Age is just a number: talk to me, not 'the millennial'

Millennial marketing is a hot topic right now. I’m considered a millennial, but what does that mean exactly? The term ‘millennials’ refers to the generation born between the early 1980s and early 2000s – exact years vary depending on the source. At around 83 million people, millennials are currently the largest living generation. We make up the largest consumer force and the largest employee force simultaneously, so it’s not surprising that brands are trying to figure out the best ways to win us over.

Millennials are the first generation of digital natives – exposed to technology since a young age – to reach adulthood. Our brand expectations are high and our attention span limited. We’re used to being bombarded with media, so we filter out most on autopilot and only focus on the things that really appeal to us. The way brands market to millennials is fundamentally shaping how they market for the future, as the pace of technological innovation and exposure continues to increase. So how do brands engage us? What’s the secret?

To effectively market to millennials, you first have to stop thinking about us as millennials. The marketing approach gets back to the basic ‘emotional branding’ principle: connect with me as a human being. Make me feel something. Understanding millennials isn’t about understanding young people; it’s about understanding people. It’s knowing the stage of life I’m currently in, and marketing to me on a 1:1 basis with offers that are relevant and are going to drive my purchase.

You can’t blast one broad message to millennials and expect it to resonate across the board. Our age alone doesn’t determine our behaviors and preferences. Transactional, demographic and behavioral data can help you understand who we are as individuals and where we’re at in life. For example, some of us may still be living with mom and dad, whereas others are engaged, and some of us are already married, having children and house hunting!

So remember, you are marketing to an individual with his or her own preferences. Both traditional marketing strategies along with the trending ones apply to millennials.  Let’s take a look at what Netflix is doing with their marketing efforts and why I find their efforts resonate with me and have continued to as I’ve moved through an important stage in my life.

I started subscribing to Netflix’s streaming service my sophomore year of college and have continued being a faithful subscriber through my transition into the “real world”. In college, because access to cable TV was provided, Netflix was more of a supplementary “nice-to-have” that I watched on occasion. Now that I’m on my own, however, I don’t have cable and rely solely on Netflix for my movie and TV needs. Why? Because Netflix’s model has evolved to work in both contexts.

Over the past several years, Netflix has significantly expanded its selection while keeping its price point consistent and affordable. It tailors recommendations to me based on my site behavior and previous selections, and its suggestions of other content I might enjoy often prove to be right. Further, its content changes regularly enough that new options are always available, and it sends me email notifications when new content is added that its recommendation engine has identified as something that would appeal to me. It’s also conveniently available to stream on multiple devices – satisfying the generation of now mentality many millennials hold. I was one of the early adopters of Netflix in college, but now nearly all of my friends subscribe – some exclusively, like me.

Netflix’s marketing is subtle and reflected in how it uses data to create a personalized and seamless customer experience. You might be thinking, But people of all ages subscribe to Netflix.  And that proves my point exactly. The Netflix model works because it isn’t millennial marketing; it’s “segment of one” marketing. And it works.

So as the conversation about millennial marketing continues, try to shift the mindset from targeting to us as a general group to engaging us as individuals. Remember, we’re people too!

How do you approach marketing to millennials? Leave your thoughts in the comments.