Marketing To Millennials: Getting Gen-Y Right

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It’s a topic so ubiquitous, your grandmother just wrote a blog post about it—snaring the attention of millennials, AKA Gen Y. And with good reason:

composed of roughly 80 million people in the US, by 2018 their purchasing power is projected to be greater than that of even the Baby Boomers.

We’ve all heard it before ad nauseam, but that doesn’t make it less true: yes, you will need a totally comprehensive digital strategy and an established beachhead in the relevant outlets of social media. We want to learn as much about the purchasing habits of this generation as humanly possible, and they honestly don’t mind telling us all about that, as long as it’s a smooth, seamless transaction and they’re getting something in return (for an up-to-date example, check out Dunkin’s clever new plan here).

Clearly if you don’t have a presence on Twitter-Facebook-Tumblr-Instagram et al, you have your work cut out for you—but that is a subject for another (read: much longer) article, or better yet, a long chat with the team at Shake Creative. Here we’ll just focus on trying to clear up some common misconceptions.

Try Dialing it Down a Little

Millennials have been assaulted with messaging and ads since the moment they emerged from the womb. To say they are skeptical isn’t even scratching the surface; this generation has elevated skeptical sarcasm to an art form. Don’t ever tell a Gen Y-er that you’ve got the “best bagel in the city.” Oh really? It’s a big city. Prove it. Let’s see some figures.

Try understating things a bit. Refresh them with honesty, or at least by being candid. I saw a chalkboard sign last week advertising a “pretty damn good slice for only a dollar,” and that’s close to the tone I’m talking about (yes, I bought a slice: not bad).

This is possibly my favorite beer commercial of all time. That it features Will Ferrell, a virtual Gen Y deity, certainly doesn’t hurt, but what makes it work is how he levels with the viewer at the end. “Well, truth be told, I’ve never been to Davenport before, this is my first time.” Not the chord one would want to strike with, say, luxury cars…but it can be a great fit for things like pizza and beer. No women in bikinis, talking frogs/lizards or magical booze-delivering trains capable of solving climate change—just a guy fishing and having a can of beer.

Some of Them Have Babies

Understand that Gen Y is no longer all single 20-somethings. A lot of them are now hitting 30 and have 1.5 kids and a mortgage, yet the generation as a whole hasn’t been able to shake the image of the unattached freewheeler…this probably has something to do with the (mostly) unfair label that millennials are a generation of narcissists. As a result, some brands get too focused on trying to hone in on these supposed “free spirits,” meanwhile forgetting that an ever-growing segment of them are putting down roots, starting families, and looking for deals on diapers. Chase has a good handle on this.

They Care About People Who Are Not Them

Narcissism has become the defining characteristic of millennials, probably since even before Joel Stein branded them the “Me Me Me” Generation. This comes mostly from 2 sources: first, most of them are still in their twenties, so yes, they may be a bit stuck on themselves. So were 20-somethings in the 1940’s—it’s more of a defining characteristic of “people in their twenties” than a generational trait.

The other reason for this label is their perceived sense of “entitlement.” What some view as entitlement may simply be a natural and understandable reaction to the fairly blatant screw-ups of a past generation, which led to a crippled economy. As Marc Tracy in the New Republic points out: “Right now, older generations are in the process of slowly bequeathing millennials a society more ‘in debt’ than ever before: ‘in debt’ in the sense of living on borrowed time…‘in debt’ ecologically, financially, politically, culturally…TIME has decided to focus on the millennials, and to tar them as ‘entitled’ for not feeling totally okay about all of this.”

Still, these young people do want to help others, and they aren’t shy about giving their time or money. Millennials may be poorer off than Boomers, but they aren’t stingy: many studies say they are often motivated by the desire to “make a difference” or even “change the world.” They just want to contribute their way, which brings us to the next subject…

Make it Simple to Click-and-Pay

Millennials are just as likely to write a check and stuff it into an envelope as they are to write somebody a snail-mail letter and drop it off in a mailbox
—which is to say, not bloody likely. But online is a different story; they are far more likely to spend or make donations there, and utilize crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter or Fundly ( Simplicity and speed are vital as well—it should go without saying, but an easy-to-use payment service akin to PayPal is an absolute must—many Gen Y-ers will close the window as soon as the fields for addresses and credit card numbers appear (they HATE constantly having to plug in their information), so removing this obstacle is crucial. When they click “purchase”, take them to the checkout—don’t run them through additional windows and hoops.

Telemarketing: Just Don’t.

Maybe this doesn’t quite count as a misconception…

Gen Y as a whole is almost completely immune to telemarketing of any variety.
First off, they don’t have land lines, so even if you catch them, chances are they are NOT at home but out and about, and trying to take their dog to the dog run, okay? And even if you catch them in a quiet moment somehow—it will not work. They will not listen. They will hang up, hard, and with prejudice—but before they do, they will viciously and profanely curse whatever poor fool has dared disturb them from marathon-watching Fresh Prince episodes on Netflix.

That’s it for this week, but keep an eye out for Part II of our high octane two-part series, “Millennial Misconceptions.”