Why Marketing to Millennials Is Just Like Marketing to Everyone Else

"Don’t you want kids to be healthy so they can live a long and healthy life?” questioned 9-year-old Hanna Robison to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, making the head of one of the largest corporations in the world uneasy and struggle for an answer like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Before, such questions could easily be bypassed with a patronizing response and a Happy Meal. Today, not so much.

Hannah is part of the Millennial audience, young upstarts who are more skeptical and informed than past generations due to a little thing called the Internet. Not only does she have the opportunity to ask such a question, but she also has the right to be taken seriously.

This is the problem that brands are facing in the Information Age as they are constantly caught off-guard by consumers who now have just as much power as a CMO. How can brands deal with Millennials? Well first, beyond technology and social media, we need to take a look at what they want from the brands they patronize.

  1. Honesty and transparency
  2. To stand for something and be an active part of their community
  3. Quality products and service
  4. Personality

Interestingly enough, the things that Millennials value today are the same things that people wanted from their local businesses and neighbors in small towns centuries ago. Though traditional push marketing is no longer en vogue with Millennials, traditional values still are.

If marketers want to penetrate the Millennial market, they should stop letting labels and technology cloud their judgment—not only to appeal to Millennials, but Baby Boomers, Generation X and their other target audiences. If we are living in the new Wild West, maybe brands should start looking back to the old Wild West for clues on how to survive in the new now.


The General Store Guide to Marketing


Did you ever watch Little House on the Prairie, the show about life in the wild American frontier back when towns consisted mainly of a few dirt roads, doctors made house calls and it was quite common to churn your own butter from the milk you got from cows that morning?

During these simpler times, store owners and sellers of goods were active members of their communities. Unless you were a traveling salesman, everyone knew you, knew your family and knew your business practices. If you were good to people, everyone knew. If you were bad, people knew as well. All people asked is that you were fair.

If you wanted to succeed in business, you need to be an active member of the community—present yourself as respectable to everyone in town. You had conversations, made small talk with housewives and took the time to understand people's needs. Business owners knew their customers, had conversations with them and listened to all their needs. Everyone in the community played a crucial role in a circle of life.

This time in our past represents a perfect model for our current situation.


Respect the User


At Nebo, we consider ourselves a human-centered agency. We put the needs of the end user first. That includes everything from designing a website to creating a PPC ad. Our motto is, “resolve to respect the user.” Brands would be smart to adopt this same philosophy when crafting strategies to appeal to their audiences.

And by respecting the user, we don’t mean being kind or polite. We mean taking the time to listen to your consumers and understand their needs. That’s what brands like Timberland and GE are doing: crafting their new products to fit the needs of the demographic.

Try to have an actual conversation with your audience. Wheat Thins, a brand more associated with the personality of Sandy Duncan, has reaped great rewards by interacting with their consumers on Twitter. Oreo has also reaped great rewards by interacting with their fans on social media and having a personality.

Beyond social, beyond gamification, beyond going mobile, developing apps, being edgy or whatever, you have to respect your audience. These things are great, but they are just tools or tactics, not a strategy in themselves. You have to do just a little research to find out what their motivations are for your specific product or service, build a conversation and respect their wants and needs, then cater to them.


Would You Have a Beer with Your Brand?


Centuries ago, humans developed the capacity for empathy in order to survive in the Stone Age. Brands will have to do the same if they want to survive in the Information Age. Brands are so used to hiding behind industrialization that they forgot there is a human being on the other end of their supply chains. Technology is no longer separating us; it's uniting us, and brands aren’t ready for the reversal.

Politicians have learned this lesson well, often connecting a human story to complex political situations, most famously Joe the Plumber. It has been said that the man who wins the presidency is the person America would want to have a beer with. The person with whom they can go to the bar, knock back a few and have a conversation or gain some insight on their station in life or ways to improve it or advance. The same could be said of brands. Everyone feels pain, feels love and wants to belong to something greater than themselves. The best brands know how to tap into this basic human truth in a authentic and relevant way.

Back in the day, the general store clerk didn’t worry about whether he was selling some feed to a farmer, china to a housewife or candy to school children. He catered his message to each audience but at the end of the day, respected their wants and needs and listened to them, had an actual conversation. Brands can’t hide behind bureaucracy or corporate communications anymore. It’s time to step out into the new wild frontier with an open hand and open heart if you want your business to succeed.

Written by Ken Hammond on October 24, 2013


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Written by
Ken Hammond