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Millennials Aren’t Going Anywhere. Their Marketers Shouldn’t Either

Ah, yes. Those Instagram-loving, avocado-toast munching, music-festival-attending millennials. Our collective coming of age has been bemoaned, criticized, lamented, and dreaded. But now most of us are in our thirties, and can actually buy things  — after we fork over a large portion of our discretionary income to things like rent and student loans. So what do we want to buy?

The outdated marketing research on my peers says we want “experiences.” (Trust me, if I could pay people not to smoke in front of my window, I would gladly invest in that experience.) The problem with this word is that it’s entirely too broad. And why is it millennial-specific? Retirees flock to cruises in their golden years to play mini golf in the Caribbean Sea. Is that not an experience?

For some reason, “experience” translates into one specific for millennials. Instagram-worthy pop-up stores. I have no idea who came to this conclusion. I think it was justified by using the acronym “FOMO” (fear of missing out) which I haven’t heard used in conversation since 2013. Marketers are worried that filling pop-up stores with cake pops are going out of style, according to this article that postulates that experiential marketing, especially when it comes to millennials, is on the decline.

As if all this wasn’t enough, marketers are bemoaning the arrival of Generation Z, currently in college, which apparently hates talking on the phone more than millennials do. The research on this generation is even more lazy and judgmental, claiming things like they don’t like slow-loading apps (who does?) waiting more than 45 seconds to talk to a customer service rep (well done) and…wait for it…are more likely to buy something if a friend recommended to them than an Instagram influencer.

Here a few tips for marketers who want to connect to a younger audience. 

1. Ditch the lingo and fads. We don’t just use memes and acronyms to communicate. We also speak standard English. If you try too hard to be millennial-specific, you risk looking like Steve Buscemi.


2. Think in sprints. There is nothing more annoying than the feeling than marketers are trying to sell to my 19-year-old self. Look at pictures of yourself from ten years ago. You may have had a different haircut. You may have lived in a different city, or had a different job. Were you the same person ten years ago, or even five? Exactly. Young people grow and change just like their older counterparts. Your strategy should shift to reflect that

3. Be adaptable and flexible. The problem with grouping vast groups of people under one umbrella is that you don’t see the individuality and specificity within that demographic. Imagine someone referred to your peers as “old people between 56 and 70.” That could mean anything. Some people in that age group are running companies; others are retired; still others may be doing something entirely different. As a marketer, it’s important that you not only see the large segment, but understand the people behind the group.

4. Be willing to take risks. Part of the fun of being a journalist is getting to talk to all different sorts of people from all walks of life. Just looking at lines on a graph or reading a white paper is not going to help you understand anyone, let alone younger people. At minimum, go on YouTube and watch some different channels, go to a show, or ask someone to talk to you about their needs and concerns. If you don’t know any young people between 22 and 35, consider making new friends (hint: bribe with food).

It’s not easy to market to people who were born in a different time. But instead of putting out cake pops and complaining you’re not getting the leads or conversions you may want, consider that there is more that one way to communicate your message, and trust that people of all ages can connect to your campaign if it sounds like a sincere friend, not a pushy salesperson.

Oh, and stop using the term “millennials.” We don’t like it.

Here’s a DMN podcast with someone who is an expert on marketing to millennials.

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