How did we get here? A historical view of marketing to millennials and what they want you to know about them.
Think back to 1987—that is if you were old enough to remember that time—when the term “millennials” was first coined. Once a label was created, we had something to call this generation, but we didn’t yet know the impact they would have on the world as they grew up.
Millennial youngsters went vastly ignored until retailers (and marketers) started to recognize the potential financial value to them. This happened when the oldest millennials were around age 15 (so roughly 1997), when they started influencing the purchases made at home.
Around the year 2000, when the oldest millennials started turning 18 and making their own decisions, we saw marketers really starting to take note. Y2K was raging, cell phone adoption was creeping up, society was focused on technology and millennials were amongst the first ones to adopt (if they could afford it).
Then 2003 came and Myspace was born. The social movement was officially underway; a year later in 2004 it was Facebook. Now, remember that this was all browser-based until 2007—only 8 short years ago—until iPhone launched and we finally had a decent web browsing experience on a phone. Millennials, now 25 years of age and born a digital native, were adopting rapidly.
With the iPhone’s capabilities came mobile web, online sales and Amazon. With all these events taking place concurrently, we associated the millennials with ‘The Connected Generation’. They were all about digital: shop online, communicate online, research online, play online, go to school online, dwell on planet world wide web and live a virtual life ever after.
Where we are now
The older millennials are now 33-years-old. Whereas before only technology companies took interest in millennials thanks to the illusion that they were the only connected group, mainstream retailers are now all over the segment.
We often hear retail marketers say: ‘”Our customer is too old, we need to reach out to the millennials.” But so much of this conversation is focused on online discussions only.
Retailers are missing two huge points: Age is not the most important factor and it’s not all about online only.
Online is certainly a place where we find millennials, but we actually find more Generations X’ers and baby boomers there. The millennials do not live in the channel silos created by their parents (or grandparents) when the conversation was focused on either driving customers online or driving them to stores.
How about being channel agnostic and focusing on driving them to your brand?
How millennials actually shop
What we learn by studying the purchase behaviors of millennials is that by focusing too much on a channel, most marketers were missing a key insight: Millennials are the largest brick-and-mortar retail purchasers. Why? Well, just like their parents and grandparents, the ability to pick up a prized product at the store or signing up for a haircut without wasting 30 minutes of their precious time in the first come, first served line satisfies their sense of immediacy. Being a short drive away from a well-crafted buying experience is still what is appealing to them.
Now what you should realize is that even though millennials are still purchasing in stores, the buyer journey has changed. We are seeing this complex shopper process of research, reading reviews, looking for coupons, checking social media, browsing your website and perhaps waiting for an email with discount.
Another shift we’re seeing is how millennials shop within the brick-and-mortar setting. They will look at your website on their smartphone, order it there and then pick it up at the store to avoid lines and the agony of trying to find the product on the ever-growing shelves of big box retailers. It’s actually about friction, and reducing that friction in the purchase process is what makes your venue appealing to the millennial—especially if you sell products easily found elsewhere.
It’s about life stage, not age
In looking further into the purchase behaviors of millennials using our proprietary data of millions of households, we found that it’s not about age, it’s about life stage.
Remember your years as a starving and aspiring college student, saving a few bucks on a pizza scouring the Student Union’s coupon book or going out with your college roomie at the bar on Friday night? How about when you first dated your college sweetheart that you ended up marrying four years later? What about your first job and the immediate financial relief (especially your parents’) it came with? Your first apartment and the first trip to your local furniture store to make it your home? How about your first child and the huge change it brought to your life, spending disposable income on diapers rather than nights at the movies and restaurants?
Well, fellow marketers, we have news for you: millennials are just like you and your parents. To effectively reach millennials, you need to pay attention to their life stage, rather than thinking you understand someone just because you know their age.
If you want to attract millennials to your brand, you need to know who they are, what they’re buying, where to find them online and offline and what triggers their loyalty. Catch them at the right life stage, speak to the interest they are vested in today and understand the types of purchases they make: they don’t mind sharing. And when they do share, you must know that their expectation is that you’ll use this data to demonstrate to them that you get them. A single blast email or generic post on Facebook won’t cut it.
The “me-llenial” generation is here. Give them a hyper-personalized experience, understand everything relevant there is to know about them, use predictive analytics to anticipate their need and they will be yours forever.
To dig deeper into millennials’ purchase behaviors and understand their six primary life stages, check out our fun report, #marketingtomillennials: A guide to understanding today’s millennials.