Five Things You Should Know About Marketing to Millennials

Modern Marketing


I have a confession. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t realize I was a millennial.

I know. That seems horrifically unaware. It’s just that millennials get a bad rap, and my parents instilled so much self-worth in me that I thought the negative millennial descriptors couldn’t possibly apply, right?

Oh, my parents building me up to think I’m great is a tell-tale millennial attribute? As is an uncanny sense of optimism? And my tendency to justify clothing purchases by cost-per-wear?

So you’re saying that I’m essentially the millennialist millennial in a sea of millennials?!?!

This diagnosis was really brought to light at Marketo’s company-wide Revenue Kickoff meeting earlier this month. Jamie Gutfreud, Global Chief Marketing Officer of Wunderman, gave an incredible presentation titled “It’s Already Tomorrow,” i.e. the future of marketing is already here. The insights into the differences between Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (i.e. millennials), and—scariest of all—Generation Z were eye-opening.

What struck me most—because apparently I am a self-absorbed millennial—was how the environment in which my peers and I grew up has shaped who we are. As Jamie said, it creates “your orientation in the world.” And millennials have had a lot of things to orient us, from the DotCom boom (and bust), 9/11, and the 2008 economic downturn.

With that, here are five things you need to know about marketing to millennials:

We Are Confident

As the children of Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, we millennials spent our formative years being patted on the back and praised for just about everything we did. You colored inside the lines? That’s great. You want to play all the sports? Awesome. You burped? Bravo!

This is because our parents were the products of darker times, and hyper aware of all the ways in which our childhoods could go wrong. In our school and home environments, the adults in our lives made sure we were set up for success.

In this way, millennials respond well to getting our ego stroked. Remember that our self-worth is high, so we don’t necessarily need brands or brand messages to feed us that extra boost. We also like to hear messages that add value to our lives. Help us, and we will help you by supporting your business.

It’s like Demi Lovato, international pop star and fellow millennial says, “What’s wrong with being confident?”

We Are Optimistic

Doom and gloom is not the M.O. of the average millennial. And September 11th, one of the darkest events of the last half century, is ironically what cemented our sense of optimism.

Losing our sense of security not just as a nation but as a generation created a juxtaposition between the new world order and how it had been before. Or, as optimistic millennials decided, how it could be again. Millennials have largely been fighting to regain that sense of security ever since and believe that in fact we can get there.

As marketers, there’s an opportunity to feed this optimism. In keeping with the “help me help you” sense of confidence I mentioned earlier, help millennials make the world better, and your messages will not only resonate, but become action.

We Are Creative

Jamie’s creativity point—which also stems from a strong confidence base—really stuck with me. Our parents told us that if we did well in school and went to college, we would get jobs, and everything would be champagne wishes and caviar dreams (ok, small exaggeration, but you get the idea).

But then the economy tanked, and millennials collectively had a quarter life crisis: Why don’t I have a job? Why am I not happy? Why hasn’t anyone given me my own reality show? The transition to adulthood was rough—and no one gave us a heads up!

Luckily, we’re a resilient bunch. When I was 23, I looked around at my group of close friends from college and realized that all but one of us had changed career paths within two years of graduating. We were nimble, we were creative, and while none of my friends were the founders of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, or any other new-age service company, it was our millennial peers who created the sharing economy. How’s that for creativity? “Oh, the classic economy isn’t giving us what we need? Let’s shake it up.”

It’s the millennial generation that has helped to reshape the American Dream into something that involves a creative idea, some seed funding, and an IPO. While this paradigm is likely to shift again soon (i.e. if and when the startup bubble bursts—and history tells us it will burst), marketing messages that speak to this creativity, this one-size-does-not-fit-all approach, is crucial in reaching this audience.

The key is about keeping the message personal, and with today’s technology, you have the capability to tailor messages in a way that speaks to this generation.

We Are More Than Our Devices

And speaking of technology, something I love about my generation is that while we are technology experts, we are not technology dependents. We can still remember a time when there was no wifi, not everyone owned a cellphone, when computers were slow, and when the whole world didn’t speak in hashtags. I like to refer to this time as B.E.–Before Emoji.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate what sets us apart is to delve a little deeper into our Gen Z successors. These kids were essentially born with an iPad in their hand. They have PayPal accounts instead of credit cards. They make purchases via their phones. They know their credit score at age 17.

This is the stuff my nightmares are made of.

Taking this point of reference into account, there’s a nuance in the way we should be spoken to. We see value in “unplugging” and in the balance between online and offline interaction. There needs to be a full, omni-channel approach to how we’re marketed to, because we move between our online and offline worlds seamlessly.



This incriminating photo (of me) shows that while millennials may not have been born with iPads in their hands, some were given access to 80s-era desktop computers at a very early age.

We Are Going to Have Babies

To close, I’m going to share my own personal theory with you, marketer to marketer. As more and more millennials start families, I predict that there will be a shift in the way in which our Gen Z (or whatever generation comes after Gen Z…do we start at A again?) kids approach technology. This is because millennials remember what it’s like to play outside—without technology. We remember what it’s like to read a book—without technology. And we remember what it’s like to be bored—without technology.

The adage of our grandparents may have been that they had to walk to school eight miles in three-feet of snow and it was uphill both ways. We will tell our kids—and our kids’ kids—how our parents sent us out in the yard with nothing to play with but a flat tennis ball and our imagination.

The ability to take something—anything—and transform it into something incredible—isn’t that what marketing is all about?