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  • Sher Lynn

Targeting Your Millennial Market

How to market to Millennials

The American writer Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” In today’s digital world, many Internet marketers and audience development professionals would paraphrase this differently by saying: “Nothing happens unless engagement exists.”

We have been in the “Millennial” business for almost a decade and this is the most common question we are asked and the answer depends on whom you are talking to.

Who are Millennials?

Statisticians will tell you Millennials are young adults born after 1980 and that there are more than 80 million of them living in the United States today with a direct spending power of $200 billion, according to the first-ever comprehensive study of Millennials we released in 2010.

But anthropologically-minded researchers will tell you a story that’s more psychographic than demographic. Millennials are digital natives at their core, and their desire to change the world is impacting the way companies are doing business all over the world.

Millennial consumers think and behave differently, and their influence extends up and down the generational line. At Generational Guru, we have studied and applied the findings of our studies for many Fortune 500 brands since 2009 when I completed a comprehensive research project of the generational mix in the workplace and wrote Ties to Tattoo’s.

As a result, we identified the key trends that set the tone for a marketplace connecting with a new generation, Millennials, a modern consumer.

Millennials are the largest generation in America’s history, outnumbering Gen X by far, and even Baby Boomers. As Millennials are the largest and most influential generation of consumers ever, it’s no surprise that modern brands aim to understand opportunities to engage them along the road to a final call-to-action. Unfortunately, those who are searching for specific moments in time are missing the bigger picture.

Millennials' buying power is estimated at over $1.3 trillion, and their indirect buying influence at least double that, and now the oldest members are entering their peak earning and spending years. Now is the time for anyone seeking to connect with this influential market to move beyond setting up Facebook groups and Twitter to uncover how to Market, Manage & Motivate Millennials.

1. Millennials are content creators and curators.

Millennials are creators and consumers of videos, pictures, music, experiences, etc. and expect brands to not just create the content for them but also to give them the tools to create their own.

2. Millennials seek peer affirmation.

Expanded social networks (not just social media) have widened the net and Millennials today are more likely to crowd source information and ask friends for opinions before making any purchase decision.

3. Millennials fuel the experience economy.

There is a new paradigm that exists for organizations today and it is rooted in co-creation, co-participation and experience innovation. As Millennials have greater access to brands today, they expect more consumer control of the brand and their own customer journeys and experiences.

There is no shortage of coverage and conjecture about the Millennial generation. The attention paid this generation is unprecedented. At the time of this post over 50 million Google search results are returned with the term “Millennial.”

Millennials are one of the most talked about generations in the marketing industry, but are they really different? Millennials are vastly different than prior generations because they grew up with an unmatched presence of technology in their lives—they are one of the most connected generations because of that.

The Four Generations are:

  • Traditionalists: Born before 1944

  • Baby Boomers:Born between 1945 and 1964

  • Generation X:Born between 1965 and 1979

  • Generation Y/Millennial:Born between 1980 and 1997

*Tweeners are four years on either side

People born between two generations are referred to as “tweeners.” Typically, “tweeners” carry many similarities of the preceding and succeeding generations and are considered forerunners, pacesetters, and trendsetters.

They can easily adapt to the differences between two generations, and make good leaders-seeing both points of view and providing a voice for those who are not heard.

Tip: Grouping people based on their year of birth may be reliable for a large population and the characteristics for that group may be interesting and informative; however, the general characteristics will not fit every person during the same span of time. In my opinion, I believe we have our “Generational DNA”, which is based on our year of birth and our “Generational Personality” based on culture and life events. I am a Gen Xer by age but my Generational Personality is more of a Baby Boomer. Understanding where your team fits generationally gives you the competitive advantage.

Traditionalists: (Born before 1944)

  • Grew up in a manufacturing era where physical labor and assembly line work were more common and rewarded than knowledge capital.

  • Developed skills with new technology slowly.

  • Prefer personal contact and connection or a live person versus a telephone call or email.

  • Tend to be wary of new technology and may find it intimating and confusing to learn, e.g. ATM’s, voice mail, etc.

Baby Boomers:(Born between 1945 and 1964)

  • Rise of television transformed social habits.

  • Were in forefront of creating digital revolutions; 70’s technological revolution was beginning to replace manufacturing as the core of the economy.

  • Technology is important to current lifestyle at work and home, but is a challenge to learn.

Generation X: (Born between 1965 and 1979)

  • Technology literate-first generation to grow up with VCR’s, personal PC’s, video games and MTV.

  • Grew up in an environment of instant information such as open investigative reporting on TV and access to any type of information via the internet.

  • More educated than previous generation.

Millennial: (Born between 1980 and 1996)

  • Grew up surrounded by digital media and are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than prior generations.

  • Use of technology has created demands for instant gratification.

  • Customize their digital world as new products come onto the market.

  • Extensive online users and can locate information easily and instantly on the internet and through social networking.

It’s no secret that diversity helps businesses thrive, and Millennials are the most diverse generation in history. Millennial diversity does not simply mean race and ethnicity, it also includes family backgrounds. More so than previous generations, the majority of Millennials come from single-parent homes, same-sex families and blended families, and their experiences can help them (and you) greatly in the workplace. Effectively connect with Millennials in a meaningful manner and you will have access to their world of diversity and inclusion.

Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority among Millennials followed by African-Americans. Indeed, Millennials are more ethnically diverse than previous generations. Given their size, diversity, and buying power, it’s no surprise that the world has taken a keen interest in what Millennials want.

What works with Baby Boomers in terms of motivating them to buy will not be effective with Millennials. For example, Baby Boomers love structure and immediate gratification when they make a purchase, while Millennials expect to first feel connected to the brand before they buy.

Businesses cannot afford to ignore Millennials. Their collective buying power alone–an estimated $200 Billion annually is already noteworthy and will only increase as they mature and increase their earning potential. In addition, Millennials indirect spending power is estimated at $500 billion, largely due to their influence on their parents and grandparents.

It is hard, if not impossible, to develop a marketing strategy to a generation you don’t understand. Unfortunately, there is not one resource where you can find all of the answers, outside of business articles and online publications, that provide a clear and big-picture view of this new and important generation of consumers.

Millennials think differently because they are different—especially when it comes to online behavior. While some traits are clearly the same among certain age groups over centuries, Millennials react differently to trigger points because of the way the majority of them grew up with instant access to technology and social media 24 hours a day. They connect dots in different ways because some things are more intuitive to them that are not intuitive to generations who came before them. I pride myself as the Generational Guru in my social media presence and expertise, but I wouldn’t dare try to compete with a Millennial. They were using technology by the time they entered middle school.

Brands are no longer in control of their own image and message with this generation. Millennials derive value from being engaged in product development advertising, social interactions, and other facets of marketing. With the participation of Millennials in the co-creation of your marketing process you are likely to get a completely new marketing concept that ties into Millennials' fast-paced lifestyles.

Millennials are not willing to be passive consumers, this generation wants to actively participate, co-create, and most important, be included as partners in the brands they love. Driven by advances in digital and mobile technology, consumers of all ages can participate in these once closed door-processes, and many are accepting, if not demanding, the invitation. For Millennials it’s almost an expectation that companies would want to seek them out for their opinion.

Millennial culture has become mainstream. I see it in my own family. My Millennial-age daughters have an influence on the clothes I now buy online, and how I access my favorite music. It’s not uncommon for those of us non-Millennials to exhibit Millennial-like traits and habits.

Whether it is by persuading us to buy the latest iPhone or Apple Watch, or teaching us how to find the best deals online through social media and new apps, Millennials are sharing their knowledge with us non-Millennials about how to fit into their digital world. Our eagerness to learn from Millennials stems partly from the fact that as the older generation we want to adopt these characteristics in order to feel and stay relevant.

For example:

“I feel I am loyal to certain brands and I am extremely loyal to TOMS® shoes. I readily recommend them to friends and family, even complete strangers! When I need a gift for someone, if I know their size, I send them a pair of TOMS® or a gift certificate with a note explaining how TOMS® donates a pair of shoes to a developing country for every pair they sell.”

- Jessica M, 27, Dallas, Texas

Trying to win the loyalty of Millennials can seem hard, if not impossible, but when you do, it’s similar to winning the lottery. You will have tapped into something very valuable.

For organizations not as successful as TOMS®, well, you can blame the economy or bad timing. Many brands come of age during a challenging economic time, the fiscal prudence practiced by this generation is more intentional than any other.

So, what are the actions they are taking to be more frugal? Millennials are exercising their prudent spending muscle by using Groupon to making homemade meals to taking a more active ownership approach with their choice of health insurance. Millennials are trying to save where they can in greater numbers.

“Millennial shoppers are more heavily influenced by a range of money-saving opportunities versus the population as a whole,” according to the SymphonyIRI report. According to the report, more than half of Millennials are influenced by shopper loyalty discounts as well as traditional coupons.¹ Millennials seek value and rewards in greater numbers. In fact, the majority of Millennials are willing to go out of their way to go to a brick and mortar store in person versus online if the retailer offers an attractive reward program.

Costco for example, offers discounted gift cards to movies, restaurants etc., which results in approximately a 20 percent savings from regular prices. Even better when you sign up as a Gold Executive member, you also earn an annual 2% reward, up to $1,000, based on your prior year’s purchases. This is exactly what Millennials are looking for: savings and connection to your brand.

Given Millennials affinity for a great bargain, it is no surprise Millennials say price is the most important factor when it comes to buying.

Millennials are willing to spend, but they expect a good value for their dollar. They will often buy luxury goods at reduced prices at stores like Nordstrom Rack, Off Fifth Avenue and outlet malls.

Not only does a great price influence their purchases, it also dictates where they shop. Mass retailers are their primary destination, but they are much more likely than prior generations to shop at discount or off-price stores such as T.J. Max and Marshalls.

I had the privilege to partner with JCPenney to freshen their brand to connect with Millennials. With their new brand changes, they have made great strides in overcoming the brand where a Millennial’s parents or grandparents shopped, to now offer more hip and cool brands to attract the Millennial consumer. JCPenney is eliminating cashiers, cash registers and checkout counters and replacing them with technology solutions and self-checkout options that make checking out a breeze.


1. Make sure your product is Instagram-worthy.

Social-media presence is a badge of acceptance. Millennials are hungry for brand education via social media.

2. Let your audience be your star.

This generation of consumers likes to see themselves in the media they consume quite literally. Focus on user-generated content to help tell your brand story. On Instagram, you can create your own hashtag for example #ABCStore so your guests can submit images and videos of themselves in your store/restaurant, etc. for a chance to win gift cards in your ongoing consumer promotions, and you can capture their demographic information for targeted future marketing efforts. When your consumer can relate to your content in an authentic way -- in this case an honest look into the brand experience your brand message goes a lot farther.

3. Optimize content for social.

When brand marketers hear the word “social” they instantly turn to social media. This is not always the case. Yes, social media is a powerful tool, but the real value of a collective social sphere is so much more than just activity on social media.

Millennials' collective social sphere consists of a team of advisor’s modern consumers have built for themselves, and it is without question the most influential and impactful pillar with this generation. Advisors come from all over, ranging from social media networks to personal connections. Brands that build an entire social sphere and tap into the unidentified influencers can create an impressive brand of fans that will actively advocate for the brand. The more brand fans who advocate for the brand, the bigger the social sphere.

Social is the new SEO, especially when it comes to Millennials. Focus your marketing budget on connecting with them via social platforms. These drive the most significant traffic back to brands and publishers. Optimizing the content is also key. The highest impact is with short, captioned videos that nail the first ten seconds of your message to hook the consumer.

Keep it brief and don't assume Millennials are waiting around to watch long videos with the sound on, because they are not.

4. Focus on word of mouth.

If a Millennial hears a recommendation from a friend or colleague, they are more likely to buy and try a product than if they just happen upon it. Trial is key, once someone tries your product, you know you have won a customer and trust they will pass along their recommendation to their friends in person and on social media.

5. Meet them in person.

Make sure you go to shows, not just the big trade show, but the consumer shows as well. Meet Millennials where they are, engage in conversations about their shopping habits, eating habits, and learn about your consumers. It all comes down to connections with your audience.

6. Give them an instant response.

The Millennial generation possesses a very strong BS detector. Authenticity is worth its weight in gold. The content, the message, the videos—they have to be real. If it looks like an ad, it will be skipped over faster than a Tinder profile without a photo. There is no set formula though: Test thousands of different messages and measure engagement and responses to understand and determine what resonates best with people. Marketing extends beyond the ad, too. Millennials will ask questions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and expect an instant response. A word of caution, if your organization has social media pages, be prepared to monitor them, respond timely and post relevant and engaging content to connect your consumer to your brand. There are proven studies that support organizations who engage this marketing tool reap substantial increases in sales from people who they interacted with on social media platforms.

7. Make your campaigns adaptable.

Millennials like to lean forward, using the newest tech and the newest type of services. Marketers should emphasize new thinking and [whatever is] cutting edge. Many are interested in instantaneous satisfaction. Market the immediacy of whatever it is you offer. Social clout is important which Millennials use to tilt the brand experience to their favor. For example, using their social power to get upgrades such as rental cars and hotels.


Millennials are different from the kind of market that comprises Baby Boomers and Generation X, and that’s okay – they’re bringing in new trends that will keep your business in the loop if you play your cards right.

If you’re apprehensive or confused about how to get them to want to purchase from you, remember that you just need to be authentic, relatable, and easy to reach. Then you’ll have them.

Sherri Elliott-Yeary, CEO of Generational Guru is an award-winning speaker, professional business consultant, and published author who energetically engages international audiences with her practical strategies for attracting, growing, and retaining top talent and loyal customers from every generation. Sherri brings over twenty years of hands-on experience to support you in designing generational solutions that address:

  • Cross-Generational Leadership Challenges

  • Generational Blind Spots in Sales

  • Effective Recruitment and Retention

  • Marketing to Millennials

For more information, please contact Sherri via email at or text/call her at 469-971-3663.

#generationalDNA #Millennials #Marketing

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