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Marketing to Millennials: Do You Speak Our Language?

While Generation Y is usually defined by a range of birth dates somewhere between the 1980s and 1990s, what makes Generation Y (a.k.a. Millennials) distinct are thought and communication patterns. As a person born in the early 1980s, I am very aware that my peers and I think and communicate very differently from our parents and grandparents. But I have also noticed some similarities between my cohort and other people groups, which is especially true for those of us older Millennials.


That being said, marketers still cannot afford to continue marketing the same way to Millennials as they do to Generation X or older age groups. Even preteen Millennials spend about $43 billion each year, or about $11 per week; and those in their twenties spend thousands each month. Make sure this generation is spending some of their cash on your business by keeping the following 7 tips in mind when marketing to Millennials. You may notice a few similarities in marketing methods for previous generations as for Millennials, but with a twist.

Technology is god…

Every culture has at least one god of some kind, and Millennials worship their technology. They make all kinds of sacrifices for its sake, including money, time, effort, friends, and family. They depend on technology for their every need: food, comfort, pleasure, communication, shopping, dating, planning, reading, telling time, etc. Technology reigns supreme and unquestioned. It’s the one thing Millennials think they can’t do without.

This is where digital marketing comes into play. If your target market is made up of those in the Millennial generation or younger, then you will definitely need to push online and mobile marketing. If you are focusing on older Millennials with a career (late twenties to early thirties), then you may find that email marketing works best.

Of course, certain kinds of print marketing could work for specific campaigns, but make sure it is digitally integrated. For instance, create a design for poster printing that advertises a contest your company is hosting. Direct viewers to your landing page with a unique and easy to remember URL and possibly even a QR code. Place posters where Millennials frequent to reach more of your target audience that you may have otherwise missed or to reinforce other advertisements for the campaign.

…and his/her name is I

Today’s technology is designed for individuals to arrange their lives however they want without having to take anyone else into account. Consider the multiple televisions available in some car models or the king-sized mattresses with separate settings for the left and right sides of the bed or the widespread use of cell phones. With this kind of individualization available, it should come as no surprise that many Millennials are narcissistic. Technology has trained them to think only of themselves.

Therefore, find out the favorite piece of technology for your specific niche of Millennials (more than likely it is a smart phone), and find out how you can reach them using this piece of technology. Make them feel like they are the most important customer or prospect you have as well. For instance, send a text on their birthday or a birthday greeting via Facebook or Twitter. Include a link to a discounted product but choose one that seems most tailored to their previous purchases. Or provide a generic coupon and give some suggestions for "products we think you may like" or something to that effect.

Social networking is social marketing

But narcissism isn’t necessarily antisocial. Millennials value their connections with other people, especially their online relationships. These friend networks are extremely valuable for advertising. Smart businesses use social networking to their advantage. Period.

Place your social network information in easy to see locations on your website and provide a discount to those who "follow" or "like" or add you to their "circles." Encourage interaction by asking questions about preferences, sharing a popular video, or announcing a coupon or discount. Create contests to get fans and followers more involved. Always respond ASAP to any comments left by customers. Many Millennials live more on social networking than in real life, to a certain degree. Combine this fact with the narcissicism and you have customers that expect almost immediate responses. Your best bet is to hire a full time staffer for your social media, and maybe one per account depending on the amount of followers you have.

Funny is good

I remember when Napoleon Dynamite came out in the theaters. I was in college, and I think that within a week I could quote all of the memorable lines from that movie. But not because I had seen it. No, during meals my girlfriends and I sat at a table with my boyfriend and his friends and listened to them quote every funny line from that movie. Over and over and over again. And that’s why a low budget film like Napoleon Dynamite can be a huge success. Generation Y, especially the male subset, loves everyday humor.

Get your Millennial target laughing, and you are sure to have loyal followers. Or at least everyone of their friends, family, acquaintances, and social media friends will know about your company's hilarious ads or tweets. And the more people that not only know of you but also have some kind of connection with your company, the more likely it is you will build loyal customers.

Newer is always better

Just a year-and-a-half ago, I broke down and bought the then latest version of the iPhone: 4. The reason? Well, I'd waited this long to be with the "in-crowd" of both friends and business persons as far as a cell phone. I thought I "needed" the latest version since I was trying improve my up-to-date appearance. (So far, I have held out on the iPhone5...amazing!) For Millennials, having the newest version is very important to maintain status. It doesn’t matter if the old version still works, or even if it works better. The newer one is always better because of its newness.

Find out ways to upgrade your products and offers. Then create a huge hype around the release. One way to do this is before it is release, begin slowly releasing small press releases or Twitter announcements, giving away a little bit more information each time. By the time you release your newest version, everyone will want to have it because you have built up excitement over its newness. Of course, make sure you can meet expectations by creating a product that is worth the buzz; otherwise you'll end up with some very disappointed and frustrated customers.

Short, sweet, and to the point is best

Generation Y could have been called Generation ADD. Enough said.

Seriously, though, I have never in my life taken the time to read sales copy that included huge blocks of text, and I'm a reader! Online, my generation is even worse. We see blocks of text on a website, and we quickly jump to the next search result...the one with lots of images and one-liners.

Keep any marketing message plain and simple. Think minimalist. Learn to say more with less words. This will require lots of brainstorming and testing on a small group or on family and friends, but will be worth it to find that perfect one-liner that goes viral or that not only turns heads but creates conversions.

People respond to stories. Always.

To my great surprise, The Hunger Games has recently become a cultural phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong—I liked both the book and the movie (which is a little disturbing, as the child violence was a bit much). At first I couldn’t understand why it became so popular. And then it hit me. The Hunger Games offers a great story. A story that Americans think they need to hear, one that seeks to address some of the deepest fears we have about ourselves and our society. It’s a true American story. And people love stories. Millennials included.

Build up your brand with stories. Humor is an excellent approach, as mentioned before, but you can really take any angle that fits with your company image. Anything that connects deeply with this younger generation will be a success. Surprisingly, Millennials want to be involved in green companies and have a desire to be a part of something big. You just have to create a story that makes it seem like getting involved in your company is huge, will make a difference, or is "sexy," to steal words from the mouth of Quentin James, the National Director of the Sierra Club Student Coalition, when commenting on being environmentally conscious.

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