Marketing to Millennials is a challenge often faced by businesses and product creators of the 21st century. In this article, we will explore some the challenges and things to consider when marketing to Millennials. The concept of generational marketing involves understanding the unique needs, motivations and values of each of the five generations currently in the workforce, and tailoring marketing to meet those needs. To target the Millennial Generation, first we have to know: Who are the Millennials?

Who are the Millennials?

There are many questions that may arise when talking about Millennials. What are the millennial years? Is a Millennial the same as Generation X? Generation Y? Generation Z? What is the difference between a Millennial and a Baby Boomer? First of all, all generations are defined by a range of years in which they were born. Baby Boomers are roughly from the end of World War II (1945) to the early 1960’s. After the Baby Boomers is Generation X, or Gen X, which is the name given to the generation born from around 1961 to 1980. Then come the Millennials! To clear up any confusion, Millennials are also known as Generation Y, or Gen Y. Why? Because “Y” is after “X”, that’s all! The Millennial years often refer to those individuals born between the years 1982 to 2004. The dates are imprecise, so it may be useful to think of the early 1980’s as the years Millennials began to be born, to end of the 1990s and early 2000s as the ending of the birth years for the Millennial Generation.

According to the U.S. Census, this span of about 20 years has a population of about 76 million. This is a huge population with enormous potential spending power that marketers need to fully understand to be able to tap that potential. That’s where the concept of Generational Marketing becomes vital.

Generational Marketing and Neuroscience

When facing the challenge of marketing to millennials, or any specific generation for that matter, it is helpful to have some basic understanding of the neuroscience behind generational marketing. The concept that people born in different generations would have different values, want different products and have different motivations just makes sense. Someone born in 1940 would probably feel differently about social media platforms like blogs, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube than someone born in the year 2000. A concept that helps explain why there are preferences in each generation have to do with a concept in neuroscience called neuro-plasticity. That term means that our brains are malleable, like plastic, and change as a result of interaction with the environment. When considering tailoring a marketing campaign through the lens of generational marketing, it is wise to ruminate on just how many changes have occurred in society in the last 50 or 60 years, and consider how that could impact how the brains in each of those generations were affected.

A quick comparison of the changes in the worlds of Generation X, born in the 1960s and 1970s, and Generation Y, or Millennials, illuminates some of the staggering differences between these two generations. When Generation X was beginning, there was no internet, no handheld calculators, no social media, no YouTube, no streaming content, no videotapes, DVDs or CDs. No cable tv, no microwave ovens. No man on the moon, no space shuttle or Falcon Heavy spacecraft. Their parents were just coming off the Korean War, and the conflict in a little-known place called Vietnam was just heating up. If you were to ask them what the capital of the State of Michigan was, if they didn’t already have that fact memorized, they would start thinking about the name of the reference book in which they could find that information.

Millennials, born in the 1980s and 1990s and early 2000s, never knew a world without the internet. They have come of age with the I phone, social media, YouTube and e-commerce sites like Amazon. In their short lifespans, media has evolved from broadcast television to video to DVD to streaming media. They watch YouTube on their phones and talk to their television sets. If someone asked a Millennial what the capital of the State of Michigan was, they would reach for their phone and ask Siri, or Cortana, or Alexa, or Google the question, or think about a website where the information may be stored and accessed by them.

These are tremendous changes in the environment in practically every aspect of life. When there are changes in the environment, due to the human brain’s capacity for change thanks to neuroplasticity, the brains of Millennials are wired very differently from the brains of Baby Boomers or Generation X. Next, let’s look at some of the characteristics of the Millennial Generation, and how to best market to meet those needs, including their love of online exploration and interacting with the online community, and their preference for being able to use a product or service when they need it, rather than own something outright.

Marketing to Millennials: Importance of the internet

Perhaps the most important thing to consider when marketing to Millennials is the internet. The internet, and constant access to the internet anytime, anywhere, has become an integral part of the life of the Millennial. Millennials are spending an average of 25 hours per week online. They are plugged in and online constantly. They enjoy interacting with the online community as well. This interaction can be accomplished in numerous ways, such as creating tweeting and forwarding tweets, or commenting on everything from restaurants and hotel accommodations to YouTube videos and on the performance and price of products they have purchased.

The Millennial Generation enjoy online exploration

Due to the influence of the internet, traditional, outbound marketing such as magazine ads, direct mail, and radio spot simply do not connect with Millennials. To the Millennials, these marketing strategies may feel impersonal, and do not give them any chance to interact with the company, product or service. When marketing to Millennials the interaction of the online experience is essential.

The Millennial consumer actually enjoys looking for a product or service online. They do not usually buy on impulse. They relish the challenge of finding the best product or service at the best price, and have a good time doing the research. How is this research accomplished? As mentioned earlier, Millennials enjoy commenting and reviewing the products and services they have used or purchased. Millennials comment on their experience using these products or services. They comment, and other members of the online community read and are influenced. Millennial consumers read reviews. According to one recent study, a whopping 84% said that user-generated content has at least some influence on what they buy. They also listen to experts online, whether the experts are online bloggers or YouTube Channel stars, their opinion matters to the Millennial consumer. This is due in part because they speak the language of the Millennial. The YouTubers speak like and use the vocabulary of their Millennial peers. They also listen because much of the content the Millennial finds online is informational and interactive.

Because of their penchant for online research, the wise entrepreneur will make sure their website appearance is up to date and has a contemporary look. 92% of Millennials have reported that the look and appearance on a website could influence their experience, including being a factor in them deciding whether or not to give their personal information on a website. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to have creative and appealing landing pages. Having less text and more imaging can help in creating an engaging experience for web surfers.

Marketing to Millennials:  the role of social media

Because Millennials like to research, read reviews and listen to experts, marketers should seriously consider the content and style of their social media presence on the internet. When marketing to Millennials, keep in mind that this is a generation hungry for content. They crave product information and get a thrill out of finding the best price. Marketers need to aggressively publish informative content via blog posts, product reviews, YouTube videos, white papers and other ways that get out information about that product that is fun, informative and will help the Millennial decide on their product or service. Millennials are 54% more likely to purchase goods or services that are recommended by what is known as a social media influencer, such as a YouTube or Instagram star. Many of the influencers on social media make millions of dollars a year, and have become a force to be reckoned with in the marketing world.

Millennials also enjoy helping to feel as if they are part of the creative process. 42 percent of Millennials have reported that they are interested in being involved with the creation and development of products and services in the future. How can this be accomplished? Start looking around and numerous examples will start become obvious. One recent example was the potato chip company that famously had a contest to have the consumer decide the next flavor of their next potato chip flavors.
In terms of social media platforms, Facebook is still the largest and most used, but YouTube and Instagram are gaining ground in terms of use by younger generations.

The Millennial Generation prefer use over ownership

Another interesting characteristic of the Millennial years is that many of them prefer using a product and being able to access it when they need it, rather than owning the product outright. A 2014 report found that fully 35% of the group survey reported that their preference would be to pay for a product or service, even at full price, to have access to the product or service when they needed it, instead of ownership.

There are numerous examples of this already in existence. Millennials are apt to lease a more luxurious car than they could afford to purchase. The explosive growth of Uber and Lyft for short-term car leasing and Air BnB and Home Away as an alternative to hotels also supports this trend.

The Millennial Generation, or Gen Y, has seen much change in their short lifetimes. Some say that the Millennials have seen more change than just about any other generation in history. In terms of technological changes, that very well may be true. In was in January of 2007, only 12 short years ago, when Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, introduced the iPhone to the world The video can still be viewed on YouTube. When Jobs showed the audience how the iPhone has the capability of scrolling through addresses with a flick of the finger, the audience can be heard audibly gasping. When he projected a picture that was on his iPhone to a screen, and used his fingers to zoom in and out of the picture, the audience spontaneously burst into applause. That was just a little over a decade ago. What used to be magic is now commonplace. Facebook started in 2004, YouTube in 2005. In just a few short years, platforms that were unthinkable to the generation before are now commonplace and being used in ways that could not have been predicted. It is the exciting task of the modern business person to embrace these changes when marketing to Millennials, understand how this generation uses and relies on these for their information and entertainment, and how they can change their marketing campaigns to accommodate the online world of the Millennial Generation.

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