As a millennial myself, I had some doubts writing this article. But I’m also a marketer, and I know that brands can do better in reaching and serving my generation.
According to Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of “Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069,” millennials are those born between 1982 and 2004.
This makes up a huge segment of the world’s buying power, and to ignore them is to leave money on the table.
In this article, we’re going to cover the buying habits of millennials and look deeper into what they value. With this knowledge, you’ll not only create better advertising aimed towards them, but actually use these values to drive your brand messaging.
Understanding the Buying Habits of Millennials
Your ad creative will only work if you show you “get” your audience. You need to demonstrate an understanding of their needs, desires and, ultimately, their habits.
Millennials (and Generation Z) have a polarizing set of priorities in comparison to baby boomers. They value altruism and a sense of belonging over status and ownership.
With this in mind, let’s explore the five most common traits that most millennials share, and why they’re important for creating marketing and advertising that attracts them.
They Educate Themselves Before Making Decisions
There’s a reason content marketing has been described as “the only marketing that’s left.”
The purpose of content marketing is to educate and connect with your audience. By adding value and entertaining in the form of written and visual content, you lift the hood of your brand up and share your values, helping your audience to overcome their problems.
Your advertising must do the same. Instead of a “hard sell,” look at ways you can let your audience learn more about you by giving value first.
This isn’t an ephemeral theory. According to Herosmyth, 68.9% of millennial buyers use their phone to read product reviews.
Of course, it’s important to match the messaging to specific persona needs and desires, as well as their lifecycle stage. If a user has expressed interest in a product, it’s fine to serve ads with an offer for that product.
However, if you’re looking to build brand awareness and drive more top-of-funnel traffic, then your media ads must reflect this. The best way to do it? Through content.
For example, here’s a promoted Tweet I was recently served:
I’m getting this because of my interest in content marketing, and storytelling is a huge part of this. Instead of selling me the Brightspot product, they’re showing me content that might interest me.
Other ways to use display ads to add value to your audience include:
- Sharing reviews and testimonials
- Driving them to blog posts or comparison pages
- Sharing product unboxing videos on YouTube
- Signing up for a demo
The format matters second to the value. What content and information does your millennial audience need to make a decision to buy with you? Figure that out first, and then give it to them.
They’re Focused on Frugality
Despite the amount of debt they’re constantly faced with, millennials are price conscious and have a keen focus on saving. On top of this, we’re making considerably less money on average in comparison to the baby boomers who came before us.
To remedy this, many millennials are focused on optimizing their personal finances. This includes saving as quickly as possible, as well as getting into the investment game early.
When talking about money in your advertising (particularly when it comes to price), you’ll find more success by addressing this desire to save.
This doesn’t mean comparing the pricing of your product, service or solution against the number of cups of coffee a day. Instead, focus on their goals for financial security and independence.
How can your product or service alleviate these pain-points? This isn’t just good practice for your display ads, but your marketing strategy as a whole.
They Love Experiences
The world seems to be shifting from “valuing things” to “treasuring experiences”.
Even if you sell a physical product, the experience you wrap it around is can often be more valuable than the product itself.
Research conducted by GOBankingRates in 2018 found that shopping is “more of a social activity for millennials.” This means that, while we love the convenience of online shopping, we still value the in-store experience for collaborating and sharing ideas.
There’s a reason I’m seeing more and more coffee shops inside retail stores. These smart brands know that shopping is a ritual; an experience shared with others. So is coffee, and you can guess what impact these two have when placed in the same environment.
They Value Their Health & The Environment
Consumers of all ages are demanding to understand more about what goes into the products they eat, as well as the ones we put on our skin.
As a result, brands have had to respond to this change in the market by offering more transparency and align with the health-conscious millennial.
Not only that, but we’re starting to become far more aware of what affects our consumption habits are having on the planet. This, in turn, means a pressure for brands to be more socially and environmentally responsible. And they need to prove it.
For example, Patagonia have made it their mission to not only reduce the footprint their business leaves on the planet, but to actually make it a better place:
The impact you make on the environment can be a huge differentiator. Don’t do it because it works, do it because you believe in it. This will come through in your marketing and advertising, making a deeper connection with your audience.
They Seek Recommendations from Their Peers
This principle has been true for hundreds of years, but is still worth mentioning as the way in which we share recommendations has fundamentally changed.
Worth-of-mouth has been used as a literal term to describe how new products are shared. These days, a more accurate way of putting it today would be “word-of-content.”
People love sharing what they’re doing or creating on social media. For example, through Instagram stories, it’s easier than ever to share our experiences with our friends and family.
This is where the power of user-generated content (UGC) comes in. By encouraging the sharing of products through content, your brand is able to foster advocates that are happy to be a part of your mission.
Lululemon is one brand that does this effectively. With their ambassador program, Lululemon empowers yoga instructors and influencers by providing them with yoga equipment and a space to run classes:
To spark true word-of-mouth from your customers, look for new ways to empower them with your products and services. Allowing your customers to tap into their creativity will help them create content that makes them feel good. In turn, you build brand awareness through an expanded audience.
How to Engage With Millennials
Now you understand the characteristics that millennials share. It’s time to look at some practical ways to reach them, engage with them and foster strong customer relationships.
You’ll find some of the advice below ties closely with the characteristics above. The aim is to get you thinking about engagement in more practical terms, providing actionable advice in the process.
And if you’re concerned how some of these apply to your paid media advertising efforts, fear not – we bring everything together at the end of this section.
Give Them Experiences
As mentioned above, millennials appreciate experiences over “things.” Even if you’re a product-based business, you can still build great experiences around your brand.
The first, and most common way, is by creating an enjoyable (and shareable) unboxing experience. When shipping products of any kind, the way it’s packaged and presented can make a big difference.
For example, shaving brand Harry’s has a minimal yet engaging unboxing experience, showcasing their branding with mission-driven messaging throughout their materials:
Or, you can build experiences independent of your core business model. For example, mattress brand Casper create sleeping pods around various cities, offering naps to entice urban dwellers to test their mattresses:
Now, you might be wondering: “how does this help me with my paid media efforts?”
Simple: use these experiences as the content and creative behind your advertising.
Do you have a unique packaging and unboxing experience? Tease it in your ad creative. Or perhaps you’re attracting crowds with your experiential marketing? Capture photos and videos, and use those in your social media and YouTube ads.
Give Them Access
By access, I mean the opposite of “ownership.”
To put it simply: millennials value temporary access (or sharing) over ownership.
Think of services like Airbnb, Uber and even Shopify. Instead of owning a home, a car or the music they listen to, they spend a one-off fee or a monthly subscription to access it on-demand.
Depending on your industry – or the type of products you offer – this business model may not be right for you. In the same breath, you might be surprised at how wide this desire stretches within the market.
For example, you wouldn’t immediately think that physical products, like furniture, would be a good fit for the sharing economy.
And yet, this is exactly what Feather have done, offering their customers a furniture subscription service for a monthly fee:
This doesn’t have to be your primary business model. But it is well worth testing. If you can provide your audience with the option of renting, sharing or even trialling your products, you’re more likely to grab their attention.
When experimenting with such a service, be sure to measure it against your paid media efforts. What effect does this value proposition against other messaging targeting the millennial demographic? Test on a small target audience, measure results and then roll out on a larger scale.
Be Transparent With Your Social Responsibility
When recently conducting research around the coffee industry, I asked various users on Instagram what they look for when buying coffee.
Almost every single person I reached out to said that it must be fairtrade.
For clarification, fair trade is “an institutional arrangement designed to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions” (according to Wikipedia).
One of the most famous examples of brands killing it with their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy is TOMS. The shoe brand have baked environmental responsibility into their brand and product, promising a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold:
CSR isn’t just a marketing strategy. It should be part of your culture, company values and brand. Most importantly, you must back it up with action.
If you want to do good in the world, find a way to actually do it. Focus on a mission, or a deeper problem you want to solve, and contribute to it. Even if it’s one pair of shoes at a time.
Make it Easy
Above all else, we millennials want things quickly and without much fuss.
Yes, there are likely several problems with our culture of instant gratification. But we’re here now, and like any good businessman (or marketer), you need to work with and respond to what the market wants.
Take Uber Eats, for example. They’ve literally made dinner accessible to us at the tap of a few buttons:
However, providing convenience doesn’t mean creating a whole new app. Start with your customer experience. What hoops are you making your users jump through? Where does the friction lie in your checkout process and where can you make things easier?
Going back to the example of Harry’s, they do a terrific job of making it not only easy to buy, but easy to cancel subscriptions and postpone when the next box ships:
In a world where brands make this as difficult to find as possible, it’s a gesture that goes a long way (and likely reduces churn in the process).
Applying This to Your Advertising
As I mentioned at the beginning of this section, you may be wondering how all this applies to your paid media efforts.
Let’s take a look at each of the approaches above, and provide some practical ways to use them in your ad creative:
- Give them experiences: Use content from your events and unboxing experience to fuel your advertising imagery and videos
- Give Them Access: Provide a low-commitment option to try, share or rent your product. Let this be the primary message you offer in your ads. For example, “High-Quality Furniture From Only $11 a Month”
- Be Transparent With Your Social Responsibility: Dedicate yourself to a cause, take practical action to contribute and show proof that you’re truly helping. Be transparent with your contributions and use this to fuel your advertising and marketing message
- Make it Easy: Remove friction from the buying experience. How fast or easy is it to place an order or do business with you? Use specific figures in your advertising, for example “Order Coffee in 49 Seconds (Or Less)”
Advertising to millennials is like advertising to any other generation. In fact, it’s a matter of going back to core marketing principles:
Understand what the market wants, and then give it to them.
This article has outlined our consumption habits and the things we value. Couple this with a killer value proposition that solves a real problem, and your marketing message is going to grab our attention in no time.
Screenshots taken by the author July 2019
Image 1: via Twitter
Image 2: via Patagonia
Image 3: via Lululemon
Image 4: via Lumi
Image 5: via Casper
Image 6: via Feather
Image 7: via TOMS
Image 8: via Eater
Image 9: via Harry’s