consists of self-promotions and product-focused messaging, you’re not going to reach a millennial audience. Millennials spend countless hours on social media, but they aren’t looking to be talked at — they’re looking for genuine service and engagement.

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Because they’ve grown up with the internet, they are savvy customers who know how to research. Content generated by your current user base in the form of reviews and discussion will weigh more heavily on their purchasing decisions than even the most clever viral ad campaign.

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And they have high expectation when it comes to how technology performs. They expect a seamless experience across digital platforms, responsive support reps and near-zero downtime.

How can brands reach millennials?

By now it should be clear that Millennials need to be engaged on their own terms. Here are a few quick tips on how to successfully market to this audience:

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  • Think beyond traditional advertising: Millennials are the most tech-savvy generation that advertisers have ever targeted. You should assume that every claim you make, every banner headline you write, will be researched and checked against their social networks.
  • Be where they are: Don’t rely on your own website. You need a presence and a strategy for the social networks where millennials spend their time. If you build it, they won’t necessarily come. Go to them.
  • Provide experiences: A recent New York Times article discussed the difficulty that the mattress industry was having targeting Millennial customers (who tend to put off large purchases such as new mattresses). An industry publication recently recommended that mattress companies target this generation by sponsoring concerts and creating online quizzes. Festivals, challenges and contests are the kinds of engaging experiences Millennials will remember.
  • Seek authentic engagement: Millennials don’t want to feel like they’re talking to a social media department; it’s important that your brand has a human face. This includes everything from writing content in a conversational voice to being honest and transparent about the products you’re selling. Millennials are more likely than any previous generation to pore through user-generated content and social sites before making a purchasing decision. A strong user-built reputation will be your brand’s greatest asset.
  • Video is a critical medium: Millennials spend 48 percent more time watching online videos than the average Internet user. While your video strategy should include interesting promotional content, you are missing an opportunity if you aren’t engaging these customers with quick informative videos and tutorials. While this stuff will likely never go viral, you have the ability to build loyal customers by providing helpful content, at a relatively low cost to your business.
  • Don’t forget the discounts: Millennials may report being less brand loyal than their predecessors, but there are ways to engage them. The fact that 56 percent will switch brands for a cents-off coupon means that offering discounts, coupons and rewards is one strategy to pique their interest.
  • Speak to their values: Nearly 40 percent of millennials prefer to spend money on a good cause, even if it means paying more for a product. Socially conscious, environmentally friendly and charitable behaviors will win major points with these customers. It’s more important than ever that brands adopt these behaviors and promote them through events and social content.

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This article originally appeared on CMSWire.


  1. You really should give credit to your sources. At least some of it appears to be plagiarized from this book: Fromm, J. and C. Garton. (2013). Marketing to millennials: reach the largest and most influential generation of consumers ever. New York, NY: AMACOM.

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