Ahhh, Millennials. That elusive market of 20 and 30 somethings. Born between 1980 and 2004, the Millennial generation grew up in a place largely free from war (aside from those who fought in the Middle-East) and poverty. For them, the very idea of war-time rationing is consigned to the history books.
The Millennial demographic has provided a considerable challenge to marketers for several reasons, the main ones being:
- the age range is huge, spanning around 24 years,
- Millennials are surrounded by stereotypes, much of them false
Whilst examining these points, let’s meet a stereotypical Millennial and find out what he or she is all about.
The typical Millennial – a narcissistic, ‘Me-generation’ smartphone addict or hardworking, tolerant, environmentalist?
When trying to pinpoint the characteristics of a Millennial, the broad age range can cause something of a headache for marketers. As a case in point, take someone born in 1982 who turned 18 in 2000. High-speed broadband had only just been rolled out, most people had a mobile phone but could only text, Facebook was merely a glint in Mark Zuckerberg’s imagination, and September 11, the event which arguably changed the world to a greater extent than any other since the Second World War, was still in its sinister planning stages.
But take someone born in 1997. Today, they are 21 years old. Their parents, on the cusp of Generation Z, had been the first ‘latchkey’ kids and embraced the concepts of helicopter parenting and protecting their child’s self-esteem. Everyone got a medal for participating, and as children, they were ferried from activity to activity; concerted cultivation had become the middle-class standard of parenting. By the time they reached teenagehood, social media was already well-established. The idea of having to go to a library to find out a fact rather than Google was is inconceivable, and people only call their phone, rather than message, in dire emergencies (unless it is your Baby Boomer/Generation Z mother).
A typical UK Millennial’s world is one of almost full-employment, but less disposable income. Job flexibility is far better, but most live at home for much longer and are less likely to own their own property than their parents’ generation. Convenience food and items are everywhere, but they are increasingly conscious of long-term illnesses caused by processed foods and environmental havoc wreaked by plastic and global warming.
It is these contradictions caused by rapid changes in technology and societal norms within the Millennial window which result in false stereotypes. Not to mention that every older generation perceives the younger as lazy, selfish good-for-nothing layabouts.
Like every generation, Millennials cannot be labelled in a binary manner; there are millions of shades of grey and after all, they are human, and humans have always been inconveniently complex. However, there are certain key characteristics which marketers targeting this massive demographic needs to be aware of.
Traditional advertising and sales techniques don’t work
Millennials are a cynical bunch, so babbling on about how great your product or service is will fall on deaf (and headphone covered) ears. Traditional ‘push advertising’ methods, such as TV, radio, and magazine, are unlikely to inspire any brand loyalty. Content marketing and social media marketing are the secrets to building trust and loyalty, and this has been the case for some time. Social media influencers, vlogs, blogs – modern companies are familiar with all of these methods. But where they often fall down is they fail to engage the reader/viewer. It is engagement which builds trust. So don’t ignore comments and have the courage to face criticism head-on via social media accounts. Millennials want authenticity and transparency. In addition, they expect every interaction with a brand to deliver value. Only then will they spend their cash.
Millennials expect personalisation
Research by American Express in 2016 revealed that 62% of Millennials tend to only ever buy from preferred brands, versus 54% of the wider population. While money-saving offers are widely used across different age groups, the survey found that personalisation was most important for millennials: 48% of this age group expect brands to customise offers to suit their needs, and 39% will go out of their way to use a customised offer, compared with 32% of other age groups.
Personalisation demonstrates your organisation has made an effort to find out about the consumer and direct them accordingly. Amazon does this brilliantly when it shows a list of books similar to ones you have previously purchased.
Show that you care
Millennials have an overwhelming distrust of corporations, especially those who remember the financial crash of 2008. An extensive Gallop report looking at Millennials and employment highlighted:
“For millennials, compensation is important and must be fair, but it’s no longer the driver. The emphasis for this generation has switched from paycheck to purpose.”
Purpose is also important when it comes to spending. Millennials aren’t interested in the Ryanair customer service model (here’s your cheap ticket, now sod off), they demand an experience. Independent retailers and artisans have cottoned on to this, realising that Millennials are prepared to pay a premium for a genuine shopping experience. Kate Spade, the US fashion retailer, demonstrated its understanding of creating a customer experience when it launched its Paris store in 2017 by offering ‘Joy Walks’, showcasing real-world Paris with a Kate Spade twist.
Your marketing campaigns should show you care about the environment and being culturally inclusive. Ethical purchasing is important to Millennials and be warned – according to the latest research, they have nothing on Generation Z (I can also say this from personal experience, my 5-year-old would never dream of using a plastic straw). Companies can no longer afford to ignore the impact their products and services have on the environment and socio-economic condition of general society, especially in a digital world where accusations of employees missing toilet breaks for fear of losing their jobs can go viral in hours. Rather than hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, make sure you genuinely support causes and promote what you do to help others.
What do Millennials want? Research shows they want to buy from transparent, ethical stores which engage with them on a personal level. They have a deep Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), and want a life of purpose and experience rather than things. Understanding these drives and adapting your marketing strategy accordingly will help you sell into this incredibly lucrative population segment more effectively.
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 The term Millennials and Generation Y are often used interchangeably. For ease of reading, this article will stick with Millennial throughout.
 The date fixed by William Strauss and Neill Howe who coined the term ‘Millennial’.
 The youngest of the Millennial generation may not identify with either gender. ‘Gender fluidity’ is very important to Generation Z (coming to age in 2020), something marketers need to carefully consider.