Millennial is probably one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in today’s marketing lexicon. Sometimes also referred to as Gen Y, millennials are the generational demographic born roughly between 1981-2000. Given that millennials are the biggest U.S. demographic segment — roughly 90 million people — of the largest economy on the planet, their preferences will drive production and marketing strategies for the next 20 years, according to The Brookings Institute.
But with millennials’ well-documented desire to react and respond to marketing messages at a time and place of their choosing, reaching and closing sales to the generation of the moment can seem daunting. Yet if you can see beyond the jargon and oft-unfair stereotypes, you may find that millennials aren’t some mythical consumer conundrum, but rather a highly engaged, lucrative demographic.
After all, U.S. millennials wield about $1.3 trillion in annual buying power, according to Boston Consulting Group. Response spoke to a few experts in the space to scroll for insights on how to best harness millennial marketing magic.
In Brands We Trust
With millennials, content is still king, but belief just may be God.
“There are two different concepts that are super important for millennials — your reason to believe and your reason to buy,” says Ben Ricciardi, founder and CEO of Burbank, Calif.-based creative agency Times10. “If you have a new brand and all you’re doing is the reason to buy — what I mean by reason to buy is that all you’re doing is just hitting them with ads to purchase things immediately — you aren’t building or investing in them. More millennials want to buy into you as a brand and believe in your brand. You see that time and time again with a brand like a Fashion Nova, which spreads its budget across tons of different influencers — down to micro-influencers that have a couple thousand followers and all the way up into mega-influencers that have millions of followers, like a Cardi B.”
USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future reports that 56 percent of millennials would share their location with companies to receive coupons or deals for nearby businesses, while 51 percent would share information in exchange for an incentive.
“You have to offer them some sort of value. Millennials need to know from the advertiser what’s in it for them,” says Lindsey Carnett, CEO and president of Los Angeles-based PR and marketing agency Marketing Maven. “So, if you can have that discussion with them in an authentic way, where it’s actually a two-way conversation, then your chances for success with millennials are a lot higher. If you just try to hit them over the head with a promise, it’s going to be rejected,”
However, that’s not to say that millennials are always repelled by hard offers. “There’s a time and place for a hard offer, but it can’t be every single message,” Carnett adds. “You have to look at your content mix and see where are you offering them educational value, where are you offering them entertainment value, and when are you offering them some sort of discount or offer — there has to be a content mix.”
Forbes and Elite Daily found that 33 percent of millennials rely mostly on blogs before making a purchase.
“You have to be able to crack social media, but it depends on your market. If you’re a massive brand that can really exploit a niche, Facebook can do it. But if you have the ability to support it properly, it would be a content platform — a place where people are consuming information,” says Sarina Rubin, director of digital marketing for Los Angeles-based clothing company Show Me Your Mumu. “It should be in articles that they consume outside of social because then they’re less distracted. You have to be able to support it, which is really hard because you have to keep millennial attention within editorial. To keep their attention, it’s about shoppable-style blogging — interactive shopping inside of content. But you have to build it, and you can’t just build it around launches and campaigns — you have to be building it every day.”
Look no further than BuzzFeed or any other major online content platform — you’ll quickly see Rubin’s hypothesis in action. “As much as millennials don’t have the attention span, you have to still tap into what they are attending to, otherwise you lose them entirely. So you have to elongate their attention span but lead them to you. You’re distracting them — slightly — but not completely off course,” says Rubin.
From Corduroys to Cord Cutting
The path for getting millennials to your brand is not as simple as other generations. According to a recent Pew survey, 61 percent of Americans ages 18-29 said that streaming services are the primary way they watch TV (only 31 percent cited traditional pay-TV services). This shift in media consumption has a direct effect on marketers’ ability to get millennial eyeballs on their campaigns.
“The biggest difference with campaigns today — especially with millennials — is that you can’t just do TV campaigns, or you can’t just do billboards, because where millennials consume their advertising is mostly not on TV. Often, they may not even have cable,” says Ricciardi.
To say that millennials are prone to distraction would be the understatement of the generation. Adobe found that 25 percent of viewers younger than 35 say using social media while watching entertainment is critical to their enjoyment of the experience.
“Millennials are definitely consuming media on their phones, laptops, and tablets. For screen time, there’s a huge amount of people on Netflix, a huge amount of people gaming, and there’s a huge amount of people who are mobile. Millennials want experiences, and a lot of times they’re in transit. The likelihood of them being home and focusing on a massive TV screen isn’t high,” says Carnett.
According to Forbes and Elite Daily, 87 percent of millennials use two to three tech devices at least once a day. This multi-device lifestyle is just one piece of the evolving millennial marketing puzzle. Millennials also expect more from their experiences with brands.
“Make sure you’re having an authentic conversation with them and that you’re giving them something that’s unique, whether it’s a unique experience or brand engagement. It’s a different way that you have to think about approaching a target demographic,” says Carnett.
A unique experience with multiple touchpoints on-the-go is exactly how Ricciardi found millennial success in a recent adidas campaign that his agency created for the Harden Vol. 2 Nightmare colorway sneaker.
“What we did with our adidas Nightmare campaign was spread it across multiple platforms and multiple mediums,” Ricciardi says. “The most important thing right now: not blowing your entire budget only on a TV campaign, but rather using stuff that spreads. We had upwards of 100 different pieces of content that went out during the Nightmare campaign. That’s an enormous amount of content that people are going to see all over the place and all through their streams.”
While the strategies may seem stringent, many brands have managed to reach a ride-or-die status with millennials. The original Dollar Shave Club brand video remains one of the best millennial marketing examples, with more than 25 million views on YouTube and still counting.
“The most innovative campaign that really cut through all the clutter is still Dollar Shave Club (DSC),” says Rubin. “It was low budget — he was just walking through this warehouse — but he brought out this entirely different side of humor and sarcasm in marketing. It still had a really good call-to-action, and it resonated with people.”
Yet, when you’re considered the gold standard of branded content, is it possible to strike gold twice? “It was such a big thing, but how do you keep that up?” Rubin asks. “How do you be that relevant all the time? No one wants to become ‘basic.’ And that’s the issue. You have to be so unique these days, but if everyone’s being that unique, is it even unique? It’s really hard to stay innovative in the millennial world.”
As Ricciardi noted with the adidas Nightmare campaign, it’s about hitting the millennial consumer everywhere — and in unexpected places. Dollar Shave Club does just that by hitting its millennial customer while they are on the toilet with The Bathroom Minutes, a monthly magazine about 10 pages in long sent to all Dollar Shave Club members.
Combining editorial content with product updates and company news, The Bathroom Minutes informs and entertains the brand’s loyal users, giving them a deeper brand experience than just buying razors. DSC’s engaged and growing millennial subscription base is a prime example of unexpected, out-of-the-box thinking.
Carnett and her team at Marketing Maven employed innovative millennial thinking when launching the 5-in-1 MobileLite Wireless G2 device.
“With the #5in1RoadTrip campaign, we did a social media activation paired with an influencer campaign and a product launch — and tied it in with a band that was playing at SXSW. It had to be all of these things combined to pull it off successfully,” touts Carnett.
Huffington Post reported about some of the various facets of the campaign. “Kingston Technology taught fans at Green River Ordinance performances how to download the MobileLite app and how to use the 5-in-1 MobileLite Wireless G2 device,” the story noted. “Kingston Technology co-hosted a Q&A using newly launched platform Meerkat in combination with Twitter. The Q&A with fans was co-hosted with The Gabbie Show and band members from Green River Ordinance. Kingston Technology live-streamed Green River Ordinance’s acoustic performance at Winflo Osteria. Fans who followed the #5in1RoadTrip and posted photos using the hashtag were automatically entered to win the new 5-in1 MobileLite Wireless G2 device.”
It’s imperative that brands keep on the pulse of millennial trends. “The recent BODYARMOR sports drink campaign was really on point,” says Ricciardi. “Athletes today are much more health conscious, and the youth is much more conscious of what they’re consuming and how they’re consuming it. Gatorade is a prime example of a brand that is not changing with the times. And the new BODYARMOR commercials just call them out directly in their tag, ‘Thanks, Gatorade, we’ll take it from here.’”
One of the ways Rubin’s team at Show Me Your Mumu stays innovative is by being themselves. It’s incredible the amount of support and loyalty that brands can attain simply by being authentic. Forbes and Elite Daily found that 43 percent of millennials rank authenticity over content when consuming news.
Show Me Your Mumu’s co-founders and real-life best friends, Cammy Miller and Cologne Trude, bring authenticity by giving their followers an inside peek at both their day-to-day lives and milestone events like bachelorette parties, birthdays, weddings, and baby showers. Mumu followers want to open the email campaigns that recap these life events because, while it features Mumu clothes and it’s shoppable, the crux of the actual content is real and engaging.
The recent Mumu x Barbie campaign seemed like the perfect collaboration for millennials, given its blend of nostalgia and modern fashion. “The way that the Barbie campaign has been represented in the office and the way that I’ve derived my digital campaign is that it’s the fit for every woman no matter where they are in life,” Rubin says. “And that’s also what Mumu’s done really well — keeping up with relevancy as Cammy and Cologne go through things in life.”
Millennials are drawn to the authenticity of the personal connection and access Mumu provides, which is the polar opposite of many traditional brands.
“They launch things the way that they live,” Rubin adds. “And they’re not designers and owners who just sell a brand — they live in the brand. Everything they wear and everywhere that they go, they are Mumu-fied. They love fashion, but they love their fashion the most. And I think that’s what every millennial loves — that connection to them that you don’t get from some other brands.”
On the contrary, many campaigns geared toward millennials miss the mark completely.
“One thing that I see time and time again is a brand doing one massive buy on TV, whether it’s a Super Bowl spot or a spot during the NBA Finals, and this brand has spent none of their marketing budget on social media,” Ricciardi says. “I’m talking about brands that are legitimately targeted toward millennials and those millennials might not even see the TV commercial. Yet the brand sits there with five thousand followers on Instagram and wonders why their product isn’t selling.”
In fact, 62 percent of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer, according to Forbes and Elite Daily. Millennials also tie brand loyalty to their personal values, with 75 percent saying it’s fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit.
“A lot of millennials are tuning out content for brands that they don’t find relevant to them. The brand has to be a fit for what they believe in — whether it’s political, religious, or has to do with corporate social responsibility,” Carnett says. “If a millennial doesn’t agree with what the brand stands for, they’d rather just not engage with the brand, and you’re in a no-win situation. So, it’s better for the brand just to say, ‘That’s not my customer,’ and move along.”
Indeed, research from UMass finds that 86 percent of millennials follow or like a brand on Facebook to support the brand. And, 43 percent have liked more than 20 brands on Facebook, according to Mr Youth.
Talking the Millennial Talk
Even if a millennial and brand share similar beliefs, the brand still needs to make sure there are no communication barriers. Effectively communicating with millennials is much different than communicating with other demographics. According to findings from HBR, images are an integral part of the millennial language.
“Sometimes it’s about putting in symbols or emojis to communicate a point. One of the best marketing messaging tactics I’ve seen was just a bunch of emojis and you had to decipher it,” Rubin says. “That probably yielded a lot of conversions, because now that they’re stopped, they’re engaging. You have get their attention somehow, even with email subject lines. Usually, it does better if you put a symbol in it, or questions, or a ton of exclamation points — because you’re not just blending in.”
Furthermore, millennials grew up in the new media landscape and are often hyper-aware of how advertising has evolved with the times. “Millennials can sniff out an ad better than any other demographic. A lot of millennials have learned about advertising tactics in school and already know the tactics being used on them,” says Carnett.
In fact, 84 percent of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising, according to HubSpot. Moreover, most millennials have also spent the majority of their lives with connected devices. They make up the largest group of smartphone users in the U.S., according to HBR.
“As consumers get younger, they’re consuming their content and advertising mostly on their phones. Somewhere near 75 percent of millennials and younger are consuming a majority of their content on their phone. So if you’re not using your advertising budget for mobile, you’re making a massive mistake,” says Ricciardi.
Technological advancements have continued to change the way millennials consume and interact with content and brands.
“One thing technology has allowed for is advertisers to be able to change their campaigns quickly. The problem with a lot of big, traditional advertising agencies today is the amount of people and red tape involved in the decision making,” Ricciardi says. “With that status quo, it can be very slow to get campaigns done. Today, you need to be making decisions on the fly. If something happens on social media the night before, what’s your campaign — and how is it going to touch on those same ideas the next day?”
Leadscon reports that five of six millennials connect with companies on social media. Moreover, 84 percent of millennials use Twitter to get brand updates, according to research from UMass.
“The fact that everything has become so much quicker creates the immediacy effect. If your site is not quick enough, it doesn’t matter how good your marketing is — you’re going to lose everybody,” Rubin says. “With the amount of different devices that people are on, it’s really hard to give the right attribution to certain marketing channels. That’s the hard part: you still need to remember what your business goals are. And if you’re driving business overall, your marketing is likely contributing to it whether or not it’s directly associated with a dollar amount coming in.”
The upside is that nimble marketers can work to leverage these mutual shifts in technology and millennial behavior to their benefit. “Traditional targeting from an advertising and marketing standpoint isn’t going to be as effective as targeting from a behavioral standpoint,” says Carnett. “Behavioral targeting is going to show you what their buying habits are and what their interests are, and those are key attributes of someone deciding whether or not they want to be customers of your brand.”
The ultimate goal is to create great content that fits naturally within the confines of the digital landscape. After all, 60 percent of millennials say social advertising is more credible when influencing their decisions, according to Adroit.
“Social media is the medium where you need to be spending capital,” Ricciardi says. “Traditional advertising can be important, but larger corporations need to understand that social media is here to stay and that’s where the millennial generation spends its time, purchases its products, and decides where it’s going to go. And influencer marketing is going to be a massive piece of this. They want to see the people who they feel like they know them inside and out because of social media, whether it’s a Hannah Stocking or a Cardi B.”
In the end, if you’re a brand that wants to know what the word on the street is with millennials, just ask them. Because in order to truly understand the magic of millennial marketing, you almost need to go back to a cliché childhood adage on and turn it on its head: “What’s the magic word?”