Marketing to Millennials
“…The Millennial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged—with potentially seismic consequences for America.”-Millennials Rising: the Next Generation
Millennials—young, tech-crazy and success-driven, are quickly rising as the largest, most influential group of new consumers in the United States. Products of the late 80’s and early 90’s, the members of this generation have been predicted to become the prime “catalysts for change in our society” as well as in the economic marketplace. The view of this generation’s makeup has been, for the most part, strikingly clean-cut, characterizing the generation as one of endless optimism (almost to the point of naïveté), defined primarily by its open worldview and desire to make a positive difference.
However, these three characteristics of the Millennial generation have begun to evolve and, as a result of new economic pressures and societal roadblocks, have fallen under critique. As Millennials continue to enter the marketplace, to react and adapt to economic turmoil, and to approach societal crossroads, they are rapidly transforming into a complex, and often, paradoxical consumer base.
Marketing to this generation is no longer simple, and as Millennials continue to grow and mature, so do the rules determining how to best harness their purchasing power. The Futures Company, a consulting firm specializing in futures and trends, recently published an executive summary unmasking some of the mysteries behind the Millennial generation and offering models to help marketers effectively garner the financial support of its members. But before marketers can begin to advertise to the Millennial consumer base, they must learn a thing or two about the wide range of complexities, contrasts, and concerns that dominate this multifaceted generation.
Defining Millennials: the two key dimensions
Arguably, the most important characteristic of Millennials is their knowledge and use of technology. Members of this generation incorporate technology into their lives more fluently than any other generation; 80% use Facebook, Twitter or mobile applications to actively connect with other users across the globe. They understand the importance of real-time interaction, limitless connectivity, and an ever-expanding knowledge base and switch seamlessly between different modes of technology, quickly learning, adapting, and inter-connecting.
According to The Futures Company’s summary, there exist two key dimensions to the Millennial generation. First is the dual role technology plays in their lives. On one hand, technology serves as a performance tool, enabling them to achieve peak personal performance and aiding in individual advancement. On the other hand, technology serves as a platform for Millennials’ creativity, allowing them to express, share, connect, and broadcast beliefs. Because of this dual role, marketing functional products through creative outlets such as Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites is an effective strategy to reach Millennials.
The second key dimension of the Millennial generation is the unique way in which it expresses itself. Some Millennials express identity through accumulation—using brands and material things to define themselves and placing importance on outward appearance and following the crowd. Others convey identity through meaning—using beliefs and actions to define themselves and placing value on the search for authenticity. This self-expression dimension of the generation reveals the importance of image-oriented marketing in targeting Millennial consumers. While not all members of the generation are completely materialistic, Millennials are, as a rule, always striving to express their identity, making image-oriented advertising an extremely effective tool to reach this consumer group.
Segmenting Millennials: the four tribes
Digging deeper into the mysteries of the Millennial generation, The Futures Company summary divides Millennial individuals into four different categories, or tribes. The first tribe, the Striders, is made up of Millennials who move forward with enthusiasm, embrace materialism, seem relatively unharmed by the recession, and are keen for success and material rewards. The second tribe, the Satellites, contains individuals who are tech-crazy, eager to have the latest software and gadgets, and display a narrow worldview, brushing off green issues and other societal problems. Satellites are primarily concerned with themselves, and take on few responsibilities outside of their own personal sphere. The third Millennial tribe is the Steppers. This group treads carefully, as it has felt the financial strain of the recession. Steppers are generally negative about the future and move forward cautiously, purchasing wisely. The last tribe, the Spirits, are the so-called “poster children” of this generation. Spirits are open, connected, socially conscious, and tend to direct their spending behaviors toward things that promote or support their own interests and beliefs.
With four distinct Millennial tribes come four very different modes of marketing, each of which can be tweaked and adapted to engage the individual target tribe. In terms of the tech-driven Satellite tribe, performance marketing has proved the most successful tool to attract their purchasing power. To gain these individuals’ business, marketers must emphasize their products’ functional benefits and everyday high performance.
Striders are a different story. They are more receptive to identity marketing strategies. Marketers need to promote products as aspirational and cutting-edge, in order to attract the attention of this optimistic, image-oriented Millennial tribe. Striders are keen on obtaining social status, so the most effective marketing will focus on positive symbolism– advertising coolness, class, and success.
To engage the Steppers tribe, supportive marketing that focuses on adding value to everyday life, reducing risk, and increasing security is most effective. Steppers are pessimistic and overly cautious, so products marketed symbolically using buzzwords such as “green” or “cutting edge” will not attract Steppers’ attention.
Lastly, to reach the Spirit tribe, the best strategy is to employ conscientious marketing that emphasizes collectiveness, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. Spirits are socially responsible and rely on their beliefs as a form of self-identification. Therefore, they are more willing to spend money on products that highlight specific causes, beliefs, or ideologies. Eco-friendly marketing is extremely effective in targeting and engaging this tribe.
It is important to keep in mind that while some of these strategies are bound to prove more effective in attracting one tribe over another, none of the marketing methods are mutually exclusive. To target a wide range of Millennial tribes, marketers must utilize a combination or variety of the aforementioned strategies.
Clearly, the quickly rising Millennial generation is proving to be a catalyst for enormous change in our society, particularly in their role as consumers in the marketplace. The generation is certainly full of potential, yet is also burdened by the duality of its nature. Open, yet cynical, altruistic, yet often materialistic, driven toward success, but weary of taking financial risks, Millennials are difficult for marketers to pinpoint. However, a closer look at the subtleties of this new consumer base, reveals the values and motivations underlying their brand and media choices. Only with this awareness will marketers be able to develop the diversity of marketing strategies necessary to attract the attention and purchasing power of the largest and most influential consumer group in the world.