Understanding the Trends to Make the Most of Marketing to Millennials

Millennials, which we can roughly define as those born roughly between 1981 and 1995, are a unique generation as an audience for marketers. Raised in an era of exponential technological shifts, the majority of Millennials grew up with limited or nascent internet access, and became a large consumer base at the onset of the eCommerce and social media booms of the early and mid 2000s, respectively.

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In short, this generation has come of age as a consumer cohort in concert with the developments in digital media and marketing. But, because these changes in the digital commerce landscape have evolved so organically and at such a rapid pace, Millennials are easy to take for granted as an audience that requires special attention. 

As marketers evaluate the necessity to further expand their digital-first strategies, many in the industry are looking to the future, rightly identifying the growing buying power of Gen Z audiences. This future-first approach may be a mistake.

In the current landscape, Millennial audiences constitute an estimated $600 billion in buying power compared to $360 billion of Gen Z (though Millennials still represent less buying power than Baby Boomers and Gen X combined). By skipping over Millennials and tailoring experiences for emerging Gen Z audiences, marketers may not only be wasting an important opportunity to test future strategies, but may also be missing out on tapping the full potential of a core spending sector.

As the industry begins to prepare for a digitally focused future, the following tips and trends will help marketers make the most of the Millennial audiences (the largest in US history) without ignoring the inevitability of younger audiences gradually gaining share of the buying market.

Millennials Increasingly Want Personalization Without Sacrificing Privacy

Millennials grew up with the internet, and developed habits early on of tailoring their experiences online to their needs and interests. Unlike older generations who weren’t given options—Baby Boomers and Gen X cohorts engaged with what was presented to them in the form of TV advertisements, newspaper and magazine ads, OOH campaigns, and more—Millennials have been able to curate the media with which they engage.

As a result, there is an expectation that advertisers are able to meet that demand for personalization, only presenting ads and experiences that are relevant to the individual Millennial consumer. Failing to provide this personalization and relevancy can have a lasting impact on brand trust and loyalty. One SpiceWorks survey found that 56% of Millennials would swap their current brand for one that customizes to them while only 26% of Boomers would.

On the flip side, Millennials have also seen the internet evolve from an exciting, unregulated marketplace of ideas into a source of vulnerability. With countless high-profile data breaches, Millennial audiences have learned to be conscientious of what they share online. It may seem contradictory, but this cohort wants unique brand experiences, but approaches sharing information with brands—oftentimes the conduit for building that personalization—with skepticism.

Marketers looking to strike this balance of security and personalization will need to incorporate strong, consent-based frameworks for the data they collect from consumers, and build in a value exchange to preserve the trust of Millennial consumers. By approaching data collection with openness and transparency, brands can appeal to both sides of Millennial demands.

Millennial Audiences Relate to Omnichannel and Social Marketing

With older generations, the consumer journey was impossibly difficult to track seeing as all of it occurred offline. For Millennials, the digital commerce journey is far more measurable (though decidedly not uniform).

When you consider that 48% of Millennials use social media to research brands and products, it creates the conditions for a measurable path to purchase. A Millennial user can be identified at multiple stages of their research and discovery phases and more easily walked through their buying journey.

While Gen Z audiences are showing a stronger affinity for social platforms such as TikTok and SnapChat, Millennial audiences tend to favor older, more established forms of social media. In terms of popularity, the platforms with the highest favorability ratings are:

  • Facebook: 78%
  • YouTube: 77%
  • Instagram: 63%
  • Twitter: 48%

The impulse may be to leverage the up-and-coming platforms, but these platforms are still the most valuable for Millennial targeting. Leapfrogging these more established platforms in favor of those favored by Gen Z like TikTok and Snapchat could result in sacrificing a large, active cohort for one with less buying power.

As brands look to market to Millennials, understanding where their audiences are and providing consistent, compelling creative is essential in leading a customer through their journey. One survey showed that 68% of Millennials demanded an integrated, seamless customer experience regardless of channel. Providing this consistent, personalized, and relevant experience across channels is important for Millennial marketing.

Brands Need to Display an Understanding of Financial Circumstances

For how much buying power there is among the Millennial generation, it’s important to recognize the financial realities of the cohort. Having come of age in the post-9/11, post-2008 financial crisis era, Millennials tend to be a bit more sensitive and conscious of their financial realities.

According to a Deloitte study, 42% of Millennials report feeling stressed most of the time, for a host of reasons, many of which relate to financial and work-related factors. This broader sensitivity translates to fiscal responsibility, with 75% reporting actively budgeting their monthly spending. Brands need to be mindful of this reality in their messaging and targeting. Price-conscious Millennials may view hard-sell marketing or aggressive targeting as a major detraction towards a brand.

Having a better understanding of consumers, again, through privacy-conscious data practices, can enable a brand to better message to Millennial audiences. Knowing whether a prospect has recently lost a job, or broadly understanding a cohort’s income bracket can help tailor messaging to be mindful of an individual’s purchasing outlook.

This targeting methodology, coupled with agile creative that mindfully messages to an individual on a personal level can be a major point of distinction for Millennial audiences.

Millennials Put Increased Weight Into Brand Values and Advocacy

In addition to a broader economic sensitivity, Millennial (as well as Gen Z) audiences are increasingly concerned with what a brand stands for. As these generations have been at the forefront of climate change advocacy, gender parity, LGBTQ+ rights, and other core issues, a brand’s values are becoming deciding factors in where a consumer chooses to spend their money. One study showed that 41% of Millennials want companies to take a stand on social issues.

All told, what a brand does is just as important as what it says. Whether it’s through more transparent data practices, advocacy, hiring practices, or more, a company’s actions can be a deciding factor for Millennial audiences, more than any generation before it.

Aligning messaging around the beliefs and values of your audience can build long-term consumer relationships and foster loyalty, word of mouth, and brand advocacy.

The Imperative of Millennial Marketing

Millennials are caught between the past and the future when it comes to marketers. While Gen Z is on the rise, and Baby Boomers still command the largest buying power of any cohort, Millennials represent a valuable bridge for brands.

Everything Millennials stand for, as well as the technologies they use, are a harbinger of things to come. For smart marketers, adapting digital offerings to Millennials can be a short-term win by maximizing the purchasing potential of this digitally native audience, and a wise long-term play to test the emerging strategies of social shopping and first-party data initiatives that will dominate marketing in the coming years.

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