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Marketing strategies for better connecting with your millennial audience

The millennial generation, defined at its widest margins as those born between 1976 – 2004, can be a tough crowd to reach when it comes to marketing and sales. This presents a serious dilemma for businesses these days due to the fact that millennials now outnumber baby boomers, making them the biggest generation alive, per Pew Research Center. And though companies try relentlessly to connect with this audience, many fail due to their usage of outdated and out-of-touch strategies.

The scary aspect of this for business owners is that if they can’t learn to connect with millennials, generation Z is right on their tails and isn’t showing any signs of being any easier to reach. Connecting with these consumers is critical to the survival of many companies that are taken for granted in this day and age.

Fortunately for the entrepreneurs out there, millennials do, in fact, speak a language that businesses can tap into. And though it can be difficult to understand at first, with time and a little guidance, it can be learned.

To start off, let’s take a look at which companies/industries are successfully connecting with millennials and which ones aren’t.

Since 2008, a marketing agency called Moosylvania has compiled a list of top consumer-ranked business based on survey responses. The survey questions ask individuals who they like to spend on and why. And the findings of their studies have unturned some very interesting stones.

In five years (2012-2016) of these studies, with a compilation of 15,000 responses from male and female participants scattered throughout the U.S.A aged from 17 – 37-years-old, the agency revealed that the 10 most popular brands among millennials — in the order of most popular first — are as follows.

1. Apple

2. Nike

3. Samsung

4.Target

5. Amazon

6. Sony

7. Wal Mart

8. Microsoft

9. Coca-Cola

10. Google

Now, let’s take a look at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The following ten companies and industries are ones that millennials are being accused of ‘killing” (in no particular order).

1. The movie industry

2. Cable TV

3. Bar soap

4. Harley Davidson

5. J Crew

6. Home Depot

7. Mcdonald’s

8. Hooters 

9. Buffalo Wild Wings

10. Applebees

But why? To get those answers, we have to first get to know millennials — what makes them tick and what drives them to spend/withhold their money. After that, we can get into the strategies that work for ‘speaking their language.’

Here are nine things that you should know about millennials that impact the way they spend their money:

1. Millennials are a big, connected wolf pack

Social media literally has the whole generation connected. It has completely changed the way they interact with each other from a distance, as now you can virtually take your friends with you wherever you go. Millennials, and also Gen Z – ers, are almost never without their phones.

2. They are informed/educated

Social media/smartphone apps have also made millennials the most informed generation to ever walk the earth. If something is happening, they know about it. Between Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat,  Instagram, YouTube, and news apps — secrets are almost entirely extinct. In addition to this, they are also on track to be the most formally educated generation as well per Pew Research.

3. They are health-minded

They’re informed about their health, too. Millennials have become distinctly aware — via studies and documentaries such as Super Size Me and What The Health — that not all food is to be trusted. Their younger peers in Gen-Z have been made aware of this as well, which brings us to our next point.

4. Millennials have trust issues

Blame it on the food industry, the government, the high divorce rates of their parents, the media, or all of the above, but Millennials generally don’t hand out their trust for free. It has to be earned.

5. They are racially diverse

Per NBC News, the “most racially diverse generation in U.S. history,” to be exact, with 43 percent of it being “non-white.” This has created a very culturally sensitive generation that embraces outside ideas and ways of life.

6. They have differing opinions, but they are mostly alright with that

While it’s true that they disagree vehemently about a lot of topics — they are mostly okay with that. They enjoy open conversation and advocate for tolerance in spite of different beliefs. Being different is, in fact, encouraged in the millennial generation. Individuality is what they strive for. And though they have subgroups like generations past — they don’t feel the need to conform to any particular look, pattern, or mindset. Basically, they are united in their disunification.

This is part of the reason why they are so hard for businesses to connect to. Trends are king when it comes to marketing… but how can a business possibly keep up when the current trend is, literally, to break the trend? We’ll get there in a minute.

7. They want to protect the environment

And this extends beyond U.S. borders as well. According to a 2015 Nielson global study, millennials are at the forefront of efforts to protect the environment. In this study, nearly 75% of 30,000 survey respondents indicated that they  would be willing to pay extra for environmentally-friendly products.

8. They want convenience

If this wasn’t clear before, the rise of things such as Uber Eats, Fancy Hands, Task Rabbit, and new grocery delivery services such as Instacart and the multifaceted Blue Apron should be a hint. Wal Mart has capitalized on this fad by offering pre-shopping for pickup. Amazon is also cashing in on the convenience factor by offering Amazon Fresh for groceries and Amazon Now for other items.

This is the direction businesses are going as millennials are looking for more and more ways to cut unnecessary wastes of time out of the day. Many millennials are more than willing to pay to save some time.

9. They want products that entertain them/ products that make them look and feel good about themselves

“When it comes down to it, millennials are looking for specific benefits from brands,” reports Moosylvania. Those benefits are to ‘look good, feel good about themselves, and to be entertained.’ Who can argue with that?

Starting to get the picture?

There is a distinct reason why some companies fail while others succeed. There has been a lot of change that has come in the millennial generation; companies either evolve with those changes or fail.

Out of these nine facts, we get our first nine basic (but extremely important) business strategies for connecting with millennials. Every single company in the ‘winner’ column above, to the best of their ability, abides by the strategies in this list that apply to them.

First nine basic strategies for catapulting your business to success

1. Connect with millennials via social media.  The best way to build relationships with your millennial customers is to connect with them where their attention already is. Be personable with them.

2. Outsmart your competition. Create something your millennial audience will recognize as being beyond what anyone else can offer. A reputation for creating high-quality content goes a long way with them.

3.  For the foodservice business, consult a nutritionist or dietitian and provide healthy dining options for your customers.

4. Build the trust of your millennial audience over time. Be transparent with them. They want to see the real, authentic you. Fake, picture-perfect advertisements don’t convince a distrustful audience that your brand is worth their money; seeing who you are and what your values are is what will win their trust.

5. Provide products that appeal to a racially diverse audience. Hire diverse employees. And likewise, look for ways to provide products for everyone. Make your brand appeal to more than just one group of people.

6. Show that you care about your millennial consumers no matter what their beliefs are. This goes for both social media content and face to face interactions. A caring interaction with a customer is not easily forgotten.

7. Encourage their environmental concerns by manufacturing environmentally friendly products and you will reap the benefits. Everyone wins with this strategy.

8. Make your products as accessible as possible. Be creative with how you distribute! And don’t allow yourself to get beat out by a company that can deliver faster than you can.

9. Stay with the many trends. Know what’s going on, and be in touch with your millennial audience via polls/open communication. Don’t fall behind.


Now, let’s go a little deeper.

As previously mentioned, every single company listed above in the millennial ‘winner’ column is connecting with that audience by staying true to those nine strategies to the best of their ability. But what is going wrong with the loser column?

Unsurprisingly, In almost every case, there is a failure to evolve with these 9 millennial standards.

  1. The movie industry doesn’t let young people text (big oops) and isn’t connecting with them.
  2. Cable tv has been beaten out by the more entertaining and commercial-free Netflix (#43 on the millennial favorites list).
  3. Bar soap just isn’t convenient to millennials who would rather use their own bottle of body wash.
  4. Harley Davidson isn’t cool anymore.
  5. J Crew has failed to attract young customers.
  6. Home Depot is suffering as a result of the millennial trend of not buying a home. They would rather run around in tiny houses and RVs.
  7. Mc Donalds, although interestingly a millennial favorite, is unhealthy. So it’s a guilty pleasure, but they aren’t spending as much on it as baby boomers did.
  8. Hooters doesn’t bring in many female customers. And the millennial change in perspective about ethics have killed its sales.
  9. Buffalo Wild Wings is suffering as a result of the health revolution as well.
  10. Applebees is a regular joke among millennials who see it as overpriced fast food… which they don’t eat either.

It all adds up. But let’s learn a little more by taking a look at a few instances where companies outside of our obvious top ten ‘evolving proteges’ have made changes to stay relevant.

Abercrombie & Fitch has one of the most interesting journeys in modern marketing. Once an openly ‘cool U.S. kid’ only brand, it gradually started to fall out of favor with millennials and faced a ‘change or die’ scenario. The company had outrageous success initially, but as millennials came into their own, A&F’s one-dimensional marketing just wasn’t resonating with them anymore. Remember, ‘cool’ now is not what it was. Cool is now individuality whereas being stereotypical is now laughed at.


So they evolved. They, along with their other brand, Hollister, revamped their marketing strategy entirely to appeal to a more diverse audience. And as a result, they are now connecting with millennials. When you walk into their stores these days, you will not feel ousted or pressured to look a certain way. There is a much more open environment. And though they are still somewhat recovering financially, they have improved greatly from where they were.

Taco Bell, ranked #54 on the millennial favorites list, has never really struggled due to their in tuned-ness when it comes to trends and public opinion. And due to this, there is a lot to take away from when it comes to the changes they’ve continually made. Since 2012, per Business Insider, they have “cut artificial ingredients.” And adding to their rapport among health-food seeking millennials, they have also “introduced the lower-calorie Fresco menu, the high-protein Cantina menu, and a vegetarian menu certified by the American Vegetarian Association.”

Don’t forget to eat your greens. #PowerMenuBowl

A post shared by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on


With that type of track record, they are ‘good to go’ for the foreseeable future. There is a little something for pretty much everyone at Taco Bell. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are eating it up.

Vans, #34 on the millennial favorites list, is another company that has really kept its ear to the ground. Business Insider once accurately stated that they used to be almost distinctly a skater brand; but now, they have a lot of variety to choose from. That variety seems to mimic a lot of what the timeless Converse (31st millennial favorite) brand has done, but it is current nevertheless. Oh, to be a timeless company like Converse.


Take a look at that caption, “there’s something for everyone.” This is a company that understands its target audience and is reaping the benefits of its adaptations.

Vans may have saved themselves from extinction through their ability to realize the minute millennials stopped skating. The company grew up with them. And when they hung up their skateboards, Vans was there, prepared with different options in store. Anyways, case in point: give them what they want, how they want it, and when they want it and they will buy it.

Some of the above-mentioned top ten millennial brands, however, have gone beyond evolving into a mixture of evolving/culture-creation. 

Apple, for instance, with its seemingly endless supply of cutting-edge technology, seems to drive the market more than the market drives it. Amazon is the same way. Think Amazon Now is cool? It is. But the company is also thinking about introducing drone delivery in the future as well. Can you imagine seeing a warehouse with tons of drones coming in and out of it in synchronized patterns? Seems like something out of a Star Wars movie. But in this day and age, it could actually happen.

Google is also a giant that has stayed steadfastly in the tech race with Apple and Microsoft, as they boast the number one search engine in the world, as well as being the proud owners of YouTube, on top of many other impressive feats. The narrative remains largely the same when it comes to Sony and Samsung, who have established themselves as some of the top electronics manufacturers on the planet.

But what can we learn from these companies? What are some things we can take away from the way they do business?

They are creative, and they are relentless in staying ahead of the curve. They don’t need to be forced to evolve; they ARE the evolution of modern business. Businesses that stay at the top are there for a reason: they worked their way up there. From Sam Walton’s first Wal Mart and Bill Gates’ first computer, these companies have been establishing their dominance ever since.

And it is a daily effort for them — as it is with any entrepreneurial effort. All that being said, here are some practical, easy to implement strategies, on top of nine above, that you can use to grow your business right now.

10. Get YouTubers to review your products

Backdoor marketing such as this is one of the quickest shortcuts to building rapport with your millennial audience. One of the first things millennials do before they buy a product is search for reviews about it online. YouTube is a go-to site for finding quick answers as to whether something is worth the money or not.

So get representatives for your brand that they trust. Just like Nike does by endorsing athletes such as Lebron James, Tiger Woods, And Roger Federer — you can get YouTubers to review your products. Make a friend, let them speak freely about whether they like it or not, and watch what happens. It worked out pretty well for T-Mobile, as evidenced by the video above.

11. Reach out to bloggers as well… as in, the ‘write’ kind… get it?

Just like reaching out to ‘vloggers’ is effective, so is reaching out to bloggers. Find someone with a big following and ask them to review your product. This is a sure way to get your name out there.

12. Have your own company blog

If you don’t already have a company blog, consider getting one. It’s a lot easier to connect with your millennial audience if you are personable with them, and having an ongoing blog is a great place to start.

Chegg, the online textbook rental service, has an amazing blogging model for engaging college students in a fun, relatable way. Above is an example of the type of material they produce. And though college students are becoming more Gen-Z these days, this is still a perfect example of a company that truly knows its audience and connects with it in nearly flawless fashion. As a side note, they also hire college students to write a lot of their material, which is brilliant. Hiring people from your target audience is one of the most surefire ways to successfully reach that audience.

13. Think out of the box with how you engage your millennial audience

This is a big one that ties into engaging your audience on social media; because at the end of the day… and the beginning and middle as well, that’s what millennials are paying attention to. Here are some examples of creative marketing strategies that have really hit home in recent days.

Vat 19 is a company/YouTube channel. They sell bizarre products, and they market them with crazy, funny videos. They also shoot a video from time to time just for the fun of it, though most of them have a product cameo in there somewhere. They put actual time into these clips, so depending on your sense of humor, most all of them are entertaining even if you’re not interested in what they’re selling. They currently have 4.4 million subscribers, as their videos have been consistent hits on YouTube. This, in turn, has allowed them to gain a huge audience for both marketing their products and making money from the views alone. So they benefit in every way possible from their creative approach.

so if you ever need a marshmallow bazooka gun…

or a giant inflatable soccer ball…

Now you know where you can find one.

Here’s another example of creativity in social media marketing: Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool. As mentioned above, the movie industry is suffering with millennials. But as New York Post’s Claire Atkinson points out, Reynolds has been actively engaging this audience through social media for a long time. She goes as far as to credit the success of the Deadpool movie to his social media efforts… and she may have a point.

His in-character appearances online have made it feel as if the movie has, in a sense, never stopped; and Millennials can’t get enough of it.

Here is a video of him wishing popstar Zayn an in-character happy birthday.

And then there’s this:

And there’s a lot more where that came from. As a result of Deadpool’s box office success, Deadpool 2 is now in the works. So be creative! Engage your audience online using memes, gifs, videos, blogs, and whatever you can think of; but just remember, they want you to be personable with them. So be real, and have some fun with it!

14. Use different world languages in your marketing

Seems simple enough, right? But few companies really make the effort to market to non-English speakers, even though there were 64.7 million of them in the U.S. alone in 2016. And then again, who wants to be confined to a U.S-only market? If you want to go international, you have to translate. Capitalize on the multicultural millennial mindset and you will not regret it.

You will also connect with your potential customers on a much more personal level if you take the time to speak to them in their native language.

15. Connect with a charity that you genuinely believe in and care about 

Give a percentage of your profits to something you believe in. It helps everyone. It helps your customers to see what you care about, and it also gives them a reason to put money into your brand, which in turn puts more money back into your charity of choice. If not permanently, you can at least do short campaigns such as Wal Mart did by teaming up with the Atlanta Hawks – explained in the video below.

People love to knock out two birds with one stone when they buy a product. Giving them a chance to buy something they want/need while supporting a good cause at the same time? Now you’re speaking the language of a millennial… on top of, actually speaking their language… as in, their native language. Not so hard, right?

 

In conclusion, there are so many companies out there who are failing to reach this age group and younger. But with a little understanding and a little direction, you can win their trust and have a thriving marketing plan that connects with them and wins their long-term loyalty. Here’s to your success!