April 22, 2019 • Paul Woolf
It’s happening this year. According to Pew Research Center, millennials are about to overtake my baby boomer generation. Boomers number about 72 million in the United States—and we’re declining slowly, probably due to lousy eating habits and too much partying in our youth. Millennials have caught up and now outnumber us at an estimated 83 million, based on the most recent census. As an economic powerhouse, millennials are the future, worth an estimated $200 billion annually. Boomers are the past, a target for Geritol ads on CNN. Millennials are in the market for all things cool. And all things authentic.
So how do brands lure the millennial to their product or service? About 10 billion articles have been written on this topic. Okay, maybe my generation exaggerates a bit, but suffice it to say that there are more experts on marketing to millennials than there are hipsters in Brooklyn. So, in surveying the landscape of articles, I decided to home in on just a few of the recurrent themes, in part to see if there really is a difference in marketing to millennials versus marketing to boomers.
To be fair to my fellow boomers, we, too, like authenticity. If it’s not an authentic Big Mac, I’m not having it. Yet the millennial generation is obsessive about ensuring that the products and services they choose rate strongly in terms of authenticity. From packaging to PR to promotion, millennials’ favorite brands seem to hit the right note in terms of telling a consistent, transparent, believable story. Granted, we boomers had brands like Ben & Jerry’s, an authentic brand built by Vermont hippies with cool product names. One might assume that millennials don’t like that B&J was bought by Unilever (aka “The Man”) in 2000, and no doubt many boomers were dismayed. But guess what—millennials are cool with it, at least according to Mackenzie Ame, in an article she wrote back in 2013. As a self-described millennial, she enjoys the humor, packaging, and cause-related and crowd-sourced social posts. The brand is authentic and appealing. So authenticity is hip among the hipsters. But it is for boomers, too.
About as much has been written recently about brand purpose as marketing to millennials. In fact, members of the Association of National Advertisers just voted “brand purpose” as the 2018 marketing word of the year. We have previously written about the importance of purpose to millennials, and deriving your brand purpose from your history, so I won’t tread old ground other than pointing out that your purpose had better be genuine and linked to your brand’s foundation and journey. Millennials are a justice-driven generation, big on transparency and noble ambitions. It’s one reason why brands such as REI and Patagonia do so well with millennials. Then again, boomers were pretty big on social justice and making the world a better place during the ’60s and ’70s. While purpose may not be seen as motivating for my peers, it’s still a factor.
The Nielsen Consumer Trust Index highlights that 92% of consumers trust organic, user-generated content (UGC) more than they trust traditional advertising from brands. An article from CrowdRiff points out a number of interesting UGC stats, including:
These statistics, and many more, should give marketers pause in targeting millennials. And while we boomers did not have Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes to see what others thought about a restaurant or movie until a few years ago, we take advantage of those services today just as we used to rely on independent reviews in the newspaper or on “Siskel & Ebert.”
How can brands counter this lack of trust? One way is to use content derived from your brand’s history and experiences, or what we call authentic content. It’s content you own that is true and believable. With some creative magic, it can be a powerful tool to gain trust. It’s something that few brands see as a powerful tool, sitting right under their nose.
Marketing has become a more data- and content-centric discipline, partly due to technology advances, proliferation of digital and non-digital communication channels, and the rising importance of millennials as the core target audience. Customer journeys have changed in the decades since the boomers ruled the economy. In the past, marketers targeted baby boomers, used the acronym AIDA (Awareness Interest Desire Action) and focused on outbound marketing to stimulate awareness. Millennials are more likely targeted by the less linear DEPS (Discover Explore Purchase Share), an alternative approach to AIDA that puts a premium on inbound marketing to lead to “discovery.”
Today’s customer journey is far more complex than it used to be, involving multiple channels over different time spans, and incorporating non-brand-controlled content like user-generated content. Which means, from a brand perspective, it’s vital to publish content that is salient, compelling and aligned with the overall brand story. Is it different for boomers? Simply going on personal experience, I’d say no—based on many hours spent online reading, watching, and experiencing the content of individuals and companies throughout the world.
Eventbrite’s survey of millennials found that 78% would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying an object that was desirable, and 55% of millennials say they’re spending more on events and live experiences than ever before. Festivals, races, themed sports and parties: If it’s live, millennials crave it. So for a marketer seeking millennial customers, the experience matters—both in how you expose your brand to them (e.g. experiential exhibits or road shows) and in how they engage with your brand when interested in purchasing (e.g. the user experience). Here, a brand’s history can draw in customers and bring the experience to life. It also works with boomers, for that matter—because experience matters, regardless of age.
The differences between what motivates millennials and boomers may not be as great as pundits have made out. I may opt for Facebook or Twitter versus Snapchat or Instagram, and I may believe more in the cause marketing of a charity like Special Olympics than some of the “purpose for profit” brands touting social empathy. But I believe that all customers are drawn to brands that offer something more.
After all, the very definition of a brand is a product or service that is distinguished from others by a set of both physical and emotional attributes. How those attributes are conveyed has changed, but the task of offering those attributes in a compelling, attractive fashion should resonate with the target audience, regardless of age or generation.
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