The Truth About Marketing to Millennials


Getting off the subway this morning, I made a point to track how many apps I opened on my iPhone during my commute.

Listening to Noah Gunderson’s new album on Spotify was keeping me entertained at the beginning of my MBTA journey, until a loud mobile ad started playing. Do they really think I want a new BMW? I quickly switched to Instagram to see what all of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) people were up to this morning, which was interrupted by a notification that my best friend had just played a 55-point letter in our “Words With Friends” game, so I opened it to investigate.

Spiraling into a frenzied analysis of how she could have possibly known that “Qi” was a word, I started searching for its definition on my Google app and discovered a really cool New York Times Magazine article on the Buddhist origin of “Chi” and its mystical healing powers. Which reminded me, I should probably check my Google Calendar app to make sure I have time to make it to yoga after my meeting tonight. And, man, I could really use a new pair of those yoga pants I saw Gisele Bundchen wearing on Instagram five minutes ago. I wonder if I can just find them on Pinterest.

Nine. I had nine windows open.

It’s official: I’m a direct byproduct of the digital revolution. And, according to my birth certificate, a millennial. We’re frequently described as scatter-brained, overly image-conscious, selfish and indecisive. These descriptors often are used to inform marketing and branding decisions when trying to reach out to “millennial” audiences. Might I add that they are a little harsh?

From the perspective of someone who is both a millennial and a marketing professional, I’d like to share some insight for brands that are looking to truly win over my generation:

  • We identify in social groups, not age groups. While our parents followed a much more linear life path, we tend not to associate with traditional life stages and age groups. According to Pew Research, only 26% of us are married by the time we’re 32, and some of us are finding it harder and harder to even move from our parents’ homes. So, marketing initiatives that attempt to connect with us through where we are in our lives is typically ineffective. Because, let’s face it, we never know. Attempts at tapping into how we identify socially are the true way in. Often, how we want to be perceived in a certain social group hugely defines what we want to buy. Our regular sharing habits on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, and the opinions we offer on Yelp and TripAdvisor reflect our eagerness for connection, and they’re our vehicles for feeling accepted. This creates an interesting opportunity for marketers. Brands like GoPro, Converse and Ford have done this really well by giving the consumer in the right social demographic unique ways to share their own experiences and look special in front of their peers.


  • We may appear to be flaky, but we really want to care. With a steady stream of new platforms and fresh content at our fingertips, our attention span is very short. A study conducted by our client Innerscope Research found that we switch media devices 27 times an hour. Just look at how fast I abandoned certain entertainment options this morning, and how quickly I avoided a mobile ad that I assumed would not resonate with me. We do this not just because we can but because we are searching for content with which we can truly connect. We have hit a stride of feeling more comfortable connecting with digital devices than with each other and, as a result, we have high standards for what content is truly worth our time. Brands need to make a targeted, powerful impact fast if they want to win over millennials with their marketing. We need to feel emotionally connected to it on a deep level, because the alternative options are endless.


  • Understand that we’re unpredictable. Remember, we aren’t static. Not coincidentally, resembling the digital revolution, we’re always on the move and changing our favorite platforms, content and trends. Just when marketers think they understand us, we completely revamp ourselves to adjust with the latest trend.

Brands and marketers that take the time to understand us every day, not just once a month or once a year, will make lasting in-roads with this powerful generation. Because if you keep up with us, we’ll keep up with you.


This blog also appeared in Bulldog Reporter on September 8.

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