Eight Tips for Engaging 80 Million Millennials


As the most connected segment of the population, millennials (those born from 1981 to 2000) are a force capable of changing our marketing, media and engagement landscape. If you’re not familiar with their influence, they represent 80 million consumers with $2 billion in spending power annually, and will account for 75% of the workforce by 2025. Understanding their behaviors as shoppers and consumers of media can help you position your business for the next decade and beyond.

Brand Cool’s parent company, Butler/Till, recently conducted secondary and primary research to gain insight into how this segment of the population get their information, what their media preferences are, and what factors are important to brand loyalty. The following tips will help you improve your reach and connections with this audience—regardless of your industry or offering.

Tip #1:  Remember: it’s “me,” not you.

For millennials, the above statement isn’t about the standard breakup line. It’s about the generational “me filter” that reflects their overwhelming need for personal relevance. This is obvious, from the explosion of taking and sharing “selfies” (estimated to reach 25,700 images per person in a lifetime) to their desire to help tell a brand’s story through their own personal experiences instead of having the company tell a generic version. For marketers, this means focusing on ways to enrich their experience and aid their addiction to documenting, sharing and uploading content. And, it means getting used to fielding questions and comments. This generation is extremely inquisitive; in fact, you can say that they’ve been trained to be, with more millennials having MBAs than no degree. In addition to engaging in two-way conversations, brands will need to prepare for the era of virtual-reality storytelling, where audiences can literally immerse themselves an event to interact with companies and the “tribes” that share their values and beliefs. 

Tip 2:    Give to get back.

Millennials, who grew up in the information age, are much more comfortable sharing their personal information than the more skeptical baby boomers. A whopping 60% are willing to share their personal information, including preferences, habits, social media profiles and cell numbers, but only if they think the benefits outweigh the risks.

For brands, this opens up the potential for “reciprocal loyalty”, where new customers can be won and maintained using personalized deals, such as as free offers, coupons and reward clubs. Data analyzed by Nielson show that deals actually account for 31 percent of Millennial shopping dollars.

But don’t put those offers only in social media. According to Coupons.com Incorporated, email offers are the favorite method for learning about deals (42%), with mobile apps from retailers and companies coming in second at 36 percent. If shopping online, 39 percent of millennials say they rely on coupon code sites. Amazon.com and Groupon also score high with their preferences.

Keep in mind, though, that this group is notoriously tough on brands, expecting them to work harder to earn their loyalty than they did their parents’ loyalty. Companies need to respond by delivering strong value propositions and consistent experiences across every channel they use to engage customers (referred to as Omnichannel). Companies also need to dispel the myth that consumers of business-to-consumer brands (B2C) expect different things than buyers of business-to business-(B2B) brands. With the advent of Omnichannel experiences, B2B buyers today expect near or the same experience when engaging brands. That makes complete sense. We’re all consumers, so our needs, motivations and behaviors are relatively the same, whether at home or at work.

Tip #3: Make mobile a priority.

Although ownership of most digital devices has not grown in recent years, one category has: smartphones. Research conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that, for millennials, this category has reached the saturation point, with 86% of 18-29 year-olds and 83% of 30-49 year-olds using a smart phone. With computer ownership staying flat over the last decade and their tablet usage remaining lower than other screens, there’s mounting evidence that smartphones are becoming the “all-purpose” device for this generation. If your marketing and outreach isn’t optimized for mobile, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Meet millennials’ expectations for seamless experiences by creating content that is easy to navigate and view on the multiple screens (including small), media that provides information in concise, relevant and easy to share formats, and tasks that take little time—with completion in five minutes or less.

Tip #4:  Dive deep into digital media.

This year, digital media ad revenue will surpass TV ad spending, hitting this milestone a year earlier than anticipated. Most companies are well on their way to integrating digital into their advertising mix. Now would be the time to layer in analytics that enable personalization, predictive modeling and hyper-local targeting. This will allow you to match millennials’ preferences with what’s topical in their area, as well as recommend products or content they might like to strengthen lead qualification, enhance value and maintain loyalty.

Implementing the right algorithms and analytics is a science, and mounting evidence shows most CMOs and marketing teams aren’t prepared to capitalize on how new technologies can help optimize their campaigns and prove ROI. This is one area where it’s best to seek expert support.

Tip #6: Be more multicultural.

Millennials are the most diverse generation in American history, with more than 4 out of 10 individuals being non-white, and one in four speaking a language other than English at home. Couple this with their heightened sensitivity to diversity and distrust of sources outside their inner circle (59% say friends influence purchase decisions the most), and the case for multicultural marketing becomes even stronger.

Representing cultures through imagery, tying in traditions and using bilingual values-based messaging have historically been the marketers’ diversity toolkit. But this has reinforced silos. Moving forward, brands will need to figure out how to engage groups in relevant ways to motivate cultures to come together to capture more market share. 

Tip#7:   Beef up your financial support.

Financial literacy is not a strong-suit for this population. According to a study done by the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at George Washington University, and published in January 2016, only 24% of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge. This means that calculating rates and understanding their relationship to price is challenging. So is the need to juggle unprecedented student-loan debt and save. Today, seven out of 10 graduates owe an average of $28,400, and more than 50% lack any savings to fall back on. This doesn’t mean that they won’t buy. In fact, Mintel research shows that 42% say that purchasing something that makes them feel good about themselves is very important—a stat higher than any other generation.

Brands can identify ways to be of service by exploring the customer journey and the multiple touch points they have with both prospective and existing customers. In our experience marketing to low-income populations, for example, we’ve found that simple support mechanisms like walking a prospect through an application can significantly improve conversion rates and brand relationships.

Tip #8:  Be strategic about your content.

Insights gleaned from over 20 marketing studies conducted by organizations including Gartner, Forrester, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and McKinsey indicate that more content than ever is being created today than just a year ago. However, 56% of B2B marketers say they are doing so without any type of strategy. Ouch! What’s equally troubling: only 21% say that they are successful tracking return on investment.

Strategic planning is essential to mapping business goals with brand, marketing, communications and media strategies. It’s also the entry point to researching your audiences to profile, segment, and prioritize them by who they are, what they care about, what motivates them and how they want to be reached. By listening to them, you can appeal to millennials’ need to be heard and understood. Ask them what their experiences are like. Probe to fully see their point of view. This often unearths intrinsic motivators or barriers that aren’t well known. Then formulate a plan with strategies and tactics that allow you to effectively message to and support these findings to build your brand and theirs at the same time.