How to Market (and Successfully Work With) Millennials

Learnings from the Share.Like.Buy Conference

As a millennial myself, I was excited to learn more about what a variety of speakers had to say about marketing to millennials at the recent Share.Like.Buy conference on campus here at the Opus College of Business. Being lumped into a generational group that ranges from those born in the early 80’s all the way to the early 00’s seems like much too large of an age gap for similarities. However, as I listened to the speakers and specifically the “live teen panel” of 16 and 17 year olds answering our questions about preferences, I realized I share some of the same opinions on technology, pop culture, work style and the ways companies market to me. While this may be telling of my tastes, I think it does make sense based on what I see in my peer group.

You can read a lot of articles about marketing to millennials. It is somewhat of a hot topic as most advertisers are trying to hit that demographic in order to gain lifetime customers. I don’t want to get into as much detail as the scholarly articles would but also think some of this information may be helpful to consider if you are trying to catch the attention the millennial group. Here are my best five take-aways from the conference:

Millennials Want to be Engaged

We’ve all grown up in a time when advertising and marketing was all around us and for the most part we've learned to tune it out: billboards, bus ads, radio spots and TV commercials. This media often isn't engaging. We want to discover and engage with the brand not be told to like it.

From Cassette Tapes to CD to iPods and now iPhones – Make Our Lives Easier

The teens in the panel discussion have never lived in a time where there is worry about a cassette tape unravelling to the point of no longer being able to listen to their favorite New Kids on the Block songs. They also won’t remember their first CD purchase because their first glimpse of buying music was likely through iTunes.

The key to this isn't necessarily the medium but the concept. We are all busy and looking for ways to make our lives easier. Apple did that with the iPod/iPhone. Facebook did it to help keep in touch with friends. Uber is doing that to help us easily get around. Amazon has done this with Prime, 1-Click ordering and quick shipping. Find ways to make our busy lives easier. We are not afraid of technology as long as it is intuitive and will save us time.

Millennials Want to Work for Leaders Who Value Their Opinions

Want to lead a group of millennials? Be open to transparency, help us feel included in decision making and be open to a diverse range of opinions and backgrounds. If our viewpoint clashes with a final decision, be willing to explain why the decision was made the way it was. We also want flexible work hours. This does not mean we are lazy. It means we value things outside of work. Find ways to help create that balance.

Encourage Fun and Participation along with Productivity

This fits along with the engagement piece above. Keep millennials engaged in what they are doing, help them to feel good about their input and maintain a fun environment. We all interact with companies known for maintaining a fun environment even if the work is demanding. Google has a giant slide in their headquarters, Target now allows employees to “dress for their day”, Facebook’s main campus was inspired by Disneyland but with free product in all of the shops and stores. We know there are other companies out there that look more fun or would be more rewarding so sitting in a cube, without any perks, doing something that doesn't seem meaningful is not likely going to maintain long-term employees.

Expect Personalization

We’ve grown up with everything personalized whether it be pens with our names on it at a tourist shop or an e-mail that not only includes our names but also customization to fit our characteristics. Sending out mass messages that do not get at our unique attributes will not likely work. Think like Dairy Queen, whose goal is to attract fans of the brand not just customers.

Speaking of DQ, I know of a great way learn more about this topic from someone who has experience in this area from a brand perspective. On November 7, the Opus College of Business will be holding the next Master’s Pub event featuring Barry Westrum, executive vice president of marketing for International Dairy Queen. Barry spoke at the Share.Like.Buy conference so I can assure you, it’s an interesting story of how the brand is reinventing themselves.