While we all work with, interact with, and/or raise Millennials, we still struggle to understand the 25–40-year-old wired generation. As marketers, we tend to treat them as one homogenous group for targeting purposes and don’t take them as seriously as we do Gen X or Boomers. That’s a deadly mistake brands and agencies alike cannot afford to make.
Also known as Gen Y, the Millennial generation (currently 72 million strong in the U.S. alone) spent $1.4 trillion in 2020, according to Pew Research. As a significant portion of the global workforce who made up 35% of the working world in 2020, Millennials’ influence as consumers and business-to-business ‘buyers’ is unsurpassed. As such, marketers must build brands and campaigns that resonate, without alienating older generations.
Most marketers understand Gen Y to be early technology adopters and social media abusers. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and there are many misconceptions that need addressing before we talk about how to effectively influence Gen Y. But even before we dive deeper into Gen Y, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Gen Z as a growing and important generation of buyers and influencers, which I’ve covered in a previous article on LinkedIn. More on that later, however.
How Millennials differ from other generations
While a majority of Gen Y are heavy social media users that expect seamless interactions with businesses across a variety of channels, they do differ from other generations in a few notable ways:
- It’s all about self-discovery. Don’t spoon-feed marketing messaging to Gen Y. Build a path and empower them to find their way and build their own authentic connections to your brand.
- Don’t ‘sell’ at Gen Y. Educate and entertain them with compelling content that helps build trust and loyalty in exchange for value-added experiences.
- Gen Y does like watching TV, despite the fact they may not have cable.
- While Gen Y is primarily influenced by peer reviews by both friends and trusted influencers, they also rely heavily on online reviews, due primarily to their preference to do extensive research before purchasing.
- Don’t discount the value of in-person marketing, just because they are natively wired for social media.
- As a generation, Millennials can be just as brand loyal as others, especially if there is alignment between person and brand values or politics.
- Not only does Gen Y appreciate advertising, but they’re also likely to share commercials they like with their friends, especially if the ads are free of sentiment, action-oriented, or informational in nature).
- Gen Y consists of a variety of sub-segments, which YuMe synthesized into five major segments (per the chart below). Customize messaging to appeal to the discretely audiences for maximum resonance.
The strategies that really work
With the Gen Y marketing misconceptions out of the way, let’s get to the effective strategies. I’ve outlined six primary marketing strategies that will resonate with Gen Y, when implemented properly.
Start with mobile, but hit all (social) media channels
Research indicates that members of Gen Y spend over two and a half hours on social media per day. That validates that they are connected like no other generation. Gen Y tends to spend a majority of their screen time on social media, which typically consists of Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, Reddit and relatively new player in the social media game TikTok. Brands that are already active on these platforms have an advantage over those that do not. Remember to expand your reach across all channels, not just social or even digital. Think about multiple devices or screens and evaluate offline media opportunities (pop-up shops, interactive kiosks, etc.).
Increase social media engagement via shareable content
According to Forbes, over 60 percent of Gen Y say that any brand that engages them on social networks is significantly more likely to gain their loyalty. A major motivator for Gen Y content sharing is to gain insights from their network and to have the ability to share their own knowledge and opinions with others. The most shareable content tends to be informative, inspirational or entertaining multimedia nuggets (images, videos, audio).
This is the essence of the sharing economy and it is native to Gen Y. Gen Y appreciates content that makes them smarter, or at least feel smarter, as well as inspired, with the ability to inspire others. For maximum shareability, it’s essential that the language feel natural and not forced or inauthentic. Don’t forget to customize the content based on the platform and its users — originality counts. Last but not least, keep The Goldfish Rule top-of-mind: you have 8 seconds to capture their attention, which is 1 second less than that of a common goldfish. Brands that build around this motivator will see exponential engagement and loyalty.
Encourage user-generated content
Since authenticity is such an important aspect to Gen Y when selecting which brands to support, it is becoming more and more necessary to utilize user-generated content to encourage trust and brand loyalty. Gen Y relies on the reviews, testimonials and opinions of their trusted advisors (whether friends or influencers) so much so that they find user-generated content 35 percent more memorable than other media. To stay relevant and top-of-mind in a competitive marketplace, make your brand buzz-worthy by running contests, offering incentives and rewards for promoting your brand on social, and asking questions. In a generation where reviews and opinions of friends mean everything, promoting user-generated content will increase brand awareness, engagement, and brand loyalty.
Be exceedingly responsive
The most mind-blowing fact about Gen Y is that they have never known a world without the internet. As a result, they have high expectations when it comes to getting instant answers, acknowledgment, and satisfaction. The impact on brands is the expectation that response time will be lightning fast. Gen Y doesn’t care about the challenges brands face in creating an instant-response infrastructure and culture, they just need you to make it happen. This holds true across all digital media: social platforms, websites, email, and text. If you as a brand cannot address Gen Y requests in a timely fashion, they will move on to a competitor. Despite this daunting challenge, Gen Y values relationships and wants to connect with the people behind the brand. Ensure communications are as transparent and authentic as they are timely.
Tell a good story
I’ve mentioned the need for transparency and authenticity previously, yet I can’t stress it enough. Let all employees tell your story, not just corporate marketers. Be wary of brands or agencies that recommend all communications go through the PR, HR, or legal department for approval, if you want the message to be timely and to resonate. Gen Y sniffs out corporate-speak and will be turned off immediately. Brands that are fearless and diligent about transparent, authentic communications will be rewarded with loyalty from Gen Y (and other generations). Let your brand personality come through, especially in social media.
As with other generations, telling your story through the eyes of your customer is far more effective than telling the story yourself. Millennials need to see and feel the personality behind the brand, consistently over time. Utilizing evangelists and ambassadors (aka influencers), particularly on social, can be very effective in engaging with Gen Y. While a lack of interest in material items may pose a challenge to marketers, the answer is to help inspire Gen Y to feel good about what they are buying based on how it will positively impact their lives and the lives of others. Brands that have a social and environmental responsibility component are also favored, as Gen Y wants to be a part of something with a greater sense of purpose. Along the same lines, Gen Y is more likely to connect and resonate with brands that support and reflect their values of diversity and inclusion. Communicate how your brand expresses inclusivity as well as the good you are doing to make the world a better place across all channels and Gen Y will resonate with your values.
Create positive experiences
More than previous generations (and similar to the following Gen Z population), Millennials value the ability to create their own experiences, even more so than buying or owning products they may not need. Another way to create positive brand perception with Gen Y is to provide behind-the-scenes looks into your company, people, and products. You’ve heard about the importance of transparency but take it to the next level by using the authentic back story to create good will. Leveraging influencers they respect to engage with your brand is an effective way to create connection. For example, McDonald’s tapped LeBron James to unveil a new product. Other ways to create positive experiences include increased personalization and utilizing new technologies, including augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 360-degree video, and live streaming. Gen Y appreciates brands that embrace technology, especially to help tell their story and create immersive experiences.
The strategies outlined above will help any brand create a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Gen Y. That said, developing brand loyalty can be challenging. Gen Y has higher expectations than previous generations, particularly in relation to communications. For starters, Millennials don’t want to call you or you to call them. They prefer chat or text communication. Factor this into your marketing and customer service mix. When interacting, honesty and authenticity are by far the most important themes. This is a bit of a sea change for more traditional brands used to one-way communications. Loyalty can also be created via gamification (loyalty programs and apps) that encourage sharing, reviews, and usage. The prize at the end of the rainbow is a life-long loyalty from Gen Y that may surpass previous generations. This is a significant reward, as the largest generation of our time will have the greatest buying power and influence moving forward. Another component of loyalty is on the employment side of the equation. I’ve also covered management best practices for Gen Y employees as a business owner.
At the end of the day, any brand interested in investing in its future must start now by embracing Gen Y and the Millennial culture. Older generations may appreciate increased engagement via digital media, but Gen Y requires it. As mentioned previously, Gen Z shares many of the same values and beliefs, which should create additional motivation for marketers in 2021. Make sure your marketing strategies are more than COVID-safe, they are Gen Y-friendly.
Lewis is currently Chief Marketing Officer for Deksia, where he is responsible for the overall strategic direction of marketing. After 22 years running Anvil Media, he sold to the Midwest systematic marketing agency. He is a co-founder of SEMpdx and its first President. He speaks internationally, writes for industry publications like SmartBrief and Portland Business Journal and has been an adjunct professor at Portland State University since 2000. He’s founded or co-founded four agencies and two organizations since 1999, including pdxMindShare. Lewis volunteers his time with SCORE, teaching a social media workshop and has been a board member, marketing committee chair and is a volunteer reader for SMART Reading. He’s been named a Top 40 Under 40, Marketer of the Year by AMA Oregon and a Top 100 Digital Marketing Influencer by BuzzSumo.