10 Mistakes Marketers Make When Marketing to Millennials

By Corey Padveen

You may find yourself nodding your head each time you see a particular mistake. That’s because the majority of marketers have either made or might make these missteps when building out a Millennial marketing strategy.

Assuming laziness

Baby Boomers often have the opinion and perception that Millennials are spoiled, entitled, and lazy. That last trait is the result of the growth of the demand economy among Millennial consumers. Millennials want access to goods and services at a moment’s notice, and they don’t want to have to go very far to get them. For a generation that didn’t grow up with this kind of accessibility, behaviors like these and the sense that access should be made easy translates into laziness — a major misconception.

A study by the professional services firm Ernst & Young found that Millennial managers voluntarily add hours to their workweek at a faster rate than the two generations that preceded them. Another study by Project: Time Off, which promotes and advocates for vacation time, found that half of all Millennials in the workforce strive to be considered work martyrs, which are employees that forego personal time, early work days, and paid time off in exchange for additional work hours.

Framing your communications around the idea of making life easier as opposed to ignoring the demographic that finds the demand economy appealing will allow you to cater to an even broader range of consumers.

Assuming selfishness

Millennials are driven and, like any consumer, consider a degree of self-interest in their decision-making processes, but that doesn’t mean that Millennials are particularly selfish in their pursuits. They do have a degree of entitlement that comes from an upbringing during an economic boom, a high-level of education — the highest ratio of educated consumers of any generation in history — and from coming into buyer maturity during the Great Recession. However, to simply think of Millennials as selfish ignores a much greater, pertinent characteristic: They care about social good.

Cause marketing is a field that has seen explosive growth over the last few years. Between 2000 and 2016, the funds raised from cause marketing initiatives have grown from $700 million to nearly $2 billion. This increase has been driven in large part thanks to Millennials. The Barkley American Millennials Report noted that more than 40 percent of Millennials prefer to give to a cause they care about through a business, rather than donating directly, and a study from the MSLGROUP found that nearly 70 percent of Millennials want businesses to work toward addressing social issues instead of focusing solely on profit maximization.

Millennials care about society, and a brand’s involvement in a cause is more than a kind gesture; it’s a viable business tactic. Millennials will choose to buy from a brand that they feel does good as opposed to only buying from the brand that has a recognizable or impressive logo.

Aligning yourself with a cause or leveraging cause marketing when you have an opportunity to do so will help you avoid making the mistake of assuming that Millennials don’t care and can actually lead to the development of new business from socially conscious Millennial consumers.

Assuming vanity

It’s all too easy to assume that Millennials are obsessed with vain. When you scroll through the Instagram feed of the average Millennial user or observe the selfie-obsessed habits of a Millennial on Snapchat, it seems almost safe to make the assumption that vanity plays a major role in the day-to-day lives of Millennial consumers.

Millennials care about the experience, and they care about sharing that experience. While Millennial consumers may be a fairly price-sensitive generation, they’re willing to spend when the transaction isn’t the only part of the deal. Millennials spend on experience.

Think about the brand or transactional experience when crafting a campaign designed to appeal to Millennials. Millennial consumers don’t want the story to end at the point of conversion or payment. Do you have an opportunity to integrate an Instagrammable moment? Can you carry over the experience onto social channels? How can you garner additional value or utility from the transaction? These are things that Millennials weigh — consciously or not — when making a purchasing decision.

Assuming frugality

With Millennials coming into their consumer maturation years during the Great Recession, it’s easy to see why the assumption about Millennial frugality is made.

A study by DunnhumbyUSA, which handles loyalty programs in the United States, found that Millennial consumers are far more price-sensitive deal seekers than average consumers and will use coupons on a far more regular basis. The total of purchases for Millennial deal seekers, however, will be consistently higher than the average full-price customer, and they will return to a specific brand’s store more loyally than the average customer.

Instead of simply assuming that Millennials are frugal and unwilling to spend, consider the fact that Millennials are often after more than just the product; they’re after value. Value-seeking consumers, which includes those in pursuit of an experience on top of a transaction, will spend more and remain more loyal when you can provide that value to them. It can be in the form of deals, discounts, bonuses, giveaways, or other value-added components included in a transaction.

Assuming ignorance

If you think traditional sales tropes will be the deciding factor in a Millennial’s buying decision, think again. When you, as a brand, make first contact with a Millennial prospect, he has already progressed through a significant portion of the buying cycle. You’re one of the last stops on the tour, so if you assume that the prospect is unfamiliar with your product, your quality, or your other customers’ experiences, you’re making a dangerous mistake.

When engaging directly with a Millennial prospect — either online or in person — your approach should be one that allows the customer to share what she already knows, has researched, or would like to know. Comparison and peer review is a major part of the Millennial buying process, and there is a distinct possibility that by the time a prospect is contacting you, she has gone through several of those steps.

While you also shouldn’t assume that the prospect has all the information on hand when she first reaches out, the approach you may want to take is one of learning a little bit about where she is in the buying process before moving into the sales pitch. The assumption that you’re dealing with an ignorant prospect that will respond to a one-way pitch will almost certainly end without a conversion.

Focusing on age

Assuming that all Millennials are alike because they fall into the age parameters that statistically denote a Millennial is no different than assuming that a wealthy 50-something-year-old professional living in Manhattan and a 15-year-old high school student living in Missouri are alike because they both live in the United States. Consumers are all unique, and to lump a group together based on something as superficial as age and market to them all in the same way will yield subpar results and leave the majority of Millennial consumers with little to no impression of your brand.

While age may come into play when building an audience, you’re going to want to take the time to develop hypertargeted audience segments that focus more on interests and behaviors as opposed to looking at only age or location.

Ignoring the mindset

Age, or birth date range, is a relevant criteria when looking purely at statistics or sector studies. However, when it comes to marketing, the focus on a range of years as the enclosing parameters of a target audience is a practice that many marketers adopt without realizing how much missed opportunity they’re leaving to a competitor as a result.

Millennials may possess certain traits and habits when it comes to their buying behavior, but they’re not alone in possessing these traits. The Millennial mindset is one that has largely transcended generations, particularly as the adoption of mobile technology and integration of social media into the day-to-day lives of consumers from other generations has come to pass. When you develop a hypertargeted audience around tastes and preferences and launch a campaign, you’ll want to consider expanding that campaign’s target audience over time to include consumers of other ages that fit the same interest and behavior criteria that you’ve outlined.

Focusing only on the campaign

One element that Millennials are looking for when evaluating whether to buy from or work with a particular brand is how well the experience with the brand flows. This experience also contributes significantly to loyalty and assists greatly in the process of building relationships with your target Millennial audience.

When you develop a campaign, you need to think about it in terms of how it will fit in with all the active elements that currently exist around your brand. This thought process will not only assist in improving brand awareness with target Millennials because of the continuity from the campaign to your day-to-day content marketing, but it will also create secondary benefits, such as audience growth or relationship nurturing, that extend beyond the original scope of the campaign.

Aggressively selling

The pushy sales pitch was one that yielded some results in the early days of paid online advertising and affiliate marketing, but today, and particularly with Millennial consumers, the aggressive sales pitch is one that results in zero engagement. In fact, this strategy is one that has more potential to damage your brand’s reputation and your relationship with prospects than lead to conversions.

The soft sell may take a little bit more time, but during that time, you’re cultivating a relationship with your Millennial prospects, which leads to loyalty.

Ignoring the relationship

When you ignore the importance of the relationship with Millennial consumers, you ignore the future of your business. Millennials may take a little bit longer to convert and may take a more convoluted buying journey that needs attention, but relationships mean loyalty, brand advocacy, and growth.