How to market to millennials (it's not easy)

A group of young marketers offer advice about wooing technically savvy, digitally driven millennials, who are the target market du jour.

In Las Vegas, if you're not new and fresh, you're old and boring. Casinos thrive on youthful energy and young executives flush with cash. Nightclubs buzz into the wee hours, chock full of hard-partying millennials, not stodgy Gen-Xers in desperate need of their beauty sleep.

Marketers, too, need to reach millennials, but are they doing enough?

Let the f-bombs fly and puppies roam

At Collision, an edgy tech event in Las Vegas this week, a panel of young marketers talked about wooing technically savvy, digitally driven millennials. Attendees poured into the room to catch the panel, called Marketing to Millennials, and panelists didn't disappoint. Social buzzwords rolled off their tongues, and they peppered their speech with f-bombs.

In fact, the panel echoed the event itself. Everything about Collision rings of youthful exuberance, from its Las Vegas venue of giant tents and concrete floors to the masses of casually dressed attendees to young speakers excitedly talking tech about instead of throwing up PowerPoint slides. There was even a couple of puppies on stage.

All of this appeals to millennials, the target demographic of the moment despite the fact that many are drowning in student loans. Nearly every digital marketing trend, even in business-to-business, seems to be aimed at them. But marketing to millennials takes a special kind of approach.

"They're an amazing group to market to, because they will not accept mediocre marketing," says panelist Dee Anna McPherson, vice president of marketing at Hootsuite. "They have very, very high standards. They're socially conscious. They want to engage with brands that reflect their values. They like to co-create with you. They really keep you on your toes."

Read more: Lessons on innovation from 4 millennial marketers
Vice: Targeting millennials is about opt-in content
New report busts myths about millennials and their digital and social behaviour

Don't sell to them, engage with them

Millennials don't want to be sold to as much as engaged with. For marketers, this means the content they produce on social networks and native advertising should take a conversational tone, tell compelling stories, entertain and educate rather than push a marketing message.

Sure, millennials have been labeled as selfish and entitled, but the opposite is true, say panelists.

"There is a degree of self-centeredness, I think, with the whole sort of social media and selfie era, but they're probably the most socially conscious group out there," says panelist Kyla Brennan, founder and CEO at HelloSociety, a social media marketing and technology solutions company. "They really care about what brands are doing. They respond to brands that do good and are transparent."

"You can't bullsh-t them," says panelist Brad Haugen, CMO at SB Projects, adding, "They're really changing the conversation."

Millennials know when a brand is trying to play them for fools. One of the recurring themes of the panel is that millennials can sniff out inauthenticity a mile away. For instance, many marketers make the mistake of trying to woo millennials by co-opting their slang words, such as "on fleek" and "twerking." These misguided efforts can backfire, as millennials start conversations on social media that make brands look foolish.

"That's the f-cking worst," Brennan says. "Just don't do it."

Other brands are making the right moves.

McPherson, for instance, likes online eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, which is running a "buy one, give one" marketing campaign. The company doesn't scream its coolness message in consumers ears, rather the company lets consumers decide for themselves. Consumers can also receive five "try on" frames delivered to their homes, post pictures of themselves and get input from friends on which ones look best on them.

"They're killing it right now," McPherson says.

Haugen pointed to an older brand, Taco Bell, as doing a good job marketing to millennials. He says the fast-food restaurant has done a great job engaging consumers on social media, generally through humor. Haugen says many of his under-25 employees love the content Taco Bell delivers on both Twitter and Instagram.

Millennials are the flavor du jour, and they know it. They know what technology can deliver, and so they expect brands to give them a personalized, authentic customer experience. Since they're in the driver's seat, they can also demand brands be socially conscious.

If Taco Bell is any indicator, millennials want to laugh a little, too.

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

Top tips to uncovering consumer insights for business innovation

An in-depth understanding of consumers sits at the heart of what we all need to do, but we know it’s not always easy to uncover insights that will unlock a true innovation opportunity.

Matt Whale

Managing director, How To Impact

Is your customer experience program suffering bright shiny object syndrome?

You may have heard of ‘bright shiny object syndrome’. The term is used to describe new initiatives undertaken by organisations that either lack a strategic approach, or suffer from a failure to effectively implement.

Leveraging technology to stand out in the sea of sameness

The technology I'm talking about here is data and marketing automation. Current digital marketing methodology, much as it is practiced at Bluewolf, dictates the need for a strategy that does four things: Finds the right audience, uses the right channel, delivers the right content, and does all of that at the right time.

Eric Berridge

CEO and co-founder of Bluewolf, an IBM Company

Lead Management is very important part of the process. For anyone running Facebook Lead Ads I would recommend using this service.Get your...

Dirk Lo

How this fintech startup is improving content marketing and lead generation

Read more

I am agreeing with Mr. Tyron Hayes that a measured test-and-learn approach could be missing opportunities to not only better engage custo...

rush essay reviews

CMO interview: How Curtin University’s marketing chief is using test and learn to cope with complexity

Read more

Excellent!

Dr Sadasivan,US

Shakespeare shows data and creativity aren’t Montagues and Capulets

Read more

Great article! Agreed with all... Matthew Lerner, Deeps De Silva... When a company has a great product that solves customers needs, a gre...

James Tyler

Why marketers are embracing growth hacking techniques

Read more

Very good article, Social media analytics helps in problem identification. They can serve as an early warning system for negative custome...

BizVinu

Four ways to use social media to boost customer loyalty

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in