Millennials — marketing to the generations

Broadly speaking, millennials value loyalty. But they also believe that it needs to be earned and to align with their values.

This week, we tackle our last generation in this series on generational marketing—Millennials. With roughly 73 million currently in their cohort, Millennials have overtaken Baby boomers as the largest generation in America. Born between the years 1981 and 1996, this generation is currently between the ages of 23-39. With such an expansive age gap, there is bound to be some bifurcation in ideals and attributes. 

We already discussed how the generational strife between boomers and Millennials has led to several stereotypes. Cue the quintessential eye-roll that accompanies phrases like, “Ok, Boomer.” While phrases like these further exemplify the idea that Millennials believe boomers to be old and out of touch, the opposite is true of how boomers (and frankly, the rest of society) view Millennials. 

Millennials have been routinely characterized as lazy, naive, entitled, underachieving youths who mooch off their parents well into their 30s because they are too commitment-phobic to start a family of their own. While this may be true of some Millennials, it is certainly not true of the vast majority. 

Here are a few stereotypes that we’ve debunked: 

  • Millennials are bad with money and are ridden with student debt. Actually, according to our research, there is a larger segment of the population who is earning more than their predecessors, and that group is led by Millennial women who are earning more than ever before. 
  • They aren’t loyal. While die-hard loyalty was a characteristic of their predecessors, Millennials have a different requirement for their loyalty—authenticity. Regardless of their age and economic status, Millennials across the board desire authenticity from brands. 

Lynn Blashford, VP of marketing for Whitecastle, says that authenticity is not the sole driver for millennial consumers, “but if they’re choosing between two things in the same category, it’s more of a substantiating factor that helps make their decision feel good, which is that emotional connection that every brand is looking for.” *

  • They are participation trophy seekers. This one is actually a true statement. Millennials did grow up as a generation who received participation trophies and had opportunities handed to them unlike any other generation before. However, there is not one subset of the generation left untouched by social trauma within their formative years. They experienced 9/11 when they were in elementary, middle and early high school. And then the economic collapse of 2008 occurred during and right after they graduated from college, making it one of the toughest times in decades to find employment. The list could go further, but rapid change and inconsistency bred this generation to be “bootstrappers.” They work harder than their predecessors give them credit for and their accomplishments have proven that. 
  • They have short attention spans. This is not completely untrue either, however, you have to understand why. Millennials are the first digitally driven generation and have unprecedented access to information. With more access comes a quicker “yes or no” response time. Pair this access with the fact that Millennials can spot inauthenticity from a mile away and you have the why behind the inability to watch entire commercial breaks or tune in to local news over reading excerpts on Twitter. When it comes to Millennials, it pays to get to the point quickly. 
  • They are self-absorbed. Millennials are often viewed as self-absorbed because they have different life priorities than many of their predecessors. Regarded as narcissistic, selfish and shiftless…when they are in fact egalitarian, hardworking, and charitable. Millennials often believe equality for all and that ownership is something to earn, especially after having grown up in one of the worst economic climates in decades. They value sustainability, equality, fairness, practicality and ethical behavior. 

These are just some of the most common stereotypes you might’ve heard about Millennials. But, what does debunking them have to do with your marketing strategy? 

Take the Whitecastle statement from earlier as an example. Blashford* says that their strategy doesn’t directly target Millennials or any other generation based on age. Rather, it’s their long history and product consistency that drives their marketing. So if their campaign reminds hungry consumers that they’ve been serving up the same delicious hamburgers for more than 98 years, this message would sell to both boomers and Millennials for very different reasons. Boomers would buy the hamburgers because they’ve been buying them for decades. Whitecastle is what they grew up with and they’re extremely loyal to that…even if the product consistency doesn’t prove itself over time. Millennials would buy the same exact because, in the 98 years of their company, Whitecastle is just as consistent and transparent as they were at their inception. 

Millennials value loyalty. But, they can’t be bought. Their loyalty has to be earned. And the moment a company or brand steps out of line with their values, they are not afraid to challenge. For example, think anytime a platform owns too much information…cough, cough, Facebook. 

If you’ve found a few biases in your current marketing strategy as it relates to Millenials, never fear, they can be won over. First, you have to view them with fresh eyes, especially if your marketing team is comprised of mainly boomers or Gen Xers, who may still view Millennials as youths when in actuality they are colleagues. 

Millennials will hold the majority of the nation’s wealth in just a few short years, especially once their boomer parents begin to pass the torch. They value experiences over wealth and sustainability over price. They demand equality and equity more than any generation before them, which means that your brand must not only provide them what they need but follow through consistently and align with their values. If you can align your company’s values — as well as your marketing strategies — with that of Millennials, i.e. you value sustainability, practicality, equity, etc., you can win over the Millennial consumer.


*Griffin, Marie. ANA Magazine, 2019. Accessed August 2020. .

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