Marketing to Millennials: get the message and the media right

marketing-to-millinnials-megaphoneMillennials. Generation Y.

The ones born in the 80s and the 90s.

The so-called digital natives.

They may not be the richest, but they have the most discretionary income. They have influence over older generations.  They advise their parents on the purchase of technology like phones, computers and entertainment devices.

So they’re attractive to marketers.

But they’re also highly aware of marketing messages – and cynical about them.

Which means marketing to millennials is no easy challenge.

Why are millennials different?

Some say millennials are really different. Others say it’s simply what each ‘younger generation’ is like, until it grows and matures. For marketers, this may not really be the issue. The issue is to understand them and market to them.

So here are the commonly cited characteristics of the millennials.

They grew up with technology. They don’t remember a time before computers, the internet and smartphones. They live on social media. They share everything.

Actually, the truth is a little more complex, as this infographic about millennials shows.

They certainly seem to be connected. But it’s not all social media. Much of that online time is browsing news or researching work or study issues. And they don’t want to do everything online.


It’s also true that they share. A report by Boston Consulting Group says more than half ‘are willing to share their brand preferences on social media, compared with 31 percent of baby boomers‘.  Many also have their own blogs and personal pages. From a marketing perspective, social media is word-of-mouth on speed.

They think short-term rather than long-term. They want everything now. They don’t save for the future.

This seems to be at least partly true. One study shows that ‘millennials love to travel, buy clothes and dine out with friends’ more so than any other generation‘.

What’s more, their average debt is higher than their average annual income. And one in four is living at home with parents.  (Maybe this is fueling disposable income? Maybe it’s a response to unaffordable housing and little job security?)

They want to make a difference.  They’re idealistic rather than money-driven. They search for meaning in their jobs and their lives.

This is difficult to assess with hard data. But it does appear that experience is more important for this generation.

So what does all this mean for marketers?

Marketing to Millennials – Content

If you want to engage millennials, build your content around these factors.


This generation is very aware of spin and how things can be manipulated.  If the message and the reality don’t match up, they’ll notice.


Millennial cynicism offers an opportunity to delight by living up to the values you promote.  That’s part of the authenticity.

How do you align your brand with millennial values?  It’s interesting to note that male millennials and female millennials have really different values. So think about your gender targeting when you develop your campaign.




Story has always been important, but for millennials, it’s huge. It’s part of that search for meaning and authenticity.

Interactivity and participation

‘Interactive’ doesn’t mean online.  It means the millennials want to be involved. They want a voice. They create content. They share it.  The recent Apple shot on iPhone 6 campaign is a great example.


Redshift and Bite also note the ‘rising popularity of visual-based interaction‘. It’s not just actions that speak louder than words. Pictures do too. Whether they’re photos or videos. Whether they’re online or in print. Make your images resonate.

Marketing to Millenials – Channels

It’s no surprise that for these switched-on digital natives, online is important.

But marketers must realise that online is not the only place to go.  For millennials, multi-channel works.  So don’t dismiss print out of hand. Just make it work with digital.

One effective approach is print materials to drive millennials online where they can interact.

An astonishing 75% of millennials have purchased something in response to direct mail.  


Print gives authenticity, especially if personalised or well targeted. Remember, this generation didn’t get a lot of letters when they were growing up. They appreciate something physical, addressed to them.  It’s real. Authentic. Combine that with a step where they can follow up in their digital space, interact and share. Now you’re pushing lots of buttons.

Millennials are also the only generation to rank mail as their “preferred” source of coupons.

  • Mail (61%, versus the 51% overall average of all generations)
  • Newspapers (52%, equal to the overall average)
  • Internet: download (47%, versus the 30% average)
  • Internet: print at home (42%, versus the 34% average)
  • Smartphones (39%, versus the 20% average)

Remember, we’re talking a savvy generation, quite capable of looking around for the best price. (And carrying a lot of debt, so keen on a bargain.) The old-fashioned coupon is still an effective marketing tool.

Another important channel is word-of-mouth.  More from Boston Consulting Group on that:

 Millennials are around 2.5 times more likely than boomers to at least occasionally share a social-media link that references a brand or product and to follow brands on Twitter. They are also far more likely than boomers to support their favorite brands online: 52 percent said that they post likes of a brand on social media such as Facebook, and 21 percent reported that they do so “every time” or “almost every time.” Also, 39 percent said that they post reviews of brands or products, 27 percent reported that they reference a brand in blog posts, and 26 percent said that they answer satisfaction surveys on mobile devices.

The word-of-mouth may now be online sharing, but the basic concept is the same. And if your campaign lets them interact, participate and create, they’re even more likely to share.


So what’s the ideal campaign when marketing to millennials?  Here’s one suggestion.

Develop an authentic message.

Promote it via traditional channels.

Use those channels to refer millennials online, where they can engage with your message.

Let them add their own angle and share with their own network.

Because one final thing about millennials is this – they trust their own network over experts!