Marketing to the Millennial Mind-Set

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It can be tempting to market to millennials as one massive segment, but a more effective approach is to reach out to that audience based on beliefs and behaviors, rather than age.

“Age is just a number.”

It's a popular mantra that often refers to love relationships. It's also a phrase that marketers should consider when they're tempted to group consumers into age-defined brackets. Segmenting customers and prospects by age can be useful, of course, but some marketing insiders say it's not as relevant as it was in the past. That's because today audiences are connected less by age and more by beliefs and mind-sets.

This is especially true when it comes to marketing to millennials. Marketers will likely see better results by segmenting such a diverse and broad group by attitudes and expectations rather than by age.

“There are messages that resonate across generations,” says Darren Ross, EVP at Fluent, a marketing agency that focuses on college-age consumers. “Emotional connection is a tried-and-true messaging point for brands.” Ross says, for example, that love of family is age agnostic and cross-generational, and that personal devotion is something that marketers can tap into at any age. The caveat, he says, is that interpretation of family, or any other personal passion, can vary dramatically.

"That message [of family] looks very different to multiple generations,” Ross adds. “Picture a family with kids. This image used to be a man and a woman, two kids, and a dog in a suburban home. Now, marketers show multiple versions from single parent homes to single-sex married couples to multi-generational households.”

Of course, there are inherent truths that come with defined generations that marketers can leverage to craft marketing message that resonate and drive action. “Generations share touchpoints in culture that allow marketers to tap into emotions and change behavior. For Boomers, for example, it could be events such as the [1969 Apollo 11] moon landing and the Cold War,” Ross says. “However, messages and stories need to be personalized to the individual to work really well.”

Right now, the generation that seems to attract the most attention from marketers and advertisers are, not too surprisingly, the more than 85 million millennials—who ironically fall in that old advertising sweet spot of 18- to 34-year-old consumers.  But it's not difficult to argue that a teenage millennial has little in common with a 34-year-old cohort. And marketing to that huge and diverse group is proving to be a challenge for companies that the send the same decennial messaging to everyone.

Passions and mind-sets

Norty Cohen, founder and CEO of digital agency Moosylvania, says the key to engaging millennials—or any group—is to understand basic human motivation and drive. Cohen and his team released a study based on interviews with more than 6,000 millennials that aimed to get past age and find out what, truly, is the millennial mind-set.

“We asked millennial consumers to describe themselves; we gave them 36 attributes,” Cohen explains. "Millennials chose nine leading attributes to describe themselves: self-directed, positive, loves devices, free spirit, confident, reads a lot, fiscally responsible, globally aware, and health conscious.”

The study also revealed which characteristics a brand needs to become a millennial favorite: high quality, fits their personalities, socially responsible, shares their interests, and says important things. All are qualities that can, and often do, echo across generations. “Is there such a thing as crafting a story or message that fits an entire generation? Only if it fits their story,” Cohen says. “It's about them, not about you.”

Reaching millennials based on their mind-sets goes beyond messaging. Ross points out that marketers need to be where their customers are—and, more important, understanding the reasons for their choices. “Social and mobile channels are where today's young generation lives, so it's critical to understand how and why they use them,” Ross says. “Once you understand the nuances of their motivations when it comes to communications, you can better engage with them in a way that adds value and influences their perception of your brand.”

In fact, Cohen notes that understanding the millennial mind-set and its connection to digital will enable marketers' future success. “There is a phenomenon of shared digital creativity that will continue to evolve,” he says. “Look for it to define content.”

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