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Millennials: Just the word alone is enough to stoke ire, confusion, condemnation, or fear in the hearts of even the most hardened marketers. Whether millennials are bringing down fast-casual chain eateries, redefining the very existence of shopping malls, or spending a supposed down payment’s worth of money on avocado toast, they seen to confound small business owners and entrepreneurs. But is selling to millennials all that hard?
Better question: Is selling to millennials really all that different than promoting your goods to any other generations, markets, or groups? Marketers can attribute much of the inherent difficulty they experience when selling to millennials to understanding who this group of consumers actually are.
Millennials are people born between 1981 and 1996 according to the Pew Research Center, which means that the oldest millennials are 37 years old and the youngest are 22. Broadly speaking, these groups have next to nothing in common—22-year-olds are on their way out of college and onto their first real job. Thirty-seven-year-olds are mostly established mid-career professionals with families and responsibilities that come with them.
In other words, the challenge of selling to millennials is that marketers are trying to sell to too broad an audience. Worst yet, that audience has been generalized and stereotyped to such a degree that the wide age gap between the oldest and youngest millennials makes it such that no attempt to create comprehensive categories for them can actually work.
That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to develop great selling strategies for millennials—it just means that you’re going to have to dig a bit deeper and think about your audience first, rather than a generalized generational snapshot of purchasing habits and behaviors. Take it from a millennial.
The size of the millennial age gap means that your marketing strategy will depend more on the average age of your current customers. This is why it’s all the more important to know your market inside and out, rather than hunting down a new set of customers based on their demographics or spending power alone.
Look for certain traits within your brand’s core customers—as well as in what you’re selling. For example, if you own a high-end clothing boutique, odds are you won’t want to tailor your marketing messaging to twenty-somethings who can’t afford your goods. If you’re selling unique, quirky cell phone cases, you’re not going to get tons of orders from people who are closer to their 40s than their 20s.
To better understand your strategy for selling to millennials, consider creating customer profiles. Think about four or five archetypes of whom you believe your customer is: what they do for a living, what their income is, and what they look for when making purchasing decisions. This tactic isn’t just useful for selling to millennials—it’s just good business sense.
Once you have a stronger understanding of who your customer is within the broader millennial category, you can start to target them where they live. For most, this means finding your audience through digital and social media advertising. And as tempting as it may sound to create a one-size-fits all digital marketing strategy for millennials, there’s much more to it than that.
First, let’s talk about social media marketing. Those of us who aren’t active on social media may assume that the leading platforms—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Twitter—are different iterations of the same basic idea. But in reality, each network attracts a different demographic: Facebook and LinkedIn’s core Millennial users tend to be older; Instagram is more popular across age groups; Snapchat skews younger and more social; and Twitter tends to be used across the generational spectrum.
If you’re looking to target Millennial moms, for example, you’d want to look at Facebook and Instagram before you started creating content for Snapchat. If mid-career professionals are your target, you’d want to look for them on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Second, it’s important to understand how your customers are coming to your company’s website or business listings on Google, Yelp, and other review sites. Most of these sites offer analytics and demographic information, which can help you figure out who’s seeking out your company. And you could do worse than setting up Google Analytics for your company’s webpage, which will open up a ton of user information about how (and who!) visits your site.
Nothing seems more disingenuous (or is mocked faster) than brands that try to keep up with trends, slang, and the passing fads of younger consumers. And you most certainly don’t want to end up on a site devoted to mocking companies that do a terrible job of keeping up—or trying too hard to.
This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t create a voice for your company that’s unique and fun. Quite the opposite is true. You’ll want to establish an identity for your company that you use both online and in-store. Feel free to make it as casual or professional as you believe is the right fit for your business—but just make sure you don’t try to be something you’re not. It’ll be transparent.
Every company can benefit from having a presence online. If you’re in retail, B2B, or B2C environments, you’ll likely stand to benefit the most from a digital-first approach. At worst, you can supplement your brick-and-mortar business by letting customers buy online. At best, you may even be able to broaden your customer base to other locales and states by listing products online and shipping your goods at competitive rates.
But not every business might benefit from a digital push. Companies that have to sell in person, such as industry supply stores and salons, may not stand to gain as much as others. In this scenario, make sure that you’re only pursuing a digital strategy that improves upon your customers’ experience with your brand. Don’t force would-be buyers to go online if it doesn’t suit them, or makes the buying experience worse.
One thing that millennials (and anyone, really) appreciates is simplicity. Simple messaging, simple experiences, and minimal hassle. This generation spent half of its life in the pre-internet age, so it remembers what things were like before the advent of the web. And having experienced life before and after the joys of online shopping, banking, and bill pay, it’s hard to voluntarily spend money with companies that don’t make the purchasing process easy.
This means that your path to success when selling to millennials is all about making the experience as easy as possible. Create a few solid choices for buying products, invest in a good website, online customer service, and an easy-to-use ecommerce portal. Selling online means requiring as few steps as possible for the consumer, so you’ll do well by keeping things smooth and easy.