As the largest living generation, Millennials are a demographic every brand wants to charm. But the first trick in garnering their loyalty involves getting their attention and keeping it -- no small feat considering these younger consumers aren't as likely as Gen-Xers and Boomers to respond to traditional advertising or marketing tactics. Take some advice from more than two dozen marketing experts and executives who say they've found the secrets to engaging with Millennials. Here are their words on how to market to people younger than 35.
1. Make sure your product is Instagram-worthy.
"Social-media presence is a badge of acceptance. Millennials are hungry for brand education via social media."
--Hugh Rovit, CEO at Ellery Homestyles, a supplier of ready-made window curtains and top-of bed products
2. Let your audience be your star.
"We know this group of consumers likes to see themselves in the media they consume and we take that insight quite literally, focusing on user-generated content to help tell our brand story. On Instagram, our guests use our brand hashtag #strikeitup to submit images and videos of themselves in our centers, for a chance to win gift cards in our ongoing consumer promotion, and we are then able to feature these assets in all of our marketing channels. When your consumer can relate to your content in an authentic
way -- in this case an honest look into the brand experience -- your brand message goes a lot farther."
--Colie Edison, VP of marketing at Bowlmor AMF, the largest owner and operator of bowling venues in the world
3. Optimize content for social.
"Social is the new SEO, especially when it comes to Millennials. Focus your marketing spend on reaching them via social platforms. These drive the most significant traffic back to brands and publishers. Optimizing the content is also key. We see the highest shares on short, captioned videos that nail the first ten seconds of content to hook the viewer. Keep it brief and don't assume Millennials are waiting around to watch long videos with the sound on."
--Emerson Spartz, CEO of Dose, a digital publisher helping brands create stories worth sharing using predictive, data-driven technology
4. Focus on word of mouth.
"If a Millennial hears a recommendation from a friend or colleague, they are more likely to buy and try a product than if they just happen upon it in an print ad. So trial is key for us. Once someone tries our product, we know we've won a customer and trust they will pass along their recommendation."
--David Neuman, CEO of Gaea North America, a company that offers Greek food products based on olive oil
5. Meet them in person.
"I make sure I go to shows, not just the big trade show, but the consumer shows as well. [I] talk to people who don't know who I am and engage in conversations about their shopping habits, eating habits, and learn about our consumers. It all comes down to connections with your audience."
--Erika Wasserman, VP of marketing at Explore Cuisine, which offers pastas that are vegan, organic, gluten-free, and kosher
6. Give them an instant response.
"The Millennial generation possesses a very strong BS detector. Authenticity is worth its weight in gold. The content, the message, the videos--they have to be real. If it looks like an ad, it will be skipped over faster than a Tinder profile without a photo. There is no set formula though: We test thousands of different messages and measure engagement and responses to understand what resonates best with people. Marketing extends beyond the ad, too. Millennials will ask questions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and expect an instant response. A team of 15 people in our company ensures we always answer within a few minutes, and we have measured substantial increase in sales from people who we had interacted with throughout the marketing process."
--Michael Malinsky, co-founder of high-tech beauty products company WUNDER2
7. Make your campaigns adaptable.
"Millennials like to lean forward, using the newest tech and the newest type of services. Marketers should emphasis new thinking and [whatever is] cutting edge. Many are interested in instantaneous satisfaction. Market the immediacy of whatever it is you offer. Social clout is important [which] Millennials use to tilt the brand experience to their favor. [For} example, using their social power to get upgrades such as rental cars and hotels."
--Terri Simpson, CMO of Lice Clinics of America
8. Appeal to their values.
"Millennials' purchasing habits tend to prioritize memorable experiences and social identity. Brands that appeal to their values will rise to the top. More likely to embrace brands making a difference, Millennials want to align themselves with organizations doing good in the world and use their purchasing power to support companies that have similar values. Giving back to the animal community has always been priority of Camp Bow Wow, and we have started to focus even more effort on our charitable program, the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation."
--Julie Turner, VP of marketing for Camp Bow Wow, a dog daycare, training, and in-home pet care franchise
9. Commit to authentic sampling to build passion and trust.
"I started my company with virtually no funds behind it--no big marketing budgets--and that worked in our favor with Millennials, who put us on the map. They can spot a paid endorsement a mile away, and are completely turned off by it. Instead, they are heavily influenced by authentic experiences. They spend up to 25 hours weekly online and when they find a product that they truly love, they are eager to post, tweet, and talk about it. Instead of paying for endorsements, opt for subscription and sampling services in your category. (For us, New Beauty's Test Tube, Ipsy, and Birchbox have been successful.) Our massive sampling campaigns have been some of the largest in the professional hair care industry and were the foundation to building our distribution to 30,000-plus doors. In the process, we had influencers like Gwyneth Paltrow, Gabrielle Union, and Christina Applegate organically share their passion for our products. The upfront spend to build trial, authentic reviews, web traffic, and passion for your product is far less expensive than paying tens of thousands of dollars for a one-time activation with an 'of the moment' star."
--Carolyn Aronson, founder, owner, and CEO of It's a 10 Haircare, which creates stylist-developed, 10-in-1 hair care products for all hair types
10. Be transparent and meet them where they are.
"Transparency is key when marketing to Millennials. This generation has virtually any information they can imagine at their fingertips and are constantly being bombarded with messages. Being able to cut through that noise and meet them where they are through a variety of mediums is vital. Whether it's how we share our information about the ingredients and the testing of our products, to the use of user generated content, keeping things simple, real, and honest is how we market to all of our consumers, but is especially important to the Millennial who craves that messaging and holistic experience."
--Jane Iredale, founder and CEO of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, LLC, a wellness brand crafting clean, cruelty-free makeup with skin care benefits
11. Don't sell products, sell your purpose.
"Parents of Millennials want to know a product's features and benefits. Millennials require a second layer. What is your why? How do you impact the world? Lead with your purpose. At our company, we believe in doing everything possible to offer solutions for the health and well-being of others. Sometimes that's through our products, but first and foremost, it's through who we are as people. Philanthropy cannot be a side conversation. In our case, we collaborate with charity: water, a nonprofit organization delivering clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries. We donate $3 from the sale of our [top] selling product--Eye Authority--to help fund water sources worldwide. But it's not enough to hand off a check every year. We're physically going to build our first funded well, and we'll be making our customers a part of it."
--Annette Rubin, CEO of HydroPeptide, a personal care line advancing clean science and epigenetics-driven formulations
12. Make it post-worthy.
"We've designed our menu with Millennials in mind, tapping into foodie culture and taking care to feature items that are instantly shareable, both in real life, and online. Signature, one-of-a-kind specialties, likes our Behemoth Burger (a five-pound, 14-inch round 'party' burger) and Pizza Cupcakes have garnered millions of impressions, with one viral video generating over eight million views. We've also partnered with key social-media influencers to help spread our story, giving them exclusive access to the in-venue food and beverage experience to share with their followers. We've learned if you make it, and it tastes and looks good, they will post."
--Colie Edison, VP of marketing at Bowlmor AMF, the largest owner and operator of bowling venues in the world
13. Be authentic.
"They can spot an ad from a million miles away. They are keenly aware of what is marketing speak versus real talk. So keep your communications, advertisements, and content as authentic as possible. Provide real, actionable tips, be transparent in sharing your company values and keep adjectives to a minimum. Above all else, know your authentic voice and use it effectively to connect, not just market to them."
--Mahesh Chaddah, co-founder of Reservations.com
14. Find alternatives to traditional ads.
"I love partnering with well-known social influencers in the beauty world to get the word out about Dermaflash. And I do that because I know that this generation of women value real and honest opinions more than they do communications from brands. I always re-share videos of social influencers Dermaflashing themselves because it's so much more inspirational and engaging to our community of followers. And that kind of content will carry so much weight with our Millennial consumers."
--Dara Levy, founder and CEO of Dermaflash facial exfoliating device
15. Start the conversation through social channels.
"We have found Facebook and RealSelf to be very helpful. Patients find us, learn about the practice, and contact us after they view our content on these services. Our webpage gives interested patients more comprehensive information, but the initial contact is through Facebook and RealSelf."
--Fred G. Fedok, MD, facial plastic surgeon and president of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS)
16. Appeal to FOMO and frugality.
"Millennials are all about FOMO (fear of missing out). Offer them a unique experience, event, or special offering, to tap into their drive for being involved and staying in the loop. They also tend to be frugal, so special coupons, deals, and product trials delivered on social channels and apps resonate with this customer base. Sharing a sneak peek of something that's trending and timely also works. Of course, Snapchat and Instagram are the platforms of choice for the under-35 set, in that order, and are good choices for promotions and to generate buzz for your brand."
--Wendy Lewis, president of Wendy Lewis & CO Ltd, a global aesthetics consultancy
17. Understand that reviews matter.
"Social proof is also very important to the Millennial consumer. CheapOair pays particular attention to hearing what our customers have to say about us, gathering information via post-travel surveys. Reviews are published across CheapOair.com pages and are easily viewed by our customers."
--Kathi Moore, VP of branding for Fareportal/CheapOair
18. Be relevant and engaging across all platforms.
"Millennials are always the first to work with new facts of technology access. They absorb and interact with information differently across various platforms. As a result, we tailor our marketing strategies to be relevant and engaging across a variety of devices and applications. Depending upon the platform targeted, that can mean a number of things, from the use of striking photography and video content to the incorporation of witty, relatable copy."
--Karin Sun, founder and CEO of Crane & Canopy, an online provider of bedding, bath, and home decor products
19. Establish sincere relationships with influencers.
"Millennials are quick to discern a disingenuous brand story. They seek value and appreciate the convenience of online shopping and discovery. They aren't waking up to read a newspaper to get their current events--they're reading their Instagram feed. Millennials put extreme trust into the recommendations of influencers, and we've made it a priority to establish sincere relationships with the personas behind these trending lifestyle accounts, who have become advocates for our brand. We've successfully reached these engaged narrow pockets of prospective customers through digital marketing channels like podcasts, blogs, and social media. Since inception, we've collaborated with thousands of young, hip bloggers and social media influencers. Lauren Conrad was one of our biggest influencer collaborations, who positioned the Leesa Mattress as not only an amazing product but part of that aspirational lifestyle that her Millennial followers seek. In a slightly different vertical, Barstool Sports, a hilarious sports-media lifestyle brand, is a perfect example of a long-term partner who has helped us reach millions of Millennials in an effective, genuine, and entertaining way through their blog, live video content, podcasts, and social feed, so much that the 'Mattresses Mattresses Mattresses' phrase coined by Barstool founder Dave Portnoy, or "El Pres," has become synonymous with our brand."
--Alex Realmuto, director of marketing at Leesa Sleep, a direct-to-consumer mattress company
20. Provide an interactive experience.
"We know through history that humans have an innate desire to be part of something bigger than themselves. Millennials drive this in the online and social space every day. At Hurdl, Millennials are our true partners in driving the next generation live experience. We give them a more interactive experience by making them part of the event production. They give back by engaging with the show or game. It's critically important to us that Millennials know they are part of a much bigger movement [and] they're with us in creating a more communal next-generation live event experience."
--Betsy McHugh, founder and CEO of Hurdl Inc., which provides comprehensive marketing and data analytics for live events
21. Listen to them.
"The amazing thing about marketing to Millennials is that they are so good at telling you what they love... and what they hate. And if you are listening--truly listening--this can be incredibly helpful. For us that means selling our products in kits, using our customers as our models so they feel like they are buying from a brand that represents them, asking them what new colors and styles they want us to make, where our next pop up or event should be and even how they want us to communicate with them. Every decision we make is informed by listening to our customers, so when Millennials purchase, they are not just in love with the product but they feel like they are a part of something special that they helped to create."
--Joanna Griffiths, founder and CEO of the active intimates e-commerce brand Knix Wear
22. Utilize influencers.
"Influencers have a significant impact on the purchasing decisions of Millennials. Brands should prioritize influencer campaigns when marketing to this group, as they relate to the authentic feeling of influencer content and prefer the raw, no frills, up close and personal nature of the social channels the influencers use. When an influencer promotes a brand, it doesn't usually feel like an ad, it feels more like a trusted friend recommending a product if done thoughtfully. It's important for influencers and brands to choose the right partnerships that maintain a mutually appropriate voice and tone to avoid appearing forced and risk losing credibility among audiences."
--Eyal Baumel, CEO of Yoola, a digital media company weaving together influencer marketing and content creation
23. Provide a wealth of information.
"Insight that goes beyond the price of the trip is a must. They want to make the most out of every travel experience, and will take the time to do the research that supports that goal. In service to that, CheapOair.com provides a deep library of travel blogs on 'Top U.S. Destinations,' 'Things to Do,' 'Adventure Travel' and other information-packed insights into various destinations both domestic and international."
--Kathi Moore, VP of branding for Fareportal/CheapOair
24. Invest in understanding them first.
"The key topic on every marketer's mind right now is how to effectively and efficiently market to Millennials, but the issue is that very few of those marketers truly understand [this diverse] group. More research dollars are going against this group than against Hispanic marketing or even marketing to current demographics of a brand. Why? Purchase power. This demographic will inherit trillions of dollars and will have a potential spending power unlike we've ever imagined. The question becomes, will they be brand focused and spend or will they be cause focused (save the world, cure cancer, stop world hunger), or will they save, just like their Baby Boomer parents did? It's a guessing game. The brand who first finds the key to unlock the door to discover the mystery behind this group wins. Others will surely perish."
--Brian A. Kuz, CMO of Talking Rain Beverage Co., the makers of Sparkling Ice
25. Be transparent and accessible.
"Millennials are looking for transparency in the way of clean and understandable ingredient panels and companies that display social and environmental responsibility. Millennials want to feel like their buying decisions are making an impact both in their life and the lives of others. Carrington Farm's products all have clear labels laying out the ingredients and their uses in each of the products. Our products are available in mainstream grocery as well as natural stores so they are easy to find for almost everyone."
--Debbie Shandel, EVP and CMO of health food company Carrington Company
26. Create an opportunity for change.
"For Millennials, the world is their oyster, so your business needs to present a pearl. Offer an opportunity to make a difference, be a leader and transform with pure products, a healthy lifestyle and the pure joy of helping others. Provide a meaningful product or service and this generation will reward you for it."
--Kay S. Zanotti, CEO of Arbonne, which manufactures botanically based personal care and wellness products
27. Offer authenticity and diversity.
"[Half] of Millennials consider themselves foodies [and] 52 percent of them would rather go to a food festival than a music festival. Millennials expect authenticity and diversity from everything in their environment. They are also the generation that is most connected to the way nutrition affects their health. They are busy and appreciate convenience, but they are not willing to sacrifice taste and flavor for convenience or health. Because Millennials are authentic, forward thinkers and risk takers, they expect the same from their food. So we are constantly looking for new and diverse ethnic flavors and searching for new ways to prepare 'old' ingredients. We have come to the realization that the key to marketing to Millennials is to give them food-forward choices that feel authentic."
--Monica Klausner, Veestroco-founder and CMO of gourmet meal delivery service