Marketing to Millenials: 101

By BKV in Media Strategy on February 16th, 2011

BKV’s EVP/Director of Client Services Virginia Doty recounted the benefits and challenges of working with the Millennial generation (folks born 1982-2002) in this blog post back in June.  With that in mind, I’d like to offer a study of the same generation and something that BKV does adeptly and strategically: marketing to Millenials.


I should offer full disclosure by noting that I am a proud Millenial.  We can be selfish, entitled, and arrogant, but we also have qualities no other generation has possessed in the same ways: altruism, a larger-scale worldview, and nearly effortless mass influence.  Harnessing these traits can not only help sell your brand but may use this generation to help promote it.  The problem is that many companies struggle to see why the benefits of candidness, openness, and crowdsourcing outweigh the risks.


It has taken decades for companies to accept the merits of public relations.  It is difficult to track, debatably useless for revenue (although I would argue otherwise!), and time-intensive to create and maintain a positive reputation in the eyes of the public.  However, as crises from customer service flubs to oil spills abounded in the 1990s and have become increasingly more public via the Internet, most organizations have come around to the idea that reputation management is not an option: it is a necessity.


Whatever your brand, whether you are selling “mom jeans” or cell phones, it is important to recognize the influence and power of the Millenials as marketing partners for the same reason PR has been adopted.  Millenials offer a public influence that can easily make or break a brand and ignoring them will surely leave you either discussed negatively or (worse, and more likely) not discussed at all.


Even live theater is getting into the game of Gen Y marketing: Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company recently commissioned an e-book by Patricia Martin called “Tipping the culture: How engaging Millenials will change things.  A medium once traditionally known as stodgy and aimed at Boomers and beyond is recognizing why Twitter, Facebook, and audience engagement is so vital to the success of any show.  In an industry in which only 20-30% of shows even recoup their investment, producers are beginning to realize that to have a bona fide hit, you have to get viral and utilize Millenials as brand advocates.


Some of the key takeaways from Martin’s study won’t shock marketers, but they offer some great advice for folks just dipping their toe into marketing to the upcoming consumer generation.

 ·         Don’t censor them. 

 Millenials thrive on content creation and sharing, and if they feel like you’re filtering out the “bad stuff” about your brand, you’ll lose their trust.  Welcome risk, take the plunge, and trust that the quality of your product will speak for itself.  You want to come across well in the public because your product is good – not because you “spun” it that way on the Internet.

 ·         Recognize that you’re building a community, not talking “at” consumers. 


 There’s a great quote from Red Bull in Martin’s e-book: “Social media is a cocktail party, not a bull horn.”  The more you sound like you’re marketing to users, the less likely they are to hear your message. 


Gen Y consumers are trained from birth to filter out the thousands of advertising messages they see every day – but if you’re making them part of the conversation on a Facebook page or on Foursquare, you’ve now broken the barrier between advertiser and consumer.

 ·         Get them involved. 


 Millenials want to be heard.  They want a voice.  Why do you think they blog, Tweet, update statuses, text, “shout” on Foursquare, eVite, and message?  They want their networks to hear what they have to say.  And the benefit of this is that those networks usually listen. 

 How can this kind of arguable narcissism help your brand?  Become what they are talking about and allow them to tailor that content to their voices.  How many covers have you seen on YouTube of popular radio songs?  How many posts have you recently seen on Facebook about the new Spicy Chick Fil A Biscuit promotion offering a free breakfast?  Millenials want to create and share content for your brand - you just have to give them reason and the honest motivation to do so.

 ·         Give them information they can use.  

 One of the coolest things about the Millenial generation is its thirst for knowledge.  While they are known for spreading their own personal gospel far and wide, they are also actively listening.  They read blogs, search Google and Wikipedia for information, and have RSS feeds set up for all the information they could ever need.  Couple this with the constant stream of information they get from their social networks and you have a generation actively seeking opportunities to learn new things. 

 Give your consumers new information about your product in short, palatable formats, start Tweeting promo offers, and set up a texting program for coupons.  Those are the tidbits that spread like wildfire.

 It is important to recognize the positive influence of the Millenial generation as much as any other, regardless of the nature of your product.  Many current company heads grew up in a pre-Internet generation and viral marketing is as foreign and scary as PR was twenty years ago.  Organizations need to get social, stay innovative, and welcome the Millenials with open arms – for the benefit of both their brands and the consumers who love them.