BrainTrust Query: An Open Letter to Millennials

May 10, 2012

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Hanifin Loyalty blog.

Surveying a recent study of Millennials by The Boston Consulting Group, we can say that the younger generation now outnumbers Boomers, and that they are "Engaged," Optimistic" and "Charitable." Possibly the most useful declaration among the current flood of articles exploring Millennials is that "defining the Millennial Market is not as clear cut as you think."

Instead of relentlessly attempting to analyze and categorize characteristics of the up-and-coming populous in order to sell them more things, we might be better off to consider rounding up a few chairs and engaging in a frank conversation.

A few things I would ask the Millennials:

  • As digital natives, you’re always connected and have one of several devices close. But which do you consider "private" and which do you allow to be peppered with ads, offers, deals and freebies?
  • Digging deeper, since you don’t set up your voicemail and never turn your phone off, the missed call log seems to be the way you monitor who wants to reach you the "old fashioned way." That said, I have a feeling that multiple missed calls from Nordstrom or Best Buy will not be embraced as "they love me," but more like "they annoy me." Agree?
  • If a phone call is not your preference, how about SMS? Even though you text each other until your fingers bleed, I’m not sure that invading your favorite means of talking with friends is a good idea. Agree?
  • Twitter? Foursquare? Your tendency to want it "fast and now" might make this a preferred marketing channel, but will you reject the perception of being manipulated?
  • Maybe our entire conversation should just run through Facebook. After all, this is where you spend hours on end updating personal notes, reading reviews, and browsing retail catalogs. But before I put all my chips on Facebook, I notice that lots of you still like to "showroom" in the mall to touch and feel products that you’ve researched online before you buy them. Agree?
  • What I’m really wondering about is how your proclivity for research pre-purchase and need for immediate gratification will impact our attempts to win your loyalty over the long term for any brand. It seems the need for immediacy, accuracy, value, service and a good price are a cocktail hard for most brands to swallow on a consistent basis.

You should know that the smart ones among our Boomer-marketer group are sincerely attempting to deliver value, communicated through the channel that suits you best. While points and miles may be "lame," we have other ways to make retail commerce fun.

Discussion Questions: What’s missing from current research around Millennials, particularly around how they want brands to communicate with them? What questions would you like answered?

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16 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: An Open Letter to Millennials"

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Ryan Mathews

Bill is right — it’s fatally dangerous to generalize.

For example, Millennials aren’t the only ones who are always on. Coca-Cola assumed that 60 percent of the audience for its Super Bowl ads this year would be operating more than one screen at a time and, clearly, they weren’t all Millennials. I guess the thing that strikes me as missing is the notion of respect for individuals as contrasted for reverence for a demographic cohort. Like Boomers, all Millennials may be created equal but certainly function idiosyncratically.

Problems emerge whenever marketers treat a large group as though they shared one collective and networked mind, so a little sub-segmentation would seem to be in order here. With all due respect to style, I think there is a touch of paternalism here as well, a bit of the, “What is it we advanced life forms can do to make your species happy,” approach to marketing.

Boomers should remember how they felt when the “Greatest Generation” lumped them all together. The, “generation,” that gave us Mitt Romney also gave us Abbie Hoffman.

Just sayin’!

Ken Lonyai

Good questions — ones that everyone wants answered.

One concern is the way in which millennials don’t fully do what they say or intend to do. That probably isn’t unique to that age bracket though. Yet, if you believe that they are so different in their thinking, it might be more effective to use techniques beyond Q&A sessions to extract data about their habits.

Joan Treistman
1. Tell me about 3 of the purchases you made in the past few weeks that you would classify as “the first time I ever bought that item or brand”. 2. (For each item mentioned…) What was it that got you to buy that particular product? Did you need it? Or did you want it? 3. (For each item mentioned…) Where did you buy it? In a store or online? Which store? Which website? 4. How did you find out about each item? Did you know about it before the actual purchase occasion? (For each product) did you read about it online (where), through a conversation (in person or online) through advertising (where), other…. 5. How much time did you spend researching each of the items? What did you need to know before making the purchase? 6. Do you feel the manufacturer or retailer did a great job of telling you what you wanted to know about the product? What information do you feel you would have liked to receive but didn’t? Where would you want to see or hear that information? 7. What, if anything, will you do different next time? 8. What, if anything, do you think manufacturers… Read more »
Adrian Weidmann

This is an amazing conundrum. We baby boomers who are in positions to help brands navigate ‘being digital’ trying to understand the evolution of ‘being digital’ with the millennials. We are living and observing the evolution of being and becoming digital’!

The most significant challenge is the issue of loyalty. My observations suggest that brand loyalty is a very low priority for millennials. We live in a ‘nano-second’ world where immediacy is paramount. The challenge for brands is that millennials expect immediate, accurate, and fast (and free) fulfillment at a competitive price. The brand that delivers that ‘cocktail’ will win that business for that specific shopping event. That success typically doesn’t translate to brand ‘loyalty’. Each shopping event is unique and you have to win that challenge anew every time.

There are two brands that gained customer loyalty with my millennial children- Uggs and BWs (Buffalo Wild Wings) — female and male respectively. The uniqueness of each shopping event may be one reason why Amazon has flourished. Amazon has become a hub to compare products and services. Perhaps brands could use this logic to help their ‘loyal’ shoppers?

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

For additional perspective, I offer a recent research project that I did for IFDA (International Foodservice Distribution Association) which compared Mature Millennials with Mature Baby Boomers. Although the focus was on foodservice, the findings may be of interest to anyone attempting to understand this generation.

The title of the report is “Mature Millennials v. Mature Baby Boomers: Foodservice Similarities, Differences & Opportunities.” If interested, please visit my website for a copy.

Mark Price

I would like to know specifically what kinds of information from a retailer would be viewed as valuable and what information is simply seen as annoying. In addition, I would like to get a better handle on how this segment obtains information that they use in purchase decisions-specifically, and what is the role of their friends and network in helping them make those decisions. Finally, what role can a retailer play in helping to organize friends and networks to make getting information easier?

The other remaining issue is how economic uncertainty is changing the purchase process.

Cathy Hotka

It will be interesting to see what happens with Millennials in the workplace. They’re used to having new devices; when they enter the work world and are issued an older PC, what will their reaction be?

Concetta Phillipps
Concetta Phillipps
5 years 5 months ago

I agree with Ryan Mathews. This list of questions lumps all Millennials in one group, rather than treating them as a bunch of sub groups.

I’m in the “millennial” category, but I’m on the older end of it. My answers would be vastly different than my brother’s, who’s on the younger end with a span of 2 years in between us.

The phone calls and text message ads are annoying. I’ve blocked them all in Google Voice. I don’t really mind the Facebook ones, but it’s irritating how some brands expect Facebook interaction like their brand is a real person — it’s not.

My advice to marketers? Have a well-designed website so we can research products when we need them and can make a decision as to whether we want to go “bricks” or “clicks” to get them. A well-designed website has a mobile version and an iPad friendly version. And easy navigation, by multiple methods. And, good writing so we’re informed about the product.

Nikki Baird

I just moderated a panel of Millennials yesterday at Epicor’s user conference. Some of these questions would be met by looks of confusion by my panel of 6 women and one man. Like the Facebook question. Only 2 panelists were highly engaged on Facebook. The older panelists (mid-20’s) didn’t like it. None of them liked Twitter and only two used it. And they didn’t showroom or mobile price-compare at all. They work at the mall and are surrounded by retail 24/7. So when they see something they like, they buy it. In a store. And absolutely none of them belonged to a loyalty program.

Not representative by any means, but an interesting distinction to me to see that generalizations are indeed dangerous.

Joel Rubinson

I like Joan’s questions. Some version of that which can transport millennials to a more future state in technology and apps would be nice too.

Matt Schmitt

Another question for the list might be to find out what they think of personalized, recommendation engine offers and promotions versus circle of influence and aggregated recommendations and “likes.” Is one better than the other? Does it depend on the category/product/service? Or do the two work hand in hand at all times?

Li McClelland
Li McClelland
5 years 5 months ago

Not to put too fine a point on it Ryan, but Abbie Hoffman was not a boomer. He actually preceded that generation by a full decade. (I very much agree with the basic thrust of your comment about the inherent dangers of generational or age-based marketing collectivism, though.)

Doug Garnett

Excellent opening sentiment. I have, over 20 years, become quite cautious about generalized thinking about younger generations.

Fundamentally, they buy products for the same reasons we all do: when the product gives them a value they want. And they evaluate products as critically as any generation.

But what about media shifts? I remember when my generation was supposed to be so different. And then we grew up and our media consumption looked considerably like prior generations.

There will be some change. But the media shift seems to be primarily augmenting traditional TV rather than replace it. With all these mobile devices, anyone (millennials included) can access programming of certain types anywhere — on the bus, train, or plane. But some solid media studies also show that when they can watch on a big screen, they prefer it. And all generations check out products online before they buy.

As to social media? For millennials I teach in my classes, it remains a specialized medium where you’d be extraordinarily lucky to reach them. That seems pretty clear.

James Tenser
As is evident from the BrainTrust comments here, we are just working out the right questions to ask about how consumers apply mobile-social-local-digital media to their daily consumption and shopping decisions. One important insight worth amplifying is the existence of multiple diversities within and between demographic groups. These are behavioral, attitudinal and demographic in nature, and any one tendency may or may not be predictive of any other. As the baby boomers proved, there may be notable differences in behavior and influence between the leading edge of a population bulge, its numerical peak, and those that follow. We might hypothesize and test for a similar collective experience among millennials. The new digital experiences throw many other wild cards into the equation because they engender fast-evolving behaviors that defy our standard methods of measurement and evaluation. For me, the core lesson of the digital age is that generalizations tend to mislead marketers. Catering to averages — even segment averages — yields below-average performance. The good news is that digital behaviors and preferences can be directly observed. This offers an advantage versus merely asking a sample of individuals what they do or would do with a technology. Assuming millennials continue to tolerate… Read more »
Carlos Arambula

I would like to find more information addressing cultural pluralism and what the trigger points are in exiting “adultescence.”

Ralph Jacobson

Millennials, because of the 5000+ marketing messages with which they have gotten bombarded daily since birth, have a far shorter attention span than Boomers. So, not only must you determine the best channels to reach Millennials, but you must also drive compelling content in your messaging to capture (at least in the somewhat longer term) their attention. Loyalty, too, has a greater vulnerability due to this lack of “stickiness” of the Millennials persona. We Boomers still drive the same brand cars we drove in the ’60s, whereas Millennials will drive whatever is the neatest, coolest ride.


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