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Four Ways to Market to Millennials (Without Underestimating or Patronizing Them)

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We Millennials are widely regarded as the least proactive and most vacuous generation. So, most businesses think that to win our business, they must have to create gimmicky and childish campaign ploys.

But what if I told you building customer relationships with Millennials can be as simple as following four basic principles?

1. Hear us

Millennials just want to be heard. With social media, it's easier than ever for companies to reach young consumers in ways they never could before.

American Express has launched a creative campaign that capitalizes on this phenomenon, using promotional videos hosted by the delightfully funny Tina Fey. But these aren't your usual commercials; they are more like greeting cards, congratulating Millennials for some of the milestones of growing up (such as throwing a dinner party, landing a new job, and visiting the in-laws).


The real genius of this campaign is in its precise targeting. American Express scoured through Facebook and Instagram posts to identify particular users voicing their own "firsts" and responded with these oddly endearing videos.

Although campaigns like this can often appear overbearing or condescending, American Express doesn't come off this way at all. The company approaches Millennials in the role of a supportive friend who wants to acknowledge and celebrate our important moments with "Everyday Congrats."

We Millennials share the events of our daily lives more than any other generation by far. And though some may think of this as a curse (or a self-indulgent annoyance), doing so has opened the door for companies to listen to and reach us in new ways.

2. Engage us

Millennials broadcast thoughts and emotions through easily accessible channels, so take advantage of this openness to engage us and interact with us in a personal way. Use our input and opinions to come up with solutions to problems—then credit us for it.

Allow us to contribute; you may be surprised by what we come up with.

ModCloth has this strategy down pat. The company is known for going above and beyond in terms of customer service, famously offering 24/7 online access to ModCloth stylists and allowing customers to consult about personal fashion decisions via chat, email, or phone.

ModCloth also gives consumers a voice in the styles they sell through its Be the Buyer feature. But the company has outdone itself with its recent "Make the Cut" contest, a fashion design competition that allowed ModCloth members to send in submissions of their designs. The finalists were posted online, and ModCloth users chose the two winners. (A third-party manufacturer then produced the outfits.)

ModCloth has proven that the customers are the center of its company; you should do the same. Find ways to show your Millennial client base we are essential to you.

3. Inspire us

In a world rife with false advertising, dubious trade ethics, and sweatshops, it is no longer enough to simply be transparent about your business dealings. Actually, that's just fulfilling our basic expectations.

Millennials want you to actively demonstrate an interest in making the world a better place through local and global efforts.

The first charity-driven company you think of is TOMS, right? But even though it may be one of the most well-known charity-driven companies, TOMS is definitely not the only business seeking to make the world a better place, one purchase at a time. Project 7, for example, operates with a similar model.

The company sells goods such as gum, snacks, water bottles, and clothing—pretty basic stuff. But for each product purchased, a corresponding donation is made towards planting trees, sheltering the needy, enrolling students in anti-bullying programs, funding malaria treatments, and providing meals, clean water, and education globally.

You should always leave a guest room, camping site, or picnic site better than the way you found it. So, why shouldn't that apply to the world of business as well?

Show you care about social issues, make your mark on the planet, and you'll inspire Millennials to do the same.

4. Respect us

As a Millennial, I can't tell you how sick I am of the whole "we only speak in text jargon and emojis" paradigm.

We do use text lingo every once in a while because it makes conversations go slightly faster, and emojis help us exhibit emotions that could be ambiguous solely in text. But we don't speak entirely in abbreviations and emojis. Doing so would be exhausting for anyone.

It's important to remember that the term "Millennial" can be applied to anyone between the ages of 18 and 34; we are a vast and diverse group which includes both recent high school graduates, directionless and raging with wanderlust, and suburban parents shopping for four or five people and trying to balance work and home life.

If you confine your Millennial marketing outreach to distractible, tech-obsessed teens, you put yourself at risk of ostracizing a large portion of your consumer-base.

You may notice I haven't included an example here of a company that respects Millennials; that's because I want you to be the example. It's not hard to win our trust... Just treat us like the adults we are. We are normal people just doing our best to live in this crazy world. Celebrate our firsts, respect our social consciousness, and work with us to make the world a better place.

I'm going to let you in on a secret: These principles don't just work on Millennials; they work on everyone. Everyone wants to be heard, interacted with, inspired, and respected.


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Kelsey O'Neill writes about POS systems for Merchant Maverick, a comparison site that reviews and rates credit card processors, POS software companies, shopping carts, mobile payments services, and small-business software.

LinkedIn: Kelsey O'Neill 

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  • by RussB Tue Nov 8, 2016 via web

    First, let me say that I love the article; blunt, honest...not enough of that these days. The only comment I have is that this doesn't just apply to Millennials. Replace millennials with Gen Xers or Boomers...same thing. I don't care what buzzword tagged age group someone is part of as they are all more connected, more informed and demand more before they give up their loyalty to a brand.

    Each group may have different emotional triggers, but they have them. For example, Millennials may want to make the world a better place through local and global efforts (as you said), but maybe Gen Xers want to know that they already are and that the decisions they made 10 years ago were the right ones.

    Like I said, as connected as people are today, they all want those 4 things, not just Millennials. Just a thought...

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