Swipe Right to Engage: How to Make Your Brand Match with Millennials

Business.com / Branding / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

In 2015, the Millennials overtook the Baby Boomers as the largest generation alive today. How are you reaching this influential set?

In 2015, the Millennial generation overtook the Baby Boomers as the largest generation alive today. Encompassing people born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, millennials make up a large and powerful purchasing population.

Having largely grown up with technology, their approach to consuming, digesting and responding to media and traditional advertising has left many well-established brands wondering how best to target this growing consumer powerhouse. Plenty of research has been done on the behavior and habits of millennials and for companies, it comes down to a few key points.

Below are a few tactics, themes and important factors for established brands to keep in mind when trying to market to this younger generation.

Related Article: How Companies Are Changing Their Culture to Attract (And Retain) Millennials

Identify Your Real Target

Generations span a 20 year time period. While this is traditional, times changed drastically between 1982 (when the first millennials were born) and 2002 (when some of the last were born). What a 32-year-old cares about is likely drastically different than what a 13-year-old cares about.

The point here is that the millennial generation is not a single group that can be effectively targeted. Successful marketing campaigns will identify the brand’s true target demographic and focus on the way that sub-group interacts with the world and what they care about. Playing off the latest meme won’t do you much good if your target market doesn’t understand it.

Be Authentic

A recurring theme for millennials of all ages is that they value authenticity. Having grown up surrounded by media, millennials are savvy at spotting ads and paid sponsorships. While these tactics may still work for older generations, millennials value transparency from the brands they love most and are quick to point out paid endorsements.

Companies should create careful messages that accurately communicate their brand’s underlying mission and beliefs. One of the most notable shifts to this new approach is Wendy’s. Gone are the days of the pop-culture heavy “Where’s the beef” catchphrase; the company has embraced a new message that promotes good food at an affordable price, an alternative to lower quality fast food restaurants.

Tread lightly when trying to play off new trends or cultural references as these efforts can come across as unauthentic. Companies that try too hard to be trendy often see their campaigns backfire and mocked on social media.

Connect Where They Are

Millennials are often called the generation of multitaskers. This can make catching their attention difficult. To connect with these digital natives, go to their home turf.

With some creative thinking and careful development, just about every organization can have an engaging mobile app. According to Nielsen, as of late 2014, more than 85 percent of people ages 18-34 had a mobile device. Those between 25-34 spend about 75 hours a month on mobile apps, according to comScore. Clearly, mobile is a major medium of choice for millennials, meaning no brand can forsake it.

Social media is another key engagement area for the millennial generation. While Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are some of the major players, which platform you should be active on largely depends on your target demographic—specifically based on age.

Different age cohorts within the millennial generation prefer different social platforms. Whichever social media platform you choose to engage on, be sure your message is consistent and your profiles are well maintained. Remember to be authentic and engage with users rather than just blast them with advertisements and self-serving messages.

Logical, well-executed tie-ins, sponsorships and endorsements also give established brands a new way to engage. By connecting with people or events that attract a younger crowd, companies can associate their brand with a positive message and experience. Harley Davidson has recently been working with South by Southwest and State Farm has begun sponsoring an inside look at Coachella to target younger buyers.

Related Article: Who Are You Hiring? Meet the Millennials [INFOGRAPHIC]

Be Socially Engaging

It’s also been well documented that the millennial generation is socially active, care strongly about current event issues, and feel that they have the power to change the world. Many millennials respond well to companies that tap into social engagement and make it a part of their corporate mission.

Warby Parker is often the go-to example of this approach. A popular brand with young adults, it’s well know that for every pair of glasses sold the company donates a pair to someone in need.

A generational movement toward social engagement has the counter-effect of making millennials especially sensitive to companies they feel have poor business practices and marketing campaigns that may come across offensive or insulting. With the current trend of absurdist and funny ads, it’s particularly important that brands are careful not to offend.

In today’s world of immediate reaction and social media backlash, there really is such a thing as bad publicity.

It also means that companies need to be careful about jumping on current issues. People of all ages are aware that a business’s main objective is to make money. If not done carefully, weighing in on a social issue or current event, particularly a contentious one, can make your organization seem like it’s piggybacking on the issue for opportunistic reasons.

Add Value

Millennials are avid consumers of media and information. While they like cat videos, they also like thought-provoking insights and value-add information that can help them make better decisions. When creating long-lasting marketing materials, feed these knowledge seekers with detailed information.

Giving your marketing mission an “add value” mantra will help you achieve many of the other tips on this list. It’s a good way to promote your company’s values, tap into the social engagement driver and portray an air of authenticity and honesty.

Millennials want to know that your product or service is going to fit their ideals, values and lifestyle. Producing content, videos, information and marketing campaigns that dive deep into these issues will help win them over to your brand.

Adding value is actually a helpful tip no matter what demographic you’re targeting. Many people thoroughly research products, services and issues before making a decision. Help them out while giving your brand a leg up by providing truly helpful information, not just shallow ads.

Take your marketing efforts beyond just talking about your company and provide outside background information and insight.

Connecting with influencers in your field who are popular with your target group is also extremely helpful. If the information you produce resonates with a popular influencer, your campaign’s reach may explode and receive endless benefits from that person’s social following. While official celebrity endorsements still work, a meaningful influencer backing the product or service holds more weight for many millennials.

Nostalgia is King

This may not work for all brands, but companies who have been around for a few decades may be able to tie into millennials’ love for nostalgia. This fondness can be seen in the general trends toward local products, handmade crafts and vintage fashion.

Millennials love to see a good “throw-back” marketing campaign. Brands that are targeting older millennials should look through their marketing archives for successful past campaigns that may resonate with today’s buyers.

However, be cautious that the campaign’s themes don’t offend any of the socially conscious sensibilities of the demographic. Also bear in mind that this tactic may not work as well for younger millennials who may not remember or understand the original campaign.

Related Article: 4 Ways You Can Attract Millennials and Why You’ll Want to Hire Them

A Growing Need

Many companies are already acutely aware of their need to crack the code when it comes to marketing to millennials.

This generation is going to continue to grow and eventually make up a larger percentage of the consumer population in the coming decade. But for such an engaged group, capturing and keeping the attention of millennials in a meaningful way that translates to sales is difficult.

These points are a general overview of the types of messages that typically resonate with millennials right now. Work them into your campaigns and pay close attention to trends to see which what resonates with the younger generation best.

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