Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever

Geoffrey P. Lantos (Department of Business Administration, Stonehill College, North Easton, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 11 August 2014

10776

Keywords

Citation

Geoffrey P. Lantos (2014), "Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 31 No. 5, pp. 401-403. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCM-03-2014-0909

Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited


If there is one key takeaway from Marketing to Millennials it is that given the generation’s mammoth size (the largest in US history at about one-fourth of the population) and buying power (approximately US$200 billion annually) plus tremendous influence on American culture, marketing to its members as they enter their prime earning and spending years should be of interest to ALL marketers. This requires overcoming stereotypes (the mainstream media stereotype being “lazy, debt-laden, social media-obsessed fame whores” (Maheshwari, 2013, p. 31) as well as following “New Rules” of customer engagement.

Given how dramatically differently this age cohort thinks and lives compared with previous generations, marketers must take a quantum leap from traditional marketing modes, especially in light of the digital technologies Millennials grew up with, and that are an integral part of their interconnected lives. This subculture also has distinct desires and demands, including wanting to interact with brands and even co-creating them and their marketing, being extremely influenced by their peers, as well as influential on both their peers and their elders via sharing their opinions and endorsing what they approve, demanding authenticity and transparency (phony marketers beware!) as well as novel experiences and adventure, plus desiring to make a difference in the world, and hence being very responsive to cause marketing.

Contrary to most other descriptions of this generation as monolithic, this book describes them as a heterogeneous subculture exhibiting critical distinctions between younger and older Millennials, between Millennial males and women and among six psychographic segments such as the disconnected, cautious and charitable Old-School Millennials and the successful, wired, and free-spirited Gadget Gurus.

The authors are both well qualified to pen this book. Jeff Fromm is a seasoned marketing executive with > 25 years’ experience marketing major brands, including Hallmark, Sears Auto Group, SONIC and Payless ShoeSource, and he is father of three Millennials. Fromm serves as Executive Vice President at Barkley, the largest employee-owned advertisement agency in the USA. A coauthor of articles on, and regular speaker about, Millennial marketing, he co-authored the report “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation,” a trailblazing comprehensive research report based on a random panel survey sample of > 4,000 Millennials participating in a joint study by Barkley Inc., The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and international consumer research firm Service Management Group. The findings of this study regarding lifestyle, social and political issues, cause marketing, product and brand preferences and habits, and digital, social and media usage are foundational for Marketing to Millennials. Christie Garton, a lawyer, entrepreneur and Millennial, founded U Chic Media, which serves the female college market, and she authored a bestselling college guidebook series for women.

This book’s actionable insights on Millennials’ unique attitudes and behaviors draw upon “American Millennials” as well as BCG’s segmentation analysis to provide what the authors claim is the first detailed work on Millennials as active consumers (p. 1). Marketing to Millennials also draws upon personal interviews with Millennial thought leaders, leading brand stewards and entrepreneurs to provide useful hints for formulating marketing strategies and aligning corporate cultures with the Millennial culture.

The following is a brief synopsis of key takeaways from the Introduction and each of the eight chapters in Marketing to Millennials, followed by a few critical observations.

Introduction

The book opens with a broad portrait of this generation. Born between 1977 and 1995 (although, I hasten to add, some other observers begin their birth years anywhere between 1978 and 1981 and some end it in 1994 and as late as 2000), they are the largest and most ethnically diverse age cohort. Millennials are highly influential on their parents and in the marketplace, being leading indicators of media consumption, advocacy and social media usage in the mainstream culture.

Chapter 1: who are they?

Millennials wish to actively participate, co-create and partner with brands they love through social media. Their purchase decisions are heavily influenced by their large network of friends, to whom they turn for advice as well as share ideas with, especially online. They also influence their parents, with whom they are unabashedly friends. Millennial culture has become mainstream; therefore, to predict what will be hot tomorrow, you must know what is popular among today’s Millennials.

Chapter 2: the new rules of marketing to Millennials

Millennials require different marketing strategies. Non-Millennials falsely stereotype this diverse generation as lazy, spoiled and entitled, whereas Millennials see themselves as tech-savvy and cool but also lazy. They need not be an enigma to those who spend time with them and discover that they are more straightforward than prior generations. The Millennial market can be segmented: younger versus older, men versus women and into six segments uncovered by BCG: Hip-ennial, Old-School Millennial, Gadget Guru, Clean and Green Millennial, Millennial Mom and Anti-Millennial, each having a unique persona.

Chapter 3: engage these early adopters of new technologies

They are 2.5 times more likely than typical consumers to be early adopters of new technology and Chief Technology Officers in their households, helping their parents troubleshoot tech issues and serving as household technology decision-makers. Millennials believe they should be rewarded for being smart and doing things well at work, including providing product insights and serving as brand advocates, regardless of longevity with a firm. They crave instant gratification and expect transactional speed, efficiency and convenience. These young consumers “showroom” while shopping, using price-comparison apps in stores to discover the best deals. To win the “mobile moment of truth” (p. 66), marketers should interact with them on emerging social platforms and engage them with state-of-the-art digital technology, such as mobile apps, as well as make shopping a stimulating experience.

Chapter 4: build a listening and participation strategy

This generation is more active online and enjoys engaging and assisting online both brands they favor and those they disfavor. They can become brand advocates when marketers engage them in authentic conversations. However, not all wish to be friends with brands or be bombarded with messages. This suggests a “listening strategy” (p. 79), where marketers listen to uncover their desires before engaging with them. Millennials value continuing social media engagement and consequent relationship building. They are already discussing brands, so marketers should use social media monitoring services such as Radian6 to discover who the brand advocates are and what they are saying. A well-rounded engagement strategy includes thought-provoking content marketing on platforms where Millennials voice their opinions. Marketers should interact with them both when things go right as well as wrong.

Chapter 5: make them look good among their peers

Millennials’ definition of “expert” is broader than professional experience and academic credentials – it includes anybody with first-hand experience in their large social networks on social media, mobile apps and the Web. They are especially heavily influenced by their peers (as opposed to paid product endorsers such as celebrities). They want to look good among their networked peers by giving advice, broadcasting details of their lives and using products that positively reflect themselves. So, marketers should create forums for them to share their opinions and continually validate and act on their feedback.

Chapter 6: design a sense of fun and adventure

This on-the-go generation seeks adventure and defines it in multiple ways, from international travel to trying new food. Therefore, brands should provide new experiences and adventures to differentiate their offerings. Millennials’ sense of adventure includes risk taking, such as being entrepreneurs and business risk takers. Even Millennial parents seek adventure and remain active. So, marketers should incorporate a sense of adventure and fun into their brand experience.

Chapter 7: don’t give them a reason to cheat on you

For frugal Millennials, price and value are the most important purchase criteria, influencing both brand and store decisions. The economic downturn eroded their brand loyalty, but brands can regain that loyalty through the likes of rewards programs, value-added services, providing fun and engaging retail experiences (for much more on this, see Yarrow and O’Donnell, 2009), acting on their feedback, and showing that the firm cares through cause-marketing initiatives (for which Millennials are willing to pay extra).

Chapter 8: epilogue

To keep up with the technology trends that are so important to Millennials, marketers should subscribe to cultural and tech-trend-sharing Web sites such as Trend Hunter, Mashable and Buzzfeed. In all marketing activities, content is king. Also, even brands targeting older consumers cannot ignore Millennials as they will eventually transition into their core demographic.

The book is a quick, clear and easy read, with each chapter summarizing via bulleted “Key Takeaways”. Plenty of case studies and examples of firms and brands that excel at Millennial marketing are provided from a variety of industries (e.g. Macy’s, MTV, Ford, Android, Dollar Shave Club, Babson College, Coca-Cola, TOMS shoes and Facebook), as is a generous dose of bar charts and statistics from the “American Millennials” study. Overall, Marketing to Millennials provides some unique insights into this generation, primarily for marketers but occasionally also for workplaces. I was glad that the book eschews making the same broad generalizations about this generation as many other observers do.

One shortcoming is that, while the book provides tremendous insights into the always-on, connected digital behavior of these “Digital Natives,” it excludes some other aspects of their lives. For example, the authors do differentiate between lifestage effects, which arise from moving through important personal life events (e.g. graduating college, getting married and having children) and cohort effects, which stem from the environment in which one grew up and experiences of common life events (e.g. Baby Boomers: Woodstock, Watergate and the Vietnam War). However, Fromm and Garton do not discuss most aspects of Millennials’ coming-of-age environment (e.g. growing up during a booming economy; unprecedented diversity in the population regarding ethnicity, beliefs, values and other cultural characteristics; living in smaller families with fewer children; maturing during an era of many social concerns such as divorce, AIDS and international terrorism; and being raised in dual-income or single-parent households and so spending time in day care and being latchkey kids) and the consequent effects on their lifestyles(e.g. causing many to be pampered and consequently materialistic and self-absorbed but also tolerant and well-traveled).

Importantly, it should also be noted that during their teen years, Millennials were responsible for helping out with family shopping, resulting in a sophisticated, marketing-savvy generation that is highly skeptical of inauthentic advertisers and politicians. Also neglected or glossed over was that Millennials tend to be anti-corporate, seek work–life balance, speak their mind, dress as they please, are often described as idealistic and individualistic and are less religiously observant. Additionally, it would have been nice to learn more about their pop culture preferences, given that they are cultural tastemakers in areas such as music, fashion, food, media vehicles, etc. (see Strauss and Howe, 2006). Also overlooked is that Millennials are more affluent and better educated (Howe and Strauss, 2000), and they learn by doing, not just by listening and reading (Selingo, 2013).

Nonetheless, this was meant to be a quick book of insights into marketing to Millennials, and so such oversights are understandable. Overall, it is worth a marketer’s low investment of time and money to buy and read this book, which is also useful for academics who discuss generational marketing in their courses and who want more insight into their students (and, in some cases, children!).

References

Howe, N. and Strauss, W. (2000), Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation , Vintage Books, New York, NY.

Maheshwari, S. (2013), “How millennials are described by public companies to wall street”, available at: www.buzzfeed.com/sapna/what-public-companies-are-telling-wall-street-about-millenni (accessed 13 March 2014).

Selingo, J. (2013), “What we all can learn from millennials”, available at: www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130820113928-17000124-what-we-all-can-learn-from-millennials (accessed 21 August 2013).

Strauss, W. and Howe, N. (2006), Millennials and the Pop Culture: Strategies for a New Generation of Consumers in Music, Movies, TV, Internet and Video Games , Life Course Associates, Great Falls, VA.

Yarrow, K. and O’Donnell, J. (2009), Gen Buy; How Tweens, Teens, and Twenty-Somethings are Revolutionizing Retail , Joddey-Bass, San Francisco, CA.

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