If You’re Marketing to Millennials, Best Not Use Your Old Playbook

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, currently make up a full quarter of the U.S. population. There are over 83 million young adults born between 1981 and 1996, and they are now the single largest consumer demographic group in the nation.

Naturally, brands are keen to understand how these influential members of the marketplace differ from their predecessors, Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Where do they shop? How do they shop? Who do they trust? What are their interests? What are their values?

Coors Light has a few questions too. For starters, do they drink beer?

Well, the answer, like most things when it comes to millennials, is complicated. In gross dollars, millennials do drink quite a bit of beer. In fact, they spend an average of $5 more per month on their beer than older generations. However, they often shy away from mass market products like Coors and opt for microbrews and craft beers. In general, millennials want products and services that are slightly hipper, earthier, and marketed more casually.

Spuds MacKenzie, the hard partying terrier who headlined Super Bowl spots in the 80s for Bud Light, has been replaced with a rescue pit that only eats organic dog treats and prefers a sunset canyon hike to an all night keg bash.

Time for an Evolution

So, what is a nearly 150-year-old company to do? If they want to court millennials, they’ll have to adapt with the times. With that goal in mind, Coors Light announced the “Made to Chill” campaign.

Instead of being the choice of frat houses, they are claiming to be the official beer of “being done wearing a bra” and “drinking in the shower.” And instead of pushing their new more laid-back messaging primarily on interruptive legacy formats like TV, they are instead buying digital ad space on streaming sites like Hulu and YouTube, sponsoring Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy podcast, and forming partnerships with social media influencers.

That’s a smart move given that a third of millennials say that social media influences their purchase decisions.

Coors isn’t throwing out the old playbook entirely (the ads also played on live TV during Shark Week and were seen on over 500 out-of-home displays), but this campaign marked a shift for the brand where millennials were strategically targeted as their primary consumer.

The First Generation of Connected Consumers

The challenges of marketing to millennials are numerous. They are among the most digitally connected consumer class out there, second only to the newest demographic cohort, Gen Z (who are all digital natives).

Millennials are always connected, have a service for everything, and grew up in a world with immediate access to both a global marketplace and endless sources of valuable consumer information. In short, brands that try to fake it don’t stand a chance against these hyper-vigilant and well-schooled shoppers.

Growing in a digital world has altered their expectations for speed, convenience, and communication styles.

When they have a problem with a purchase, they don’t go back to the store and ask for a manager or write a letter to the headquarters. They post about it on Twitter and Facebook, and if they direct their message to the company itself, they want a rapid response. 80 percent of consumers expect an answer within six hours of posting to a social channel.

By millennial reasoning, if Uber, Amazon, and Netflix can satisfy their every whim with the touch of a button, so should everyone else. Delayed gratification was a virtue from before the internet-age, this new class of consumers finds no value in waiting and will drop brands that can’t satisfy their need for speed.

Be Transparent… Because They’ll See Right Through You Anyway

Millennials are also far savvier about media than Boomers or even Gen Xers. Growing up with a thousand channels on cable, on-demand video, and a thriving online content ecosystem has made them jaded to legacy advertising methods and skeptical of naked appeals for their attention. In fact, 84 percent of millennials report not liking or trusting traditional marketing.

That change in the status quo has propelled big brands to invest heavily in more modern, inbound channels like social media, experiential activations, and content marketing. ‘Paying and spraying’ your brand all over the airwaves in the hopes that a millennial will recall it is a losing strategy. Instead, brands are starting conversations by sharing valuable and relevant information and media.

The key to all those types of marketing activities is transparency and authenticity. Flashy designs, bold proclamations, and impersonal interactions won’t stand up to millennial scrutiny. The brands that succeed with millennials (and just about every demographic today) like Apple and Nike are minimalist, casually awesome, and make a constant effort to be open and real with their customers.

Promote Your Values First and Your Product Second

Other than being perennially tied to their phones, millennials are also distinguishing themselves by being the most value-driven consumers ever. 61 percent of millennials say they are “worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible for improving it.” Whether it’s the environment, social problems, or any number of personally meaningful issues, they are passionate about their convictions — and demand the brands they patronize also take a stand.

Products and services are interchangeable for their generation. While their parents might have one day decided that their pearly whites would never be polished by any brand other than Colgate, the millennials are rarely tied to their brands, their loyalty has to be won and re-won on a continual basis.

Source: Deloitte Millennial Survey

The subscription model that has become so popular now, with everything from cabs to ingredient boxes to streaming content being sold as a service, cuts both ways. The consumer is paying constantly — and they expect constant attention in return. These developments are feeding an arms race among companies and brands to see who can sustain high levels of awareness and loyalty from this fickle but lucrative demographic.

The solution, strange as it may sound, is to not focus on your products and services. To appeal to millennials, talk about how you are improving the world. Every brand exists for a reason and promises to solve problems. Learn how to explain your virtues, visually, verbally, and through every touchpoint you have with your audience, but always communicate that message authentically. Don’t fake being something you’re not, be the best version of who you are.

Ultimately, values, authenticity, and transparency are more important to millennial consumers than product and service features. They’ll accept a few drawbacks in exchange for a clear conscience.

Watch This Space

By 2020 the spending potential of the millennial generation is pegged to top $1.4 trillion. Eye-watering numbers like that are simply too big for any brand to overlook. Right now, their spending power is somewhat hampered by extensive student debt and high housing costs, but they already account for about $600 billion in consumption annually, according to Accenture.

Every brand should be looking at their marketing plan with a critical eye towards appealing to millennials. Adjust your omnichannel strategies away from legacy formats and towards digital platforms. Get more active on social media and engage brand advocates and online influencers. Most importantly, rediscover your brand’s mission, vision, and ideals, and put them front and center.

The pace of change in modern life is accelerating. Don’t wait to acclimate yourself to the millennial revolution, or it just might happen without you.