Marketing to Millennials: How to Reach Out to Generation Y

A group of millennials stood against a wall on their phones

The term 'millennial' – a one-time derogative used to describe the "lazy" and entitled age group born between 1981 and 2000 – Is now synonymous with a dominant, working generation to be reckoned with. For many companies, this consumer category – also known as Generation Y – Is highly significant, with a cumulative purchasing power that is expected to surpass $1.4 trillion in the US alone by 2020.

This collection of individuals, however, can be particularly challenging to target via traditional marketing and advertising techniques. This is particularly due to the excessive amount of promoted material they regularly encounter online and offline, resulting in what industry experts often refer to as advertising fatigue.

Therefore, for business owners, this leaves the question of how they can succeed in marketing to millennials. To help, we've looked at the various strategies that can be used to engage with these consumers, enabling you to target and get through to this highly valuable demographic.

Understand Their Habits

Analysing the wants, needs and habits of these potential customers will allow you to build a better understanding of how to market to them. Entrepreneurs should aim to earn millennials' attention, empathy, support and loyalty, each of which will go a long way to ultimately earning their cash.

Ranging from their early twenties to their late thirties, members of Generation Y are generally characterised by their status as digital natives; they have grown highly accustomed to the developing technologies and platforms that have disrupted consumer markets in recent years. Indeed, they actively seek the convenience of online purchasing, respond well to digital innovation, and perceive experience sharing online to be among their buying priorities. 

Millennial buyers also place massive value on the ethical principles and practices of the brands from which they buy – especially when compared to their 'baby boomer' predecessors. Elements such as morality, freedom of speech, empowerment and advocacy all possess the ability to win over these consumers and can be adopted by companies to make them feel that they are part of something much larger than themselves.

Moreover, millennials respond well to original, emotional connections built by their encounters and interactions with companies, with easy communication and positive messaging important to them as consumers.

Be Online and Offline

Influenced by their strong digital literacy, millennials are far more likely to conduct product research and make purchasing decisions online. As a result, you should focus on developing and marketing your digital presence to this group. By utilising a functional website, interactive mobile apps and populated social media profiles, you have a better chance of being viewed as current and accessible by Gen Y consumers.

However, although this digital presence is imperative, a balance should be struck between online and offline exposure. Millennial shoppers demand an uninterrupted experience, no matter which method they use to purchase from retailers; as a result, brick-and-mortar stores still hold value for Gen Y customers, as they may wish to see and experience products first hand before purchasing. 

Take an Ethical Approach

As mentioned, millennials possess a highly aware sense of social conscience, and this is reflected in their consumer habits. With this in mind, there are many ways that you can demonstrate ethical, corporate values that will speak to your audience.

Focusing on carving out an impactful CSR strategy that benefits local communities or associated industries is a great way to gain customer support and attention. Any initiatives that can be considered inclusive, evidencing how buyers actively contribute to good causes through their purchases, can also have a significant impact on your brand's perception and your customers' loyalty.

Using environmentally friendly ingredients and packaging, as well as reducing unnecessary waste, is another way for entrepreneurs to capture the empathy of millennials. Utilising ethically sourced materials and operating with manufacturing partners who extoll fair working standards and certifications is equally important to the Gen Y consumer.

These buyers are not so swayed by these issues, however, that they are willing to pay a significant premium for brands that implement them. Therefore, you must find a way to strike a compromise between price, value and an ethical approach.

Promote Empowerment

In addition to social and environmental awareness, millennials have historically responded very strongly to the kind of personal, positive empowerment that is often used in content marketing. In your promotional materials, you can examine specific issues that millennials are dealing with, and build a conversation around them through the imagery and messaging in your campaigns. 

This emotionally led marketing, which offers messages of empowerment, encouragement and support around themes such as gender equality, equal pay, anti-racism and anti-bullying, are great at capturing millennials' attention and sympathy. 

Brands that successfully start a conversation online among targeted consumers can benefit from millions of hits on their sites, positive association, elevation of their reputational standing, and – most importantly – a real impact on sales.

Shine a Light on Consumer Experiences

Sharing your customers' experiences online through company platforms can be an effective, organic, inexpensive way for your business to enrich its digital presence. Indeed, sharing customer reviews, social media posts, and testimonies – even negative ones – can be perceived by shoppers as an effort to increase transparency, demonstrate the importance you place on your customers' voices and build a more trusting relationship.

This emphasis on a customer-centric approach allows you to break through the noise of a busy online marketplace and is a hugely impactful marketing technique for millennials. 

Be Easy to Search and Find

Millennials do not respond well to so-called 'attack marketing', which involves a constant bombardment of duplicate ads and repetitive messaging. In fact, their engagement on adverts that interrupt their online content or experience, such as pop-ups and partner videos, is extremely weak across the board.

However, given that Gen Y will frequently search what they are looking for online before making any purchasing decisions, you have an excellent opportunity to ensure you are found in the results. A great way to do this is to invest in Google Search Ads, which places companies at the top of relevant searches made by potential consumers. This method of promoted marketing works fast to produce results for business websites and can be more effective in the short term than SEO strategies, which are a long term approach.

Communicate Well

Another significant feature that millennial consumers crave is the ability to chat online with customer support agents to quickly and conveniently resolve any questions or issues. Indeed, gone are the days when customers would overwhelmingly prefer to pick up the phone and call a shop for information on a particular product or service, or request support. 

Instead, these buyers greatly value digital convenience and prefer to message brands online and receive an immediate response. Chat functions integrated into company websites or used through social media profiles are sure to be well-used by these potential customers, chosen over any other form submission, email or phone service offering. 

Utilise Influencers and Endorsements

Another way to effectively market to millennials is to partner with celebrities, athletes and, increasingly, social media influencers.

This generational group forms emotional ties with certain personalities whose experiences they can relate to, and share in, online. Once limited to the likes of singers, actors, or sportspeople, this phenomenon is now extended to bloggers, vloggers and reality stars, who can collectively be considered digital influencers.

When you work with these figures, you essentially capitalise on the influence these endorsers have on their followers. After all, prospective buyers may be more enticed to explore your product or company if it is based on the perceived or explicit recommendation of that particular person. 

This marketing method also offers your business access to precise analysis regarding the demographics of an influencers' online audience, as well as accurate tracking of the actions taken by viewers on the promoted content.

Think of brand giants such as Nike, Pepsi and Calvin Klein, which all offer fantastic examples of how this can be skillfully executed. If they consider brand endorsements to be relevant for millennials - and do it well - then so can you!

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Millennials comprise a significant consumer group relevant to many businesses. With an ever-growing collective disposable income of trillions of dollars across the world, capturing their valuable attention, purchasing preference and loyalty is something certainly to be desired.

As this article illustrates, you can adopt several tactics to effectively market to them, leveraging their digital literacy, online preferences, personal ethical values, and communication habits, thereby benefitting your company's trajectory in the process. Many of these consumer trends are also applicable to Generation Z consumers, too, meaning that any changes you make will have a long and enduring shelf life.

In the meantime, to better understand the differences between various age demographics, be sure to take a look at our comprehensive breakdown of generational marketing.

What other millennial marketing tips would you offer? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comment section below.