If you’ve ever seen the 1988 classic Big, starring Tom Hanks, you’re probably aware of the many disconnects the movie reveals between adults and younger generations. One of my favorite scenes in the movie revolves around a board meeting at MacMillan Toy Company, where the movie’s young protagonist—a boy trapped in the body of an adult—doesn’t understand the appeal of a boring toy skyscraper one of the marketing gurus is pitching for the company’s next big toy line.
As marketers, the last thing we want to hear from our customer base is “I don’t get it.” Unfortunately, this is typical feedback for many marketers attempting to engage the millennial generation.
Millennials play an important role in today’s economy, responsible for an estimated $200 billion in annual buying power, according to a recently published Forbes article. With so much potential revenue stemming from the purchasing decisions of millennials, enterprises had better make sure their marketing department “gets it.” So what can your organization do to ensure effective consumer engagement on the millennial level?
Knowing who millennials are
The biggest asset to MacMillan Toy Company was Tom Hanks’ character, primarily because his presence eliminated any mystery about what the company’s target market really wanted. Before marketers can appropriately engage millennials, they have to know who these young adults are and what they want from today’s brands.
While there is no absolute definition pinpointing the exact age range of millennials, most experts agree that the millennial generation includes individuals born between the early 80s and the late 90s. This group makes up a fourth of the US population, with almost 80 million millennials living in the States.
While millennials are part of a group that shares different viewpoints and characteristics from one person to the next, they actually have a lot in common with one another. According to Nielsen, more than 85 percent of millennials own smartphones, the largest percentage of smartphone owners of any demographic. The latest social media update from Pew Research further states that millennials aged 18-29 accounted for 87 percent of Facebook users in 2014, making a focus on Facebook seem like a sure thing for marketing departments.
But make no mistake: millennials can be a volatile demographic to grasp. While the research shows millennials use Facebook more than any other group, we also know that many millennials are shifting toward other social channels like Snapchat, Pinterest, and Instagram. That’s because millennials are always looking for something exciting and fresh to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack—i.e., their parents, who many millennials now see as the unofficial chaperones of Facebook.
Other examinations by Pew Research cite the millennial generation as being the most optimistic about the future, the least likely to be married, the most burdened by debt, and the least likely to trust other people. These data not only prove that the economic and global crises of the 21st century have made a profound impact on millennials’ way of thinking, but have also made them a generation that marketers are going to have to really work for to gain their trust.
How your organization can connect with millennials
Knowing your target market is half the battle, but effectively applying that knowledge to an omnichannel marketing campaign aimed at millennials can be quite a challenge. Engaging the millennial generation is all about your ability to empathize with these young adults before crafting a custom-fit campaign revolving around their wants, needs, cares, and concerns. So how can your organization make the connection?
Create meaningful, memorable experiences. For starters, millennials care more about experiences than things. According to an Eventbrite survey conducted by Harris, three out of four millennials would rather spend money on an experience rather than a desirable item, with eight out of 10 millennials stating their best memories came from great experiences.
Marketing features and benefits of products while pretending to care won’t cut it with today’s youth. Instead, marketers should strive to be the kid in the boardroom, focusing on creating meaningful experiences that appeal to the social conscience of this uber-savvy generation, while creating the personal connections that lead to authentic brand affinity.
Build trust in your brand. Millennials are more resilient than older generations may give them credit for. Impacted by tough economic conditions that have lasted for almost a decade, millennials have been forced to become frugal, resourceful, and careful when making financial decisions. This may be a reason why many millennials are hesitant to marry and have the hardest time trusting others when compared to other generations.
What this means for the enterprise is simple: marketing departments must build unyielding trust between millennials and their brands. Millennials are the most computer-savvy generation ever, and any organization that is disingenuous with their consumer base is just a few swipes away from taking the brunt of tomorrow’s social media outrage.
Be authentic. It shouldn’t take a visit to Zoltar’s fortune-telling machine for marketers to know they should be authentic in their interactions with millennials. Millennials are keenly alert to traditional marketing tactics and indifferent behavior, and they will take notice should your company make the mistake of piggybacking onto a fresh Twitter headline just to sell something.
In fact, that’s exactly what DiGiorno Pizza made the mistake of doing during the NFL domestic abuse drama in late 2014, when the company picked up on the trending hashtag #whyIstayed—a reference to domestic abuse issues—by responding, “You had pizza.” The Internet picked up on it quickly, and within minutes DiGiorno made a hasty apology. When it’s obvious brands are more concerned with their own self interest than social issues, millennials won’t waste time calling them out.
Making sure millennials get you
While it’s important for your organization to know and understand what’s driving millennials to make purchasing decisions, you should also help millennials understand what’s driving your brand. It’s no secret to millennials that businesses ultimately focus on profits and market share, but you can still build trust in your brand by letting them know why you do what you do. Most businesses strive to provide their employees with better lives while growing their companies, and they are more than willing to give back through social programs and charitable events to the communities that have allowed them to prosper.
Millennials can spot a phony, especially if it’s shaped like a cheesy toy skyscraper. If your company is going to successfully engage millennials, you’re going to have to make a concerted effort to make sure that no matter what you’re trying to accomplish, millennials get it.