The “baby boom” famously gave rise to the biggest population expansion in world history. Now, we’re living through the generational echo of that boom. In 2020, millennials, the generation raised by the baby boomers, took over as the largest generation in America. And as they grow in age, income, influence, and means, one thing is clear: Millennials have money to spend.
But competition for that money is fierce. Advertising to millennials isn’t the same as advertising to Generation X or Generation Z — the two generations on either end. Knowing how to target millennials means learning their values, their priorities, and constructing messaging that won’t rub them the wrong way. In short, it requires that you learn how to “speak millennial.” Fortunately, we’re here to help you do just that.
Who are millennials?
The famous “baby boom” took place from 1946 to 1964 and Millennials are the large generation descended from the baby boom about one generation later, born between 1981 and 1996.
As of 2023, millennials are people aged 27 to 42. They earned their name because people early in their generation were first becoming adults at the turn of the millennium.
Millennial marketing 101: top tips
1. Prioritize mobile-first marketing
In addition to coming of age around the time of the millennium, the youngest millennials were still pre-teens when the first smartphones came out in the late 2000s. As such, they’re the first generation of adults who are used to today’s mobile-first method of navigating the world.
Although many millennials own a desktop, the average millennial spends about 211 minutes on a smartphone per day, compared to only 31 minutes of desktop use. That’s why a millennials’ marketing initiative has to start there: on millennial turf.
But the term “smartphone” is vague. What are the apps and sites mobile millennials are using? We’ll dive into the numbers later, but for now, you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, and Snapchat.
In short, millennials are willing to listen to ads, but only if you find them in the right spots. Millennials are twice as likely to listen to video content on their smartphone than on television. Even better, people watching these videos are 1.8 times as likely to take action on the ad. Why? Because people watching on their smartphones tend to be more active — researching a product while they shop, for example.
2. Remember that brand values matter
When you learn how to market to millennials, remember this: Millennials are a principled bunch. One study found that 83% of millennials care about whether a brand aligns with their personal values.
To millennials — perhaps shocked and startled by the 2008 financial crisis — it’s not enough to simply spend indiscriminately. They have to feel that what they’re spending their hard-earned money on is going toward a worthwhile brand. That may be why millennials consider themselves more brand-conscious than Generation Z, the generation coming up after millennials.
About seven in 10 millennials consider the brand when they make a purchase, which is higher than the five out of 10 that is average for all U.S. adults. This means today’s brands have to not only be conscious of their image, but of creating messaging that resonates with these millennials. While baby boomers watching your YouTube ad might not resonate as much with brand messaging that touches on core values like sustainability and environmental impact, you can expect that millennials are indeed listening.
Of course, not all brands naturally lend themselves to sustainability and environmental impact messaging. You may want to consider the other brand values that resonate with millennials, including:
- Health and wellness
- Customer support
- The unboxing experience
3. Prioritize experiences over entertainment
“Pics or it didn’t happen!” Ever hear this familiar millennial refrain online? It’s not a coincidence. Millennials make their experiences a point of emphasis, perhaps more than any other generation.
If the 2008 financial crisis affected millennials’ attitude toward money, it also reflects another one of their defining traits: They tend to prefer experiences over things. For many millennials, that preference shows up most notably in the need to travel, with about 65% of millennials currently saving up for a trip. You can’t understand how to market to millennials without getting hold of this basic principle.
But it’s not just frugality and temperance that are driving these trends. Some believe that millennials are the first generation of consumers for whom shareable content is a priority. “Modern consumers care more about creating an Instagram-able memory than purchasing the hottest new product,” writes customer experience futurist Blake Morgan in an article for Forbes.
4. Be authentic
You might remember “authenticity” as one of the key brand traits towards which millennials tend to gravitate. What is it about authenticity that makes millennials more likely to purchase from you? And why do they bother with it in the first place?
For starters, authenticity works with every age group. It just so happens that millennials in surveys rate it even higher a priority than Boomers and Gen X. Like anyone else, millennials like to make their own decisions. They’ll even happily tap on a Facebook ad if they feel its values align with their own. But when brands blatantly attempt to dip their toes in the water in a way that feels inauthentic to their core values, ad-savvy millennials have a way of seeing through it.
What does authenticity look like in practice? To start with, authenticity is rare. According to the same source, most consumers believe less than half of brands actually practice authenticity. But there are a few other keys to driving authenticity in the minds of millennials.
- User-generated content: 60% of consumers rated user-generated content as the most authentic. Today’s mobile-friendly audience constantly seeks out word of mouth and online reviews to conduct product research. It follows that any brand willing to put user-generated content like reviews out front is the brand striving to be authentic.
- Social media: Millennials like to share their triumphs and their frustrations with the public. That’s why it’s sketchy to them when a brand doesn’t maintain a social media presence or actively respond to customer complaints online. To millennials, this means the brand must be hiding something. Also, consider looking into influencer marketing, which helps brands reach out to trusted social media celebrities.
- Customer segmentation: To help avoid the clash between messaging and the target market, brands should conduct customer segmentation and handle their advertisements appropriately. Avoid blanketing an audience with vague messaging and focus on speaking directly to smaller groups of potential customers, one segment at a time.
5. Use visuals
In the same millennials marketing survey quoted above, millennials pointed out how easy it is to see through old tricks like stock video and photography. Brands that put out authentic content will also put out original content, including behind-the-scenes videos or original photographs.
The old saying that a picture says a thousand words still has meaning here. But your brand’s messaging shouldn’t be limited to a two-dimensional medium. Consider a website like sketch London, which users can actually interact with.
Millennials offer plenty of loyalty to brands — but only to brands that have earned that loyalty through two-way messaging. Visuals like an interactive website can help reinforce the “conversational” approach of your brand. But you can also turn to social media for more visual interaction. Caption contests, customer highlights (such as featuring a specific customer in a post or having them “take over” your social media accounts for a day), and other visual displays of fan interaction show that you’re committed to a two-way conversation.
6. Maintain your blog
Believe it or not, there are few things as unsettling to a millennial as visiting a company website and finding out their last blog post was from 2019. It’s the digital marketing equivalent of pulling up to a store and finding the interior offices completely abandoned.
But you shouldn’t maintain a blog just to avoid this conundrum. You should make your blog a reason to visit your website. Statistics suggest that well-written blogs can create a 55% increase in website visitors. So, you aren’t only doing it as a strategy for marketing to millennials. You’re also doing it for the search engine algorithms that are looking for recent, fresh, updated content.
And given that 55% of millennials ignore brands that don’t show up well in search results, you can consider a clean, fresh, frequently-updated blog a good way to reach out.
It’s true that many millennial shoppers may only glance at your blog before purchasing. But that glance can be well worth the time and effort it took to create that post.
Not only do enhanced search results help you attract more customers, but millennials performing online research want to tick off the “active blog” box before they decide to buy from you. After all, in their minds, if you can’t manage a blog, what does that say about your ability to cater to modern shipping standards? Refund policies? Or even the quality of your product?
7. Offer incentives
In one respect, millennials are much like any other generation: they can’t pass up a good incentive. But you should pay attention to the quirks of millennial advertising preferences if you’re going to create a compelling incentive.
While a simple coupon will entice just about anyone, keep in mind that millennials value more than money. As Forbes notes, millennial employee incentives often focus on providing millennial employees with more options at work. It might be simpler to cut them a check, but in practice, millennials value time and experience just as often as financial incentives. Your digital marketing approach should reflect that.
Millennial buying preferences are shaping the world in unexpected ways, as well. For example, many millennials — by now well-versed in shopping online — bring their B2B preferences to their functions in B2C roles. When millennials are shopping with a company’s budget, they may look for the same differentiators they look for when shopping for themselves, including:
- Incentives for customer loyalty: This is just as true in B2B as it is in direct-to-consumer brands. Millennials understand the value of consistent business and are willing to shop around until they find a brand that’s willing to invest in a long-term partnership.
- Choose-your-own-incentive plans: Some millennial customers may choose a price discount if they can. But the back-and-forth between the buyer and the brand is just as important for millennials. Offering multiple options for incentives and allowing the customer to choose which they receive gives them a sense of investment — they’re creating a bargain of their own making.
- Experiences over things: Receiving a gift card from a company is hardly an Instagram-able perk. But gift packs with unboxing experiences speak the language of the modern digital buyer — as do other experiences that reflect the products and services your company provides. Don’t be afraid to get creative in finding ways to turn your offerings or professional services into a one-of-a-kind experience.
8. Make inbound marketing informative
There is no single master key to unlocking all millennials’ hearts. But if you track your inbound marketing data with precision and consistency, you may find a few patterns for marketing to millennials that pop up over time.
Information from your inbound marketing is only going to get more important. Millennials, after all, care more about privacy than previous generations. And in the coming years, as regulations crack down on sharing customer data with third parties, advertisers will need first-party data to glean information about their customers’ preferences.
First-party data is the knowledge you get directly from your audience. When they fill in their address, for example, you’ve gained some demographic information about your market. But not everyone is going to fill out a shipping form right away. You need other ways of getting information from inbound customers, such as:
- Email addresses
- Customer service interactions and feedback
- Social media polls and feedback
In the future, leads aren’t only going to be valuable because they represent a potential purchase. They’re going to be valuable because warm leads also come packed with information you can use to tighten your messaging and make more sales.
How to target millennials through paid ads
Millennials are just as open to paid ads as any other generation. But it may not seem that way if you can’t quite figure out what they’re searching for online. To write paid ads that resonate with millennials, try to keep the following in mind:
- Millennials often search as part of product research: Try to remember the intent behind every keyword. For example, someone typing “best DSLR camera reviews” is likely in the market for a DSLR camera. Someone searching for “best stock photography” might be in the same overall photography segment, but it sounds like they’re not looking for a camera. Make sure your message meets search intent before you give up on a campaign.
- Use advertising to gather information: Yes, the primary goal of advertising is to drive sales. But as first-party information becomes more valuable, you should also use ad campaigns to test your marketing hypotheses. According to Adweek, 65% of millennials are more than happy to trade information for incentives, like discounts.
- Keep mobile in mind: Your paid ads should appear far more on mobile than desktop. Considering the aforementioned 7:1 ratio at which millennials use phones as opposed to home computers, you’ll be more likely to find your audience with a focus on mobile advertising.
How to advertise to millennials on social media
Approach your millennial advertising campaign as you would any new agency project, as many of the same principles hold up when you’re marketing to millennials on social media.
Social media platforms like Twitter say when they’re displaying a sponsored ad, true. But millennials aren’t going to completely avoid ads that speak to their needs directly. To better learn how to advertise to them on social media, make sure the message matches the platform.
What social platforms do millennials use?
Despite Facebook’s reputation as being for everyone — including older audiences and baby boomers — today’s millennials still use it at astonishing rates. For example, 87% of millennials in the U.S. use Facebook at least once per week. And that’s good news: Facebook is one of the most sophisticated online platforms for advertising, especially when nailing down a specific target demographic.
Marketing to millennials on Twitter is to find them in their element. Sponsored tweets with videos are especially powerful for connecting your brand to a Twitter user’s specific need. It’s worth noting that millennials on Twitter tend to be the affluent millennials, according to Twitter’s own data. This makes the platform a surprisingly appropriate place to advertise big-ticket items.
The median age on Pinterest is about 40, or the age of the older millennials. This makes the platform another great outlet for marketing to millennials who have had some time to form a career, generate disposable income, and grow in affluence and spending power.
Your YouTube marketing strategy should highlight the importance of visuals that resonate with millennials. With over two billion worldwide users, t’s not just millennials on the platform. But YouTube will give you a “101” course in advertising to millennials. You’ll have to hook them in the first few seconds of every video, supply worthwhile content that entices them to learn more, and build a strategy that represents your brand as transparent, authentic, and willing to engage with your audience.
How to plan a millennial marketing campaign with Wrike
Ready to turn your knowledge of how to advertise to millennials into practice? Our professional services management software can help you organize these insights, plan your campaign, and align your team for precise marketing execution.
A millennial-targeted advertising campaign won’t happen by accident, but Wrike’s marketing campaign templates will help you get your bearings as you whittle down your target audience to one of the most important demographic segments in the world.
Use Wrike’s project management workflow templates to break up the production into smaller steps, ensuring you don’t bite off more than you can chew at any particular milestone. You can also integrate members of your team into Wrike so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to brand messaging and authenticity. After all, if you’re going to speak to today’s millennial, it helps to speak with one voice.