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Successfully Marketing to Millennials

Successfully Marketing to Millennials

Have you noticed all the headlines about millennials “killing” certain institutions and products? From marmalade and Big Macs to gyms and hotels, this generation, as well as the upcoming Gen Z, get a lot of credit for ruining things. Why do companies have such a hard time reaching them? As economies change and people change, your products, services, and approach need to change too. Companies that, until recently, have been very good at what they do have a tendency to fight change, to resist altering what has worked well up until now.

The good news is that the method for successfully marketing to millennials isn’t radical or new. Good marketing has always been about understanding what people want (not telling them what they should want), and being the best at giving it to them.

  • You have to have data from reliable research. Read the articles, study the studies, then look closer to home. What is your Google Analytics data telling you? If you really want people to fill out a form on your website, make that action a conversion metric and watch the data. Who fills out the form? What steps did they take before filling out the form? How can you better direct people to take those steps?
  • You have to be able to think the way other people think. Half of this ability comes from that data, and the other half comes from a good imagination combined with logic. The ability to get inside other people’s heads — the thoughts and motivations of people different from you — is critical for the next bullet point.
  • You have to predict what will prompt a particular group of people to take action. Once you’re inside people’s heads, you need to be able to determine what they want (trying to sell something people don’t want has an extra step of trying to make them want it, and this usually ends badly), and you need to understand what it will take to get them to buy. Maybe they need more information, better packaging, more reminders, a deadline, or the belief in a great deal.

Data for Marketing to Millennials:

  • They’re being paid less than you think. Why do you think they’re killing vacations? On average, millennials are more risk-averse and are less likely to spend money unnecessarily than previous generations. With hundreds of thousands in student loan debt, many millennials are very, very particular about where to put their paychecks.
  • They care about the planet. It’s the only one we’ve got and we’re getting closer to making it uninhabitable for humans. The younger you go in generations, the more this seems to matter. Generation Z was born surrounded by post-apocalyptic stories, and this is bound to leave its mark.
  • They value transparency. In this era where information is always readily available, being convoluted or vague means you’re not trustworthy.
  • They value corporate social responsibility. When they do spend money, millennials prefer companies that practice business sustainably and ethically. “They want companies that prioritize ‘making an impact’ on the world around them.”
  • They don’t want to ingest garbage. More and more information is coming out about artificial ingredients, harmful chemicals, pesticides, and bleach in our food, in the animals, in gas exhaust, in household cleaners, coming out of factories, and on and on. Millennials know these chemicals are hurting more than the ozone; they’re hurting our bodies.
  • There’s a lesson in avocado toast. Why are restaurant chains hurting? Mashing up some avocado and putting it on a piece of whole grain toast costs less, takes less time, and is infinitely healthier. Where is the chain restaurant serving fast, inexpensive food made with only fresh, wholesome ingredients? Marketing is about meeting customer demand, not demanding customers want what you’re selling.

It’s not all positive, of course. Millennials also have reputations for laziness, arrogance, and self-absorption. We have to acknowledge that survey data is inconsistent. “One study finds millennials care about environment, education, and health. Another finds economic, gender issues, or wage as their most important issues.” What’s the truth? That lining real people up in columns and rows based on income and gender and race and the year they were born is a haphazard business indeed.

While it’s good to look for trends and not get too testy about what the trends say (“Not all millennials!”), it’s also critically important to market to the individual. That’s where you’ll reach millennials, by listening, by interacting with them one-on-one on their terms, by putting more energy into transparency and good deeds (and PR to spread the word) and less into pushy sales, by showing you care about what they care about, and by not being fake. And it couldn’t hurt to stop blaming them for not golfing or buying motorcycles.



Consensus varies, but this data is accepted +/- a couple years.

  • Silent Generation: -1945
  • Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
  • Generation X: 1965-1979
  • Millennials: 1980-1994
  • Generation Z: 1995-2009
  • Generation Alpha: 2010-present