Is Marketing to Millennials Really Different?

Gina Edwards Updated on March 16, 2020

marketing to millennials

We’ve all seen the headlines: millennials ruin everything.

Every industry seems to be perplexed by this tech-savvy group of narcissistic, do-good basement dwellers, and the conversation about how best to reach this frustrating generation rages on. By rejecting many of the traditional marketing practices businesses have used for decades, the millennials have caused many businesses to reevaluate their strategies in order to figure out how to best reach young people.

But there seem to be a whole host of problems with the millennial generation: they don’t pay attention, they are frugal, self-involved… and the list goes on. It boils down to this: they don’t follow the established rules.

Neither can they be ignoredthey are set to become the generation with the largest buying power at an estimated $200 billion per year.

For business owners, the question persists: how do we reach millennials? Or, in other words, is marketing to millennials really that different?

Better understanding this generation’s value system is the first step to gaining an “in” to the millennial world, and figuring out how to speak to them so they’ll listen.

Millennials Are Just Like You and Me… Basically

There have always been gaps between generations, but that of millennials and the rest of the world seems particularly stark.

Often cited as challenges to influencing them are millennials’ shorter attention spans, tendency to multitask, and general impatience––meaning they probably won’t watch an entire ad or clip coupons. This shift poses a problem for marketing teams around the globe.

However, millennials are people just like generations before themwith needs, wants, pains, and interests. The problem is not in the millennials themselves not caring or needing the information that marketing provides, but in the content and strategies used to connect with them.

At its core, marketing to millennials has the same mission as that of any group: solving a problem or providing a pleasure. The key is to wrap that mission in the trappings that millennials will respond to by incorporating their values: authenticity, purpose, and relationships.


Millennials are digital natives. From an early age, they have had access to the internet. For this reason, millennials are natural super sleuthsthey can fact-check, verify, or debunk quickly.

What does this mean for marketers? The truth matters.

Millennials want to know they are receiving honest information, and you can be assured they will check into it. Reviews, comparison charts, and word-of-mouth endorsements all matter a great deal to millennials when selecting a product to purchase.

Research into a product before purchase is now an expected part of the sales funnel, so businesses cannot rely as heavily on impulse purchases as they once did.

For marketers, this millennial tendency to do their homework in pursuit of the facts means that cutting through the BS and accurately representing products and services is key to building brand trust and loyalty with millennials.


Blame it on Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” TED talk, or a generational shift toward global thinking, but to put it bluntlymillennials care about making an impact on the world (good or bad), and this desire translates directly into their purchases.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, millennials are more likely to buy items associated with a cause, as they believe that they can use their purchasing power to make positive change in the world. Those who have done it effectively, like TOMS or Warby Parker, have enjoyed success with the cause model.

Proceed cautiously herethe phenomenon of “greenwashing”, or distorting one’s public image to appear environmentally friendly or conscious, has caused many consumers to take a closer look at companies who purport to have mission-based business models. A hit to your brand credibility via social media outrage is certainly not desirable.

Weaving purpose into your business model is a long-range project that requires planning and genuine commitment to social responsibilitynot something that can be tacked on last minute.

If your business has a commitment to a social cause, make sure to incorporate that cause in your marketing techniques, but do it honestly, lest the millennials see right through you (see: authenticity).


Doing business doesn’t look the same way it used to.

What once was a purely transactional relationship between business and consumer has transformed into a high-touch, interactive, and long game. The upfront hard sell just doesn’t work with millennialsespecially when it comes to online purchases.

Millennials want to have a relationship with a company. Affinity borne out of this positive connection is what drives conversions now more than ever.

In marketing, this need for connection translates to a focus on building positive regard through content marketing (providing value for free), inbound marketing (self-selection of receiving promotions), and social proof through influencers (existing trust and word-of-mouth endorsements).

Such strategies should be disseminated through the appropriate social media platform of the day, (which for millennials, could change at the snap of Kylie Jenner’s fingers). A solid 62% of millennials say that brands engaging with them on social media have an impact on their loyalty.

Marketers must develop ways to build these relationships with millennials and pay attention to the ways in which millennials are interacting with one another online in order to do so. These are not the only ways to engage millennials through relationships, but remembering that millennials want to establish a connection before making the leap to buy is an important place to start.

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Get Millennials’ Attention With Marketing

Millennials are just people. Their unique qualities, while they may be puzzling to older generations, factor into the changing nature of marketing in the digital age. Rather than scorned, they should be studied and developed so as to better cater to the changingand powerfuldemographic of online consumers.

While the specific ways by which millennials are reached may differ from their older counterparts, millennials still have core needs and wants that marketers must address. However, the importance of incorporating millennial values with these strategies cannot be understated.

Start with honesty. Know that millennials will do their homework and ensure that your messaging aligns with the reality of the products and services you offer, lest you be found out.

Then consider purpose: how does your business help the world? If you do not have a cause or social responsibility somehow tied into your business model, it is worth doingbut only if you do it right.

And, finally, build relationships. The internet is one big social network, and by focusing on long-term benefits rather than quick purchases, marketers can develop loyal clients in millennials.

In the end, marketing to millennials isn’t all that different because the focus should really be on being the kind of business they want to pay attention to. And shouldn’t that be the point?

Photo Credit: AlexLipa

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