Millennial marketers should throw out their lists

Apr 30, 2014

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

How to solve the "Millennial mystery" for marketers is still hotly debated in business circles. All too frequently, pundits write articles centered on Top 10, seven or five lists of recommendations.

Sifting through the stack of material in my office, I had a revelation that the key to reaching a nirvana-like state in your own Millennial marketing efforts can be boiled down to just a simple Top three list:

  1. Stop making Top 10 lists to define your Millennial marketing strategy.
  2. Accept there is no recipe or formula that can reliably predict marketing success with Millennials.
  3. Understand that lists, recipes, and formulas that attempt to box in our precious Millennial targets are simply evidence to the people whose brand love we seek that we persist in our old school thinking.

As well covered in a recent article, the "kids" have grown up. If we defined Millennials as 19 to 29 in 2005, they’re 28 to 38 now and seeking the same things their older siblings, aunts and uncles, even parents, have asked of their favorite brands over the years.

Solid value, product quality, good (better) customer service are what Millennials seek and their expressed desire for transparency and clarity from brands is something that every consumer wants. It might just be the Millennial legacy to consumer marketing that they were the first generation to summon the courage to clearly demand straight talk from brands.

No doubt that the information transparency enabled by the proliferation of the internet, mobile devices and WiFi connectivity has given Millennials the tools to learn more, share more and also to have their voices heard by brands in a more powerful way.

The question remains, what do we do with all that we have learned?

Looking into today’s consumer markets, I see Sephora and Lancôme each centering their customer loyalty efforts on mobile and digitally driven strategies. I see Panera Bread "surprise and delight" its customers with a program that so far has avoided use of an explicitly rewarded currency. And I’ve seen companies as diverse as AMC theaters and Kickback Rewards/Phillips 66 making their loyalty programs work in real time with points being earned, redeemed and communication of new offers being made as part of the customer visit experience.

It is in this spirit that we are expanding the boundaries of contextual loyalty with each passing day. While there isn’t a formula for whipping up a successful loyalty or engagement program with Millennials, there is a new sandbox in which to play. Remembering that our customers are human beings is a good place to start.

What do marketers need to understand about creating marketing and engagement campaigns for Millennials? What do you think the generation’s legacy will be to consumer marketing?

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12 Comments on "Millennial marketers should throw out their lists"

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Kelly Tackett

I can pare it down even further … to three words. Authenticity. Relevance. Diversity.

Dick Seesel
Of course, anybody who comments about marketing to Millennials (including me) will be guilty of punditry, too! But there are two key issues that jump out: 1. First, Gen Y consumes news and entertainment in tech-enabled formats that make “old media” a tougher sell for marketers and media planners. Instead of drive-time radio, they listen to Pandora or XM during drive time. (Assuming they actually live in the suburbs and drive to work, which is not a safe assumption.) Instead of watching TV on the networks’ schedules, they fast-forward through ads while binge-watching series on Netflix. And the drop in print newspaper circulation is an irreversible trend, with a big impact on the power of circular advertising. 2. Second, there has been a lot of comment about Millennials being more “tribal” than their Baby Boomer parents. This affects not only location strategies (the “new urbanism”) but especially the impact of word-of-mouth advertising. Social networking has become the tech-enabled “back fence” where virtual neighbors can share opinions and recommendations about all sorts of goods and services. Both of these issues point to the growing empowerment of the consumer. Again, this is a trend that will onlly gain strength with time, and… Read more »
Max Goldberg

Just as one size did not fit all for boomers, so too, Millennials resist being put into convenient marketing boxes. Social, personal and responsive will be the legacy of this generation to consumer marketing.

Millennials, for all their time staring at screens, want to be social. They don’t trust marketers, preferring recommendations from friends and even strangers.

They expect to receive personal communications from brands they interact with. Messages should be tailored to their desires and needs. In return, they will give loyalty and repeat purchases.

Millennials were raised to believe that their opinions count, so they expect everyone to be responsive to their comments and needs. Mass marketing won’t reach this group, but being responsive will. Brands, no matter how big, need to take their comments seriously and treat each consumer with respect. Respond quickly.

All of this said, brands should be careful that in chasing the next big thing -Millennials – they do not lose sight of boomers, the folks that hold the pursestrings and have the disposable income.

Warren Thayer

This is refreshing common sense. Treat customers like human beings, not arm-length mysteries. And if they’re communicating via different channels, be there. Hanifin is totally spot-on with “Solid value, product quality, good (better) customer service are what Millennials seek and their expressed desire for transparency and clarity from brands is something that every consumer wants.” I hope he is right on their legacy, too.

Naomi K. Shapiro
Naomi K. Shapiro
3 years 4 months ago

My answer to the discussion question is all of the answers to the poll question: What is the most important thing to remember when creating marketing campaigns for Millennials?

I would choose “all of the choices given,” if that were one of the poll choices instead of just one.

  • They are unique and need special treatment
  • They communicate in different channels
  • They need clarity and transparency
  • They will become more like older generations as they age
  • Not sure/No opinion
Ralph Jacobson

I agree that Millennials are aging quickly, not just in years, but also in maturity of consumer desires. I do think that they are really the first true social generation, less bound by physical barriers. This group of consumers does still have a strong loyalty propensity toward brands. However, to capture that loyalty, brands need to find that compelling characteristic that resonates with them. That seems to be the biggest challenge for marketers.

I think the legacy for Millennials as far as consumer marketing is concerned will be the realization that some of their favorite brands may not necessarily be the best quality, they just may be the most compelling to their lifestyle.

gordon arnold

It is impossible to communicate with individuals and groups when you don’t speak to them in a language they respond to while at the same time being in a place where they very often position themselves to learn or observe. So if this is important, hire someone with the ability to get in touch and communicate with those you want listening to your message. Like a Millennial, for instance, to do your talking and report back on how the messages might be improved for listening and enrollment purposes.

Mark Price

Millennials are the first generation to leverage the transparency of the web in the search for strong customer experience and good value. Brands can no longer hide behind their advertising to create an image for consumers; rather, Millennials trust direct feedback from other customers, family and friends more than any other form of communication.

Marketers must learn to package up consumer feedback, reviews and input and facilitate Millennials in their search for this information. That strategy will prove, in general, to be more effective than any advertising a brand can do.

Al McClain
Al McClain
3 years 4 months ago

This applies to other demographic groups too, but I suggest marketers stop responding to consumer inquiries on social media with canned messages. You see upset consumers pouring their hearts out to brands on social media and can pretty much see that the response is #547, or whatever. Not the best way to get Millennials to see your brand as authentic or trustworthy.

George-Marie Glover
George-Marie Glover
3 years 4 months ago

Do only Millennial’s shop at Sephora and Lancome, eat at Panera Bread, or go to see movies at AMC theaters? It seems that if marketing efforts are narrowing their focus on a single generation, they may be neglecting a large part of their potential customer base.

It’s true that Millennials interact differently and are more adept at navigating and engaging with social media that requires new thinking from marketers on how to reach them. However, many baby-boomers, though behind the curve, are shifting how they communicate in response to technological trends. They, too, are ditching cable and shifting to Netflix and Hulu. Their lack of demanding transparency in the past may have been from recognizing hype for what it was and depending on their own judgement on whether a product delivered on its promise. Millennials’ demand for transparency and relying on third party recommendations is a force to be reckoned with and demands a higher level of authenticity.

The question shouldn’t be about how you reach Millennials. It should be about how you reach your customers – some of whom just happen to be Millennials.

Brian Kelly
3 years 4 months ago

They are digital natives. They expect brand relationships to be frictionless. They will drive brands to a seamless relationship.

Bill Hanifin

Thanks for the comments on this post from the group. Your contributions are always insightful and additive to the subject matter.

Just one more comment on the “punditry” that takes place around Millennial Marketing and other subjects in the business world – I witnessed a strong emphasis on building a “personal brand” during the first round of digital marketing adoption by business in 2006 – 2008. Seems we were all encouraged to build huge followings and get our names out there via any means necessary to grab the real estate known as “expert in my industry.”

I fell prey to this tail-chasing exercise like many others, but now realize that substance has to rule over noise if one is to garner a true “following” of any kind. I’m comforted too that Google has moved in this direction and rewards publishers of well conceived original content.

If transparency, authenticity, relevance, clarity is what Millennials are looking for, the shift to substance being rewarded should be noticed not just by the search engines, but by business people and consumers as well.


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