Putting The 'Millennial' In Marketing

The world of marketing is rapidly changing, and for many marketing leaders, millennials are at the top of the list from an engagement perspective. The question I regularly hear from marketing leaders in retail, consumer goods and broader industries is, “What are best practices for marketing to millennials?”

According to iAd, millennials in the U.S. are roughly 78 million strong and have an estimated buying power of up to $2.1 trillion. They’re passionate about local commerce, social issues and socially conscious brands. And they are consummate digital consumers. Check out these stats: 

  • 81% of millennials have smartphones; 1 in 3 millennials has a tablet 
  • Younger millennials (ages 18-26) spend 98 hours per month consuming digital media on desktops, smartphones or tablets — a 51% increase since last year
  • Older millennials (ages 27-35) spend 102 hours consuming digital media on the same devices — a 40% increase since last year
  • 68% of millennials’ digital media consumption is on mobile vs. 32% on desktop
  • 86% of millennials’ mobile time is spent in apps vs. 14% on mobile browsers
  • Millennials have on average 37.5 apps on their mobile devices
  • 60% of millennials use apps while watching TV
  • 52 million millennials use social media apps on a monthly basis, making it the most popular app category for this generation



Millennials are famous for multitasking and engaging with content on multiple screens (e.g., smartphone, tablet, laptop, etc.). They are content cravers and — when they “experience” a great piece of content — they often share it across platforms with their friends and followers. The most social brands are keyed into millennials’ near insatiable appetite for unique, highly shareable content and are actively feeding that hunger. And the smartest among these brands have incorporated social spend into their marketing mix and are tailoring content and context to the audience, with millennials as a designated target group.

Millennials as a whole also spend more money on experiences than products. As such, companies are shifting their marketing dollars to events that enable millennials to experience the brand. Millennials also appreciate being heard and enjoy collaborating on everything from community and philanthropic endeavors to business activities. Picture and selfie-share campaigns have been hits for many brands, as have personalized product offerings (e.g., Coca-Cola’s recent on-pack campaign).

Millennials grew up with the Internet and portable devices, so the Web is part of the fabric of their daily lives. Millennial consumers read before they buy, watch before they visit and expect a seamless experience when interacting with a brand across channels. So what does this mean for companies? The consumer experience must be efficiently woven together to effectively meet and exceed millennial engagement expectations. If not, brands risk losing the millennial and, make no mistake, dis-engagement can happen very quickly.

Millennials like flexibility, variety and spontaneity when it comes to product purchases and shopping excursions. Brands who want to attract millennials should offer a wide range of customizable products. Big CPG brands are doing this by customizing packaging and experiences to millennials as part of their promotions. From a retail perspective, restaurants are offering new and different quick-serve options that are not of the standard “burger-fries-soda” variety. To see an example of how successful this strategy is, just look to the niche/craft burrito, sandwich and burger chains whose customizable menus are are drawing business away from fast-food standards like Wendy’s, McDonald’s and Burger King. 

When it comes to engaging millennials, social networks are critical. Millennials network, connect, share, love, hate, distain, rant, chat, complain, complement and engage in virtually every other behavior imaginable via social media. So in order to succeed in the social arena, brands need to pay attention. They have to listen across their social channels to understand what is and isn’t working for their brand. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram and SMS are now baseline platforms in the social-sphere. Snapchat, Vine and many others are working their way front and center in the millennial communication space. Brands should have their eyes and ears on these channels — and any others emerging on the landscape — too.

While millennial marketing sounds like a single activity, it is important to recognize that millennials span a wide swath of income levels, behaviors, likes and preferences. There is no “right” approach to engagement. As with any kind of marketing, there are some set rules. The rest is all about testing and learning various strategies to find the sweet spot where your brand and your consumers can connect — authentically, meaningfully and unencumbered.

What insights are you gaining from your millennial campaigns? What’s working and what’s not? Let us know in the comments below.

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