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How to Market to Millennials Without Pandering

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People like to be catered to, but they tend not to like being pandered to. That's doubly so when they're being marketed to. A campaign that leaves people feeling like they're being talked down to or patronized is not going to inspire a lot of brand loyalty.

We Millennials are especially quick to notice when advertisers are pandering to us. We've grown up surrounded by advertising, and we've seen the dozens (hundreds?) of think pieces written about us and our buying habits.

So this Millennial is here to give some advice on how to actually reach the young customers you want to attract.

Segmentation

The first and most important step is to remember your market segmentation. Millennials are no more a monolithic group than any past generation of 18-34-year-old consumers has been. What appeals to one group of us may outright offend others.


Let's look at two segments of Millennials. We'll call them "Trendy" and "Eco-Conscious."

Trendy Millennials...

  • Are looking for what's new and hot
  • Love fast fashion and shopping
  • Have to have the newest phone with the best camera for taking selfies
  • Follow their favorite celebrities on social media
  • Enjoy trying out new social media platforms for chatting with friends
  • Have fast-evolving slang
  • Want to try the newest food crazes

Eco-Conscious Millennials...

  • Are always looking for ways to reduce their ecological footprint
  • Love clothes that are timeless and will last for years.
  • Upgrade their phone only when it finally stops working
  • Follow their favorite activists on social media (OK, and probably celebs too!)
  • Use social media as a platform for their preferred causes
  • Are steeped in the latest social-justice terminology
  • Are often locavores or vegans, or eat organic

Both of those groups are pretty common in my age group. You can see how you'd want to market differently to each one.

If you were trying to sell a sandwich to Trendy Millennials, you'd want to tell them about the exciting new super-fruit chutney spread. To the Eco-Conscious Millennials, you'd tout that your bread was baked locally this morning using organic whole-grain flour.

You might be selling them the same sandwich, but each group wants different things from it.

And that's before we even break things down along gender lines, education level, household income, relationship status...

Millennials contain multitudes. We're students and entrepreneurs, swinging singles and young parents, introverts and extroverts, planners and free spirits. You can't shove us into a single box based on our age group and expect to market to us based on that fact alone.

Engagement

The second big thing to keep in mind is that because we've grown up surrounded by more advertising than any previous generation since we spend all day being inundated by advertising on our social media accounts, Millennials are much more savvy about advertising tricks—especially when so many of us have tried our hands at advertising our own Etsy shops, Twitch channels, crowdfunding campaigns, and whatever other endeavors we've turned our hands toward to pick up some money on the side. A lot of us work in advertising ourselves, running the social media accounts for whatever company we work for or are interning for in college.

We know when we're being advertised to. We can tell when YouTube personalities or bloggers are being sponsored, even when they don't disclose it. We can spot an "advertorial" from a mile away. We've grown accustomed to scrolling past ads in our news feeds, or clicking over to another window when they play before a video.

So if we're good at spotting ads, and we have the means to avoid them by muting them, clicking away, scrolling past, using an adblocker... how do you even reach Millennials?

The key is to give us ads that we actually want to see. Sure, I know that most of the makeup videos that I watch on YouTube are sponsored, but I watch them anyway because I find them relaxing and inspiring. I may not trust that they present an unbiased opinion, but they still raise my awareness of the brands sponsoring them.

I'm also a sucker for anything involving a cute animal. You could probably sell me just about anything if you put a corgi in your advertisements. If you could somehow get MY corgis to be your spokesdogs, well, I'd be helpless.

Make your advertising mean something, whether it's funny or touching or thought-provoking. That's how you get anyone, Millennial or Gen X or Baby Boomer alike to pay attention! Flashing lights, bright colors, and catchy jingles are old news. We're all used to it now. Give us something we can really engage with.

And speaking of engaging... Be really careful of trying to use Millennial slang. You run the risk of looking like the parent who's trying too hard to be "cool." Slang changes faster than ever thanks to the prevalence of chat programs, and it's not really universal. "Bae" may play well with a 20-year-old girl, but fall flat with an 18-year-old boy, and it's probably passé already by the time this article is posted.

Slang is the most painfully obvious sign of pandering. If you're not steeped in the language of your audience, don't try to use it. Either hire a Millennial to do it for you, or avoid slang altogether.

We're Not All That Different

In the end, the most important thing is to remember that Millennials aren't that different from you were at the same age. We may have different tools at our fingertips, we may have some different concerns and ideas, but we still have the same basic needs and wants. We want to be respected, we want to have fun, and we want to buy products that will make us happy and make our lives easier.

So sell us that.


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AJ Reardon is a content creator and project manager at Ani Marketing Service.

LinkedIn: AJ Reardon

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  • by Ashlye Etgen Fri Sep 16, 2016 via web

    I like this article... I work on projects where we use audience targeting on mobile devices. By targeting your buyer and putting a relevant message to that specific demographic your going to generate more interest in your brand. Although, it doesn't just apply to a Millennial.... Mobile display advertising and audience segmentation is definitely going to be a huge component to many marketing campaigns and will only continue to rise. [This comment edited by MarketingProfs]

  • by Randy Byrne Fri Sep 16, 2016 via web

    Excellent advice, especially for a non-millenial like me.

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