How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Consumer Marketing

How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Consumer MarketingSince the earliest days of advertising marketers have recognized the value of segmenting generations to reach a target audience. Generation Xers, Baby Boomers and the so-called “Silent Generation” have all had their day in the sun. But now, many marketers’ eyes are turned to new kids on the block, the 18 to 34 age group known as the “Millennials,” And it’s not just the $1.3 trillion estimated spending power of Millennials in the U.S. that marketers are turning their sights on. Also of great interest is the way this new generation is changing the face of consumer marketing, transforming the way in which companies need to market their products and services in order to be successful.

So what differentiates Millennials from previous generations of consumers and what’s driving the unprecedented pace of change? According to research by The Boston Consulting Group, the Millennial generation engages with brands far more extensively, and on a more personal and emotional level than the generations that have gone before them. Technology and social media allow young people to interact with brands, and each other in entirely different ways and with an immediacy that wasn’t there for the Boomers and Gen-Xers.

The BSG report identifies five elements that are driving changes in consumer marketing:

Reach. Millennials tend to engage much more with brands through social media via mobile devices than their predecessors. Just over half of Millennials surveyed said that they use social to “like” (and keep up with) brands compared to a third of Boomers. Twice as many Millennials as Boomers use their devices in store to seek product information or reviews and to check prices. More frugal, likely out of necessity, these young people are savvy consumers and they are conscious of what they’re spending.

Relevance. The purchasing decisions of U.S. Millennials are influenced by more people – and different people than their predecessors. Expert advice is less trusted than before with family, friends and even opinions from strangers being of more value. That only makes sense, with the proliferation of the Internet in general and social media channels, getting advice, opinions and feedback from others is easier than ever before and networks are larger than ever before – especially for connected people. Interestingly, the celebrity culture is also making its mark with Millennials, who are reported to be twice as likely to be influenced by a celebrity than Gen-Xers and four times more than Boomers. (Is that a good thing? – It certainly might be for the earning power of the celebrities!) I’ll admit that this frightens me a little, since celebrity endorsements are rarely “real.” Combine that with a culture personified by crazy reality shows featuring wacky people doing outrageous things – okay, I’m just not going to think about this one any more.

Reputation and Social Responsibility. Half of the younger Millennial group (18 to 24) and 38% of those aged 25 to 34 identify with brands more personally than their predecessors. These young people report that the brands they favor “say something about who I am, my values and where I fit in.” Equally important for brands and marketers alike, a sense of social responsibility is becoming more prevalent with 48% of young Millennials choosing to use brands that are active in supporting social causes. That explains the popularity of brands like Tom’s, Warby Parker and others focused on supporting social causes and making that commitment a cornerstone of their business principles.

Relationship. Nearly twice as many Millennials as Boomers said that “availability 24-7” was the most important thing that brands can do to engage them. This is something that isn’t easy for marketers or brands to get their heads around and it’s certainly not easy to develop a business model to support. It’s not just Millennials who are always connected and always “on” – it’s millions of Internet-savvy consumers and social media users of all ages as well. It will be interesting to see how brands and agencies adapt to meet this desire for attention literally around the clock from their target audience. We want what we want when we want it – and if one brand isn’t there to provide that, without question, another will be.

We experience this firsthand as we have a number of agency clients for whom our team provides community management services in both the evening hours and during weekends, when their teams check out. Traffic and interaction on those channels is typically high during those times and our team is responsible for making sure we’re there on behalf of the brand instead of checking out at 5pm until the next business day. Agencies and brands are getting smarter about being where their customers are and ready to serve them when needed. Hard to do? Sure? Impossible? Not at all. You just have to change the way you think, the way you budget and the way you staff in order to do that. This is especially true if you’re an ecommerce business because when your customers are there with money in hand, they’re not interested in waiting for the next business day for you to answer a question or help them make a purchase. They want what they want when they want it.

Referral. More than half of U.S. Millennials say that they’re willing to share brand preferences with friends on social networks, compared to just 31% of Boomers. This is a two way street, with more Millennials also saying that people seek them out for their knowledge and opinions on brands. A quick look at YouTube will verify that, where you’ll find tons of video created by savvy young consumers, ranging from “how to” do something or use a product, to product reviews, to haul videos showcasing purchases. This is a generation of young people who grew up with either devices in their hands or recording or being recorded and they’re rarely shy about sharing their thoughts and opinions.

How to Connect With Millennials?

The reports authors recommend that brands and agencies should be taking action to get involved in this critical market by focusing their efforts as follows:

  • Promoting a two-way, open dialogue with their Millennial customer base, and to do and say and be a brand with an authentic reputation and a “brand soul” that mirrors or personifies the values, personality traits and communication preferences of this audience.
  • Mobile first should be a given when it comes to reaching all consumers today, but especially when focusing on the Millennial audience. Cross-media, cross-channel and cross-device strategies have never been more important than they are today.
  • Understanding the differences involved and the different strategies needed when marketing to this group and setting clear and measurable goals for marketing to Millennials.
  • Breaking down the barriers that separate the traditional agency or brand –driven marketing and media functions.
  • Cultivating legitimate and credible referrals among Millennial customers and employees.
  • Investing in more innovative media and data analysis tools that will allow them to create a more personalized experience and to more effectively measure the effectiveness of marketing efforts and adapt as needed on the fly.

Of course, if you’ve been here before a lot of this will sound familiar. Building relationships across channels, breaking down ridiculous silos between marketing, PR, sales, etc., being data-focused and using data for personalization and targeting, being value-driven and socially conscious — it’s the path to success, really whether you’re targeting Millennials or many other consumers today.

You can find the full report at “The Reciprocity Principle: How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever” (registration required). I’d love to hear your thoughts on Millennials and how they change the marketing equation. I kind of feel as though many of the things that personify Millennials personify the connected, socially conscious consumer of today in general (across many age groups), but maybe that’s just because if I didn’t know better, I’d qualify myself as a Millennial. Many of the things that are important to them are equally important to me and my peer group. What about you?

Lastly if, like me, you’re fascinated by Millennials, I’d be remiss not to suggest you read my friend, Jeff Fromm’s book, Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and the Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever . He’s done a terrific job planting his flag in this space and is incredibly knowledgeable about Millennials and how to successfully work with and market to them.

Other resources on this topic:

Engaging Millennials: How Marketers Can Break Through
Future Business: Social, Cloud and The Millennial CEO
Five Tips for Marketing to Millennials: From a Millennial 
Millennials are Conservative, Cheap, and Could Be the Wisest Generation 

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