Marketing to Millennials: Part One – Understanding Generation Y


September 30, 2013

Friday was a rather blustery day here in the SLC. It called for a jacket and some great fall fashion. So I slipped on my oxfords, argyle socks, and long tweed riding jacket (no, I’m not British—just well dressed and I like the word blustery) and hastily made my way out the door. No breakfast and running late as usual, there was just enough time to lock my bicycle nearby, grab an overly caffeinated soy latte from my favorite coffee shop, and take an artsy photo of my new shoes against the trendy mosaic tile.

I was rocking the staple “I value sleep too much to do something cute with my hair today (actually EVERY day),” ponytail. With fair-trade coffee in one hand and my iPhone playing Spotify in the other, I made my way a few more blocks to the ad agency office. Buses drove by, billboards loomed in the distance, and I passed multiple newspaper dispensers as I rushed by many a storefront windows—all places for ads to flourish, right?

But did I see any ads? I had to. Yet, the thing is, I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember, however, is this:

  • The Instagram photo I liked that highlighted fall fashion trends.
  • My friend’s check-in at the local coffee shop I decided to visit.
  • The blog post I read about which kind of bike lights to buy.
  • The really cute, sassy ponytail (that would still take very little time in the morning) I repinned on Pinterest.
  • The YouTube video my friend posted.
  • The hashtag that lead me to find a really cool BPA-free travel mug to use for next time.
  • The song that I Shazamed from the coffee shop, which I immediately added to my Spotify playlist.
  • The Tweet I saw about Syria, which lead me to the New York Times article I read.

That’s what I remember about my morning. Not what was on the billboards, not the ads on the side of the bus, not the words in the actual, physical newspaper, or even the clothes in the windows. What I remember was what I directly sought out—not what was thrown in my face.

I’m a millennial. And this is how we millennials operate.

As the most studied generation to date, here are some hard-hitting facts about millennials. Marketers, take note.

  • Currently, millennials constitute around $200 billion of direct purchasing power and about $500 billion of indirect spending (due to the influence of their parents). (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • Gen Yers are predicted to surpass the spending power of baby boomers by 2018. (Oracle)
  • 84% report that user generated content on company websites at least somewhat influences what they buy. (Bazaar Voice)
  • A retailer’s ability to make a millennial smile is 33% more important than it is to a baby boomer. (Casual Living)
  • More than 75% of millennials have a profile on a social networking site and typically they spend 1.8 hours of an 8-hour workday on social media sites. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • Millennials switch their attention between media platforms 27 times per hour. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • 63% stay updated on brands through social networks. (Ipsos)
  • 32% of millennials say they don’t like advertising in general. (Experian Simmon)
  • 55% of millennials share bad brand experiences on social media. (YouGov)
  • Once millennials lose faith in a brand, it’s nearly impossible to win them back. Keeping positive relationships are critical. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • 41% of millennials have made a purchase using their smartphone. (Edelman Digital)

We’re the Echo Boomers, the Generation after X, the “Peter Pans,” and the ever connected, digital natives (80% of us sleep next to our phones). We consume what we want, when we want, and how we want. We respond much better to unforced, naturally occurring content, rather than traditional advertisements. And no matter how much money a brand throws at its ad campaigns, if they’re not trying to connect, then neither are we.