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Marketing to Millennials: Be true to your mission and your valuesMarketing to Millennials: Be true to your mission and your values

Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) comprise the generation that started “question authority,” gave social innovation its spark, and by the time we reached middle age, had throttled up to consumerism. For middle-class Boomers, getting married; a college education; and owning one’s home, a couple of cars, a boat, an airplane, and a second vacation home was not only desirable, it was financially possible. Marketing to this group was founded on middle-class consumerism. Cessna’s slogan, “We Teach The World To Fly,” had a motive. By developing pilots, Cessna primed a purchasing pump to push us toward buying and owning reasonably priced personal or business aircraft. Furthermore, there were enough of us who could and would to make that concept work.

New consumers—different story on income and wealth

Things today are different, thanks to the 70.6 million American Millennials (born after 1980), who are now adults between 18 and 34 years of age. A 2014 Pew Research study, Millennials in Adulthood Detached from Institutions, Network with Friends, says it all. While college-educated Millennials are faring much better financially than those with high school educations, the median U.S. household income has stagnated at below 1999 income levels (and the wealth gap is increasing). Millennials have very high levels of student loan debt. Yet as a whole, Millennials still view their future prospects with great optimism.

Traditional behaviors and consumption patterns do not apply

The Millennial generation is a larger consumer group than the Boomers, but they also have more choices and more options than any generation before. The adults of this generation are realistic about their economic situation (they suffered the Great Depression of 2007). They are more willing to rent than buy a house; ride sharing and car sharing is not only a smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do (Uber, Zip Car). Millennials are getting married, but they are putting off marriage longer than previous generations. Most importantly, they have created strong personal networks of friends, colleagues, and affinity groups. Sharing socially is not just sharing information to say, “Look at me.” It’s how friends help friends make informed choices.

Millennials are also being called “digital natives” because they are the first generation to grown up entirely using new technology and are immensely comfortable with all things digital. What may be the most striking from a perspective of marketing, branding, and serving these customers is their unfaltering commitment to five core values—happiness, passion, diversity, sharing, and discovery.

Katie Elfering, a consumer strategist with CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights Research, explains this very well in the webinar “Inside the Millennial Mind” and e-book Inside the Millennial Mind, The Marketer’s Handbook. She narrows marketing to Millennials down to three key areas. “First, understand and speak to the values that drive them—happiness, passion, diversity, sharing and discovery. Second, understand their realistic lifestyles and experiences and find ways to amplify their reality. And, finally, make sure they feel informed and involved, not just marketed to,” she says.

Brands that understand this will seek customer engagement not demand it. Nike’s latest ad is directed toward that end, using the hashtag #BETRUE. It also means your customers will engage in sharing their experiences (good or bad) about your company or product over the Internet.

Making your brand and its products or services sound good isn’t enough—it’s also about doing good by providing useful or socially mindful products and services. This generation is leading the movement toward certified B-Corps, an effort to redefine business success as serving society and shareholders equally. And by shareholders we don’t just mean stockholders. For example, the founders of a rapidly expanding craft brewery in my town consider their shareholders the community, which includes customers, area nonprofits, their staff, and the environment. Their Beer is Love program includes weekly Pints For A Cause events and their new building incorporates an indoor climbing wall for employees.

What does learning to fly offer the Millennial generation besides a possible career? Learning to fly is inherently a catalyst for personal growth and change. The top five Millennial values—happiness, passion, diversity, sharing, and discovery—may as well have been invented by pilots. The problem is that the Millennial generation can find many more activities providing the same values. If you are a small, boutique flight school, the best practice is to provide an excellent service, be authentic—say what you do, do what you say, but have some fun with your messages. Engage with your customers in the digital world and make your company as inclusive and community minded as possible.

For more information:
2014 Pew Research study, Millennials in Adulthood Detached from Institutions.

Inside the Millennial Mind Katie Elfering, Inside the Millennial Mind, The Marketer’s Handbook.

Inside the Millennial Mind: The Do’s & Don’ts of Marketing to this Powerful Generation (Patrick Spenner, Forbes, 4/16/2014).

*The generations defined

The Millennial Generation
Born: After 1980
Age of adults in 2014: 18 to 33*
Share of adult population: 27 percent
Share non-Hispanic white: 57 percent
Ind 50 percent; Dem 27 percent; Rep 17 percent

Generation X
Born: 1965 to 1980
Age in 2014: 34 to 49
Share of adult population: 27 percent
Share non-Hispanic white: 61 percent
Ind 39 percent; Dem 32 percent; Rep 21 percent

The Baby Boom Generation
Born: 1946 to 1964
Age in 2014: 50 to 68
Share of adult population: 32 percent
Share non-Hispanic white: 72 percent
Ind 37 percent; Dem 32 percent; Rep 25 percent

The Silent Generation
Born: 1928 to 1945
Age in 2014: 69 to 86
Share of adult population: 12 percent
Share non-Hispanic white: 79 percent
Dem 34 percent; Ind 32 percent; Rep 29 percent

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