Marketing to Millennials, Gen Z: 6 Experience-based Strategies for CMOs
For more than a decade, marketers have fretted over winning the notoriously fickle Millennial Generation. Seventy-five million strong, Millennials make up nearly a quarter of the total U.S. population and a whopping 40% of the working U.S. population. Known as the first digitally native generation, Millennials—now 25-39 years old—have stumped marketers with their lack of brand loyalty and priority on experiences over status. While marketers still work to crack the millennial code, they also need to keep Gen Z in mind. This young generation, ranging from 4-24 years old, is gaining buying power and cementing brand preferences.
So, what’s a marketer to do? Good news—it is possible to win the loyalty and business of millennials.
“Millennials are always looking for an interesting new experience, something different every few weeks,” says Chris Taylor, Ph.D, associate professor at the University of Houston. But unlike other generations who develop brand loyalty early and stick with it, “They’re the generation that buys the ‘mixed six-pack,’ which is a package of six different brands of beer. They don’t buy the same food over and over. They don’t care about car brands.” (For details, see 5 Marketing Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Beer.)
What this means is that brands need to focus on making a connection with Millennials rather than trying to sell them products and services in the traditional sense. And to make a connection, you’ll need to gain a deeper understanding of them as individuals. Here is what we suggest.
1. Focus on the Millennial customer experience.
Harris Group reports 72% of Millennials would prefer an experience over a material item. (See—who are you calling materialistic?) Regular attendees of music festivals, concerts, trade shows and sporting events, Millennials also frequent malls and local attractions—always on the lookout for the next new thing.
With this in mind, it pays to make sure your product or service enjoys a presence in these physical environments so you can capture Millennials’ attention, sharing your brand in a context they seek out and enjoy. An example of a company embracing this experiential strategy is sports footwear and lifestyle retailer Vans, who recently announced its sponsorship of the World Surfing Games.
A hot brand that debuted in the 90s, Vans dabbled in a number of pop-up locations with more permanent event spaces known as House of Vans. Located in Brooklyn, New York, Chicago and London, the event spaces function as locales for the skateboarding community to connect and enjoy shared passions like music, film, skateboarding, and other extreme sports. On International Women’s Day this year, for example, the company hosted a number of skate sessions, screenings and live music events featuring women in skateboarding—an innovative way to reach their target market.
As Vans Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing and Strategy April Vitkus told Billboard, “The events are open to anyone and are always free. We are aiming to create an experience that you really can’t buy.”
Lululemon—a brand appealing to a different segment of Millennials—recently opened a restaurant in one of its flagship store locations. The activewear giant, already known for offering yoga and other exercise classes on-site, is now deepening its relationship with customers by keeping them around to enjoy a meal. Naturally, everything is on-brand and focused on health. On the day of their big launch, the company Tweeted, “Today, we open the doors to our largest space yet—with two floors of retail, three studios (yoga, HIIT, and meditation) and for the first time ever—fuel (think: acai bowls, smoothies, coffee).”
2. Invite your customers to participate in the experience.
To attract Millennials, start by creating content or an experience consumers will want to share on social media. After all, this is a generation that grew up posting and liking photos and videos online.
Many companies—like Nike—now create hashtags along with every campaign, inviting customers to share and participate. Nike’s “What Will They Say About You?” ad got 75,000 Twitter shares within 48 hours all using the hashtags #Believeinmore and #JustDoIt.
To think beyond the hashtag, companies really win by going a step further and creating an immersive experience, like a pop-up shop or an experiential booth for a trade show. After all, Millennials don’t want to be marketed to; they want to participate in the brand relationship.
A&E came up with a brilliant way to market their TV show, The Bates Motel (a prequel to Hitchcock’s famous thriller Psycho). The cable channel built a fully operational replica of the Bates Motel, inviting guests to spend the night soaking up all the trappings of a traditional roadside motel (avoiding the shower, naturally). Elizabeth Luciano, vice president of marketing at A&E, told Mashable, “We want our fans to feel like they are stepping inside Norma and Norman Bates’ world in a truly unique and innovative way.”
3. Be authentic to capture Millennial customer loyalty—and everyone else’s too.
It may seem counterintuitive to say that Millennials crave authenticity when we’re talking about a cohort of individuals who reportedly take an average of at least 6 selfies a day, but one of the first things you should know about Millennials is that they’re complicated.
So it’s true: they crave authenticity. Millennials are attracted to honest and transparent brands that connect person-to-person with them. State Farm is an excellent example of a company that has succeeded with this. Facing new research showing that young people didn’t really think much about insurance companies or connect with State Farm in any way, the company went back to the drawing board to figure out a game plan.
In its efforts to stay relevant for this younger and growing demographic, State Farm came up with some interesting strategies that stayed core to their values, such as creating branded content—like this video with Brendan Urie from Panic at the Disco. Teaming up with Live Nation, the insurance company established a presence at many music festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, creating Here to Help Houses, where they encouraged good neighborly acts.
Fans could learn about NeighborhoodOfGood.com—an extensive repository of volunteer opportunities—and receive giveaways like cell phone fans, sunscreen, and sunglasses. Each of the houses in the neighborhood featured a small volunteer act of good benefitting local community organizations. Attendees posted about the experience using the hashtag #heretohelp on Twitter and Instagram.
And to showcase their own good neighborly acts, State Farm had tow trucks and roadside assistance on site to help out any concertgoers whose cars broke down or got a flat tire. Good neighbors, indeed.
4. Align your brand with relevant social causes.
In the eyes of Millennials, your brand should stand for something. This is a generation of individuals who reward businesses who are socially responsible. Showcasing that aspect of your business and your values can often help win their attention. Nike’s selection of controversial Colin Kaepernick—famous for kneeling during the national anthem to protest the oppression of black people and other minorities in the United States—made the brand a huge hit with millennial shoppers.
TOMS is another brand near and dear to the hearts of Millennials. For every product that a shopper buys on its website, TOMS donates a pair of shoes to a person in need. Thus, everything purchased on its site “has a purpose” that impacts the world.
Much of the company’s success is attributed to its ability to turn a product into a movement, positioning itself as helping consumers’ innate desire to do good. By rooting its products into the idea of helping others, TOMS has managed to make shoppers feel good about each purchase. (As a bonus, when you’re seen wearing TOMS, everyone knows you must be a person who cares).
5. Optimize the brand experience for mobile devices.
Millennials love their mobile devices (don’t we all), and they rely on them to navigate through life, including searching and buying products and services online. The latest Pew Research Institute estimates say that 95% of Americans own a cell phone and 77% a smartphone. So making your website mobile-first is a move that will benefit consumers of all ages.
If you haven’t translated your digital experience to mobile, start with these key items:
Reduce the website load time.
Offer a touch-friendly user interface.
Use larger fonts and button sizes.
Compress and minify images, style sheets and Java scripts.
Use shorter titles and headlines.
Streamline navigation so key information is easy to find.
Send mobile-friendly email.
Use mobile pay platforms.
Optimize purchase and checkout for mobile.
(Tip: if you are looking for more information, Google has a handy guide for web developers).
6. Get to know your customers—as individuals—and personalize customer experiences to entice them.
Data drives growth. But it also drives a real understanding of your customers. To succeed with Millennials, your company will need to focus on meeting their needs and solving their problems in innovative ways.
Every day, customers all over the world make purchase decisions—and every day, marketers strive to understand which factors impact those decisions most. With the right data delivered at the right time, you can reimagine the customer journey, accessing insights that inform your strategy.
For example, automobile company Subaru frequently wins accolades like “Most Trusted Brand,” and “Best Performance Brand.” Customer data plays a critical role in this—giving Subaru’s sales and marketing teams the information they need to more accurately understand the customer journey, including shoppers’ relative readiness to purchase a new model.
To accomplish this goal, Subaru uses Arm Treasure Data’s enterprise Customer Data Platform to create behavior-based audience segments that allow for direct, personalized communications to different targets. “We started thinking about people, not devices,” says Atsushi Yasumuro, senior manager of digital marketing at Subaru. “Buyers who just started to consider and those who are almost decided are quite different in character, and using the same advertisement for both is not effective.”
To personalize the customer experience, Subaru aggregated all of its first-party customer data and merged it with third-party data—then used that data to drive every customer interaction, personalizing experiences in new ways that kept customers coming back for more. Treasure Data helped in some key areas: customer segment identification, prediction of trends, and demand forecasting.
Winning Over Millennials with Exceptional Customer Experience
Hyper-connected, socially informed and knowledge-driven, Millennials are deeply suspicious of being sold to. What they are looking for is conversation. They are eager to engage. They want to participate. It needs to be a two-way interaction. If you can adapt accordingly—and invest in creating relevant experiences for consumers—you will succeed in winning their approval and their business.