Understanding the Marketplace Part 3: Millennials 

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If you’ve paid any attention to the media for the last decade or so, you’ve probably heard some not so great things about Millennials: They are lazy, they have no idea what hard work is, they have “killed” everything from beer, wine, and chain restaurants to homeownership and NFL football.

Whatever your opinions about Millennials and their undying love for avocado toast, the fact remains that they represent a significant part of the consumer population, and marketers simply can’t afford to ignore them. The question, though, is how do you reach this complex, sophisticated, and yes, somewhat narcissistic, a generation with your marketing?

Read on to find out.

Who are Millennials, Anyway?

We hear a lot about Millennials in the media, but who are they, exactly?

Generally speaking, a Millennial is anyone born between 1977 and 2000, although some argue that the generation didn’t start until the early 1980s. Whenever they were born, though, Millennials are one of the largest demographics, making up 25 percent of the U.S. population. Often referred to as Generation Y or Generation Me (or the even less flattering “Me, Me, Me” Generation), Millennials grew up during a time of unprecedented technological development, economic prosperity and significant changes in the world.

They are saddled with an interesting duality: On the one hand, they are considered self-centered, entitled, and soft, a product of “everyone gets a trophy” and therefore unable to handle competition or conflict. At the same time, Millennials are largely regarded as the generation that will “save” the world from the ravages of climate change, social issues, and economic inequality.

This perception of Millennials being able to make changes in the world comes in large part from the fact that they are more diverse and more educated than any previous generations. 44 percent of Millennials are considered minorities, and by 2015, more than a third of all Millennials had graduated from college. White and Asian millennials specifically earned more college degrees, with nearly 50 percent of white Millennials and 60 percent of Asians graduating from college.

Educational attainment hasn’t translated into economic success for Millennials, though. Homeownership rates among this age group are lower than previous generations at the same age, for example, a phenomenon attributed to lower incomes, high rates of debt and higher interest rates. Millennials are also more likely to be living in poverty than their predecessors, which is attributed in large part to the housing and economic crisis of the latter part of the last decade.

That being said, Millennials are still getting married and having children, albeit later in life than previous generations. The median age for marriage among Millennials is 27 and 29 for women and men respectively. Later marriage also means delaying having children, but they are having kids, as more than 50 percent of Millennials already have children.

Millennials are also the first generation to be digital natives. They are 2.5 times more likely to be early adopters of new technology than older generations; in fact, more than 50 percent say that they are among the first users of new technology. These are people who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones, personal computers, and other technology, and they don’t have the patience for anything they see as “old school.”

What Millennials Want   

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Millennials are unlike any previous generation in terms of their expectations for businesses and the companies that they do business with, and anyone involved in Millennial marketing needs to understand that first and foremost, Millennials demand authenticity, and they want to engage with brands. They are accustomed to having their voices heard and having influence over their worlds, and they expect brands to understand and support that involvement.

More specifically, what this means for marketers is:

  1. Outbound Marketing Isn’t Effective. Simply put, Millennials don’t trust advertising. They want to make their own choices about what to consume, so they aren’t paying attention to ads (especially when watching TV, where they can skip them or remove them entirely by subscribing to streaming services). Millennials are digitally savvy, and they know how to find what they are looking for online, which is authentic, user-created content with real opinions that can help them make buying decisions.
  2. Content Remains King. While Millennials might be ignoring your attempts to reach them, that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for you. Again, they want to do their own research, so blogs, influencer marketing, white papers, and how-to or informational content can grab their attention. Companies need to establish themselves as experts and provide content that is useful and enlightening. Millennials also want to be entertained – 80 percent say that they expect brands to entertain them.
  3. Millennials Want to Be Involved. five friends walking carrying skate boards black and white photoRemember, this is a generation that has grown up with the ability to share their opinions, and the expectation that they will be able to provide feedback. Therefore, understanding the marketplace means understanding that Millennials want to have a say in the products they consume and feel as if they are co-creators. Millennials are constantly creating their own content, sharing content and responding to content – usually on different platforms at the same time. Smart companies capitalize on that and engage this generation in their creative processes, keeping in mind that 40 percent of Millennials say that they want to be involved as co-creators, and 70 percent feel it’s a “responsibility” to share feedback with companies.
  4. Meaning Matters. Millennials are very concerned about the values and purpose of the companies they do business with. Nearly 40 percent report that they will pay more for a product if it means supporting a cause that they believe in. However, they will also avoid brands that don’t align with their values; 60 percent say that they care about a brand’s beliefs and values, and 66 percent say that those beliefs and value drive their purchasing decisions. Millennial marketing means brands must be clear about where they stand, and that their actions align with their stated values.
  5. Social Media Matters, Too. Millennials are more likely to use social media than any other generation. More Millennials follow and engage with brands using social media, and they are more likely to use social media to discover new brands.
  6. Millennials are Cash-Conscious. With lower incomes than other generations, Millennials tend to be more conscious of cash and price than other generations. They want to know that they are getting the best price, and are more likely to digitally “window shop” than other generations. Owning items is also less important to this generation; the rise of services like Uber and Lyft, for example, are reflective of the Millennials’ ambivalence about owning vehicles and desire to pay for things only when they need them rather than own them outright.

All of this isn’t to say that Millennials are nothing more than self-centered tightwads who want everything their way. They are more adventurous than most other generations, with the majority saying that they want to travel both domestically and abroad. In addition, a higher percentage of Millennials (82 percent) give to charity than other generations, and they are more likely to donate their time to causes they believe in.

However, one of the most interesting facts is that Millennials are actually, on the whole, happier than any other generation. Some researchers chalk this up to the fact that Millennials have lower expectations for the world and life in general, but others say that it’s due to this generation’s willingness to devote more time to hobbies and leisure, and a more short-term, “carpe diem” outlook on life. Whatever the reason, if your brand understands this desire to have fun, give back and be engaged with the world, you will be more successful in marketing to Millennials.

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