Ask any marketer--millennials are the most important demographic to reach today. They're a huge cohort, they're growing up, and they have money to spend. As a whole millennials represent $200 billion in spending power.
But they're also the most challenging group to market to. They're don't trust traditional ads. They view them as an unwelcome interruption, and they know how to avoid them. They choose what sites to go to, who to follow on social media, and use adblockers to make annoying banners and pop-ups disappear.
And don't think you can convince them you're one of them by using their slang or trying to imitate them. You probably think you'll sound "chill" or "dope," but you'll just come off as phony, and they'll be even less interested.
Instead, millennials want a more genuine, human experience when it comes to marketing. They don't want faceless corporation treating them like "Customer X," beating them over the head with some generic, cookie-cutter sales pitch. They want a more personal relationship with a brand if they're going to buy--something that taps into their sense of community and treats them like a unique individual.
Looking at the ways millennials decide what to purchase, you'll see it all traces back to some kind of human element. Here are three ways millennials are making the marketing landscape more personal.
1. They trust human endorsements over ads
Only 3% of millennials look to traditional media like TV and magazines when they're deciding what to buy. Those mediums are filled with the kinds of ads millennials hate--impersonal ones that interrupt the content they're really interested in.
Instead, they look to what friends and relatives say about a product before they purchase. While people have been seeking each other's advice forever, millennials are using social media to see what people in their social circles are saying about brands. A simple search on Twitter or Facebook can show millennials what everyone they've ever met thinks about a product. Not only that, but they also use social media and online search to seek out opinions from online experts--if someone has a decent following online, millennials are willing to let that person influence their purchase decisions.
The key idea is that millennials need a real, live person--someone they identify with--to stand behind a product for them to be interested. An advertisement just doesn't have the same credibility to them. They're thinking, "Of course the company's gonna make itself look good in an ad--they want me to buy!" With their smartphone always at their fingertips, millennials can always look online for an objective assessment of a product from somebody they trust.
2. They want to refer and be referred
The referral is one of the most powerful ways to reach millennial customers. Juggernauts like Uber, AirBnB, and Dropbox have driven insane growth amount millennials with referral programs that reward current customers and the people they bring in.
Why? For one thing, it taps into that need for a human advocate. If someone is referring you to a product, they obviously think it's good.
But it also makes use of another essential part of the millennial consumer's mentality: their desire to influence. More than half of millennials say they're willing to share their brand preferences over social media. They do this by "liking" brand's pages on platforms like Facebook or posting reviews on blogs or sites like Yelp, and a growing chunk of baby boomers are following their lead.
Millennials like to help each other out. When they can steer friends toward a product they like, it makes them feel like they've done something nice. Referral programs let them do that, and come with the added bonus of giving both parties a discount. The referrer knows he's helped his friend out even more with the discount, and gets to save some cash himself. Plus, he gets the added bonus of having discovered a cool product and showing it to somebody, so he gets some "street cred" as well.
That's why the best referral programs feel personal. They can do that by incorporating elements both sides' pictures, email addreses, and social media profiles--anything that reminds both sides, "there's another person I helped out on the other side of this referral." Platforms like Extole give companies are dedicated to just that. They give marketers software to easily create referral programs that feel organic and human to customers.
3. They want authentic, interesting content
Millennials want brands to engage with them in an entertaining, more personalized way. They want brands to give them stuff that's more user-centric than product-centric--something that's engaging regardless of whether their considering buying from that brand.
For examples, consider Hostelworld's Meet the World campaign. It's a video marketing push that shows the adventures of the company's actual hostel guests. The videos are entertaining, highly shareable, and show real people living their lives. The videos are compelling in their own right, so they don't feel to "sales-y"--they're something millennials might watch even if they weren't interested in Hostelworld.
Red Bull has also had a ton of success with this strategy. By promoting an extreme sports events like the Stratos space jump, Red Bull adds value for anyone who might think the event is cool independent of whether they actually like Red Bull. The company is taking the focus off of itself, its products, or its sales efforts, and asking itself, "what are people actually interested in?"
Content marketing is a great opportunity for companies to show millennials they understand them as people, and not just as some demographic whose money they're interested in. Think about it this way: if a customer's connection to a company is only based on price and quality of product, they'll jump ship for a cheaper or better alternative. But strong, targeted content connects customers to the brand on a deeper level, which drives loyalty for the long term.
The upside is huge
There's no question that marketing to millennials is difficult and requires a huge pivot from the mindset with which most advertisers have approached their consumers. Touting the product isn't enough for millennials. They need to connect with a brand on an individual level.
But companies who get it right stand to reap huge benefits. Millennials are loyal to the brands they admire. When millenials feel a personal connection to your company, it'll become a part of their identity, and they'll sing your praises to the ends of the earth--and they'll have the selfies to prove it.