There’s been some disagreement about which age groups are actually considered “real” Millennials. Some argue the range should start in 1982, others say it should extend to 2000.
But we can put that issue to rest thanks to the Pew Research Center, which stated: the Millennial generation encompasses those born between 1981-1996. Meaning, those currently aged 25-40 are the “real” Millennials.
As the first generation to reach adulthood in the new millennium, Millennials grew up in an increasingly interconnected, tech-focused world. And while these advances proved exciting in many ways, they also created a generation lacking in interpersonal skills and overrun with anxiety and depression.
Add in a culture of constant comparison fostered by the internet and extreme pressure to be successful, and, understandably, Millennials have fallen prey to a high level of insecurity — personally, socially, and financially.
Things that were once routine, such as buying a house, holding down a well-paid job, or supporting children, aren’t as easy as they once were.
This generation is defined by a contradictory combination of confidence and insecurity — where one ends and the other begins is hard to accurately measure. So, how do you speak to such a confused audience?
As a brand manager, you know how vital it is to possess a deep knowledge of your target audience — their likes and dislikes. And if Millennials make up a part of that audience — whether a small section or pretty much the whole thing — you need to know how to speak to them.
While some brands have previously preyed on that insecurity to sell products or services, going forward, a generation as “woke” as Millennials will see right through this kind of brand messaging.
Instead, you need to figure out how to connect emotionally, show empathy, and make Millennials see that you understand their struggles in your me.
This article will take a look at some of the ways brands can better communicate with Millennials to establish greater brand loyalty and overall connection.
What Sets Millennials Apart?
Each generation has its defining characteristics.
For the Baby Boomers, it’s living the 9-to-5 lifestyle with a house, a minivan, and 2.5 children. Having grown up without technology, they value in-person relationships and love to give advice to younger generations.
Generation X, or “the lost generation”, was deeply impacted by their parents’ workaholism and, consequently, focused more on maintaining a good work-life balance and waited longer to marry and have kids.
Then we come to the Millennials. Dubbed “The Me Me Me Generation” by Time magazine and “confident, entitled, and depressed” by Psychology Today, Millennials don’t exactly have the best reputation. But how much of it is really their fault?
As Harvard Medical School professor Ralph Ryback explains, many “stressors and mental illnesses are probably multi-factorial, driven by the hardships of society, the obsession with technology,” and the lack of well-developed interpersonal skills.
From multiple economic crises to vastly increased reported mental health issues, Millennials have had a tough go of it so far — their insecurity is warranted and understandable. But at the end of the day, they want what most everyone wants: to be seen, heard, understood, and appreciated.
Therefore, when marketing to Millennials, there are a few golden rules you should follow.
Marketing to Millennials: The Do’s And Don’ts
For decades, marketers have used consumers’ insecurities to sell them things they probably don’t need. From cars to diet pills to luxury fashion, brands have focused on making consumers feel inadequate — unless they buy their products, of course.
But, as a generation raised on technology and the internet, Millennials aren’t easily fooled by these cheap attempts to play on their insecurities. (And the same goes for Gen Z).
Which brings us to our first rule.
1. Do: Show Empathy and Be Honest (Don’t: Prey on Consumers’ Insecurities)
While they struggle with certain types of insecurity, Millennials are also a generation that have been encouraged to be more accepting of themselves and others. Loving yourself and your flaws is in.
What once worked faultlessly to rope in new customers is now seen for what is it — underhanded attempts to play on people’s insecurities and make an easy profit.
So, as a brand manager, if you want to connect with Millennials, start by being honest. Pull back the curtain and let them authentically explore your brand.
Instead of saying “Buy this product because it will make you prettier/happier/more popular”, show them that what’s important to them is important to you.
A great example of this principle can be found in Lush’s “How It’s Made” video series. In a time when brand authenticity is more important than ever, it’s vital that you work on building brand empathy with your target audience.
Lush knows that its customers value ethically sourced, sustainable products. So, in an effort to show transparency and solidarity, Lush created this video series — which features the actual people who make their products.
The video’s stars are real people — obviously not paid actors. And because of this, customers get an authentic, empathetic look into the brand. By focusing on what their customers really care about, Lush is able to connect with them.
And how do we know that Lush is targeting Millennials?
Based on research we conducted with our own advanced brand tracking software, we found that female Millennials represent one of Lush’s most aware and engaged audiences, reporting 39% brand awareness.
Clearly, Lush’s brand manager understands this concept and has done a great job of changing up its brand messaging to better connect with its Millennial audience.
2. Do: Make Your Brand Accessible (Don’t: Overcomplicate Your Message)
These days, young people want to understand the world around them. This desire has been cultivated by the internet — all the knowledge you could want at the tip of your fingers.
Want to learn how to make a table? YouTube has a video for that. Interested in mastering a new language? There are apps galore.
However, some brands still don’t hit the mark. For example, mattress brand Purple launched a bizarre web series called “Purple Boys”, where they hired two comedians to conduct trippy, off-topic interviews.
Instead of providing consumers with an honest look into the company, Purple’s brand manager chose to create something nonsensical that pulled focus away from its products. As a brand that targets Millennials, they should have known better than to release something so overly complicated.
As a brand manager, how can you speak to Millennials’ shared desire for knowledge without overcomplicating your brand messaging?
By making your brand accessible and focusing on sharing your knowledge in a straightforward manner.
Millennials want to understand what it is you do, how you do it, and why they should trust you. Choices are endless these days, so you have to learn how to stand out from the crowd.
A brand that is excelling in this area is Robinhood. The up-and-coming financial app focuses a great deal on making finance accessible to everyone.
Source: Robinhood Blog
With an entire digital library of resources — teaching users about everything from capital gain taxes to the Dow — Robinhood has done an outstanding job of keeping its brand messaging simple and accessible.
By serving as not only an app for trading and investing but also an educational hub for Millennials to learn the basics of financial literacy, they are meeting the needs of an entire generation. Well done, Robinhood.
3. Do: Strive to Form Real Emotional Connections (Don’t: Hijack Important Issues to Further Your Brand)
Let’s be honest, Millennials know when you’re only talking the talk (and not walking the walk).
Pretty much everything can be found out on the internet. It’s a huge mistake to try and hijack an important issue — be it social, political, or environmental — for your own gain.
From rainbow-washing to greenwashing, there are many pitfalls you need to avoid as a brand manager.
So, how do you forge deeper emotional connections with Millennials? Be authentically invested in the issue at hand and ready to show vulnerability and openness.
As a generation, Millennials are far more open about discussing their struggles with mental health than previous generations. From destigmatizing therapy to changing the perspective about what’s appropriate to discuss publically, Millennials are open to connecting with brands that truly care.
Back in March 2021, British chocolate brand Maltesers launched a fantastic campaign, called #TheMassiveOvershare, which focused on destigmatizing post-partum depression and encouraging mothers to be more open about the highs and lows of motherhood.
Yes, they are a chocolate brand and that doesn’t have too much to do with mental health. However, Maltesers knows what its target audience values and delivered.
First, they commissioned a study to take a deep dive into life after baby, which showed that moms are really struggling and often don’t feel comfortable asking for help. Secondly, they released the campaign in March — which coincided with Mother’s Day in the UK and International Women’s Day.
Finally, Maltesers put its money where its mouth was. Teaming up with Comic Relief, they donated £225,000 to support maternal mental health. Plus, this isn’t the first time the brand has put the spotlight on tough emotional issues or donated money to a worthy cause. It’s a habit for this brand.
By tapping into a real issue that many Millennials are facing and approaching it respectfully and empathetically, Maltesers was able to forge an incredibly strong emotional connection with its Millennial audience.
Most importantly, they didn’t hijack an emotionally charged issue solely for their own benefit. They were respectful, open, supportive, and empathetic — everything a Millennial needs to begin trusting a brand.
There’s no magic formula that will help you win the hearts (and brand loyalty) of every Millennial out there. We’d be remiss to suggest all Millennials think the same way or want the same things.
However, as a generation, there are certain general rules that can be applied to your communications with them, which we’ve outlined above.
Want to take it a step further? Really get into the minds of your Millennial customers? Use brand tracking to gather reliable consumer insights that will help you make smarter decisions going forward.