Your Traditional Marketing Tactics Don't Work on Millennials: Here's How to Adjust

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John Bonini
John Bonini



Let's level. Are Millennials just tablet-toting whiners living in their parents' basements?

In short, no. Of course not. But we're marketers; the only part of that much belabored stereotype we care about is maybe the tablet-toting part. What's more interesting is the fact that, according to USA Today, Millennials represent the largest demographic in the United States. Now that matters, and so does knowing how we can communicate with them.

Recently, Brian Halligan published an article on Inc. -- "How Millennials Think, and What to Do About It" -- where he concluded Gen Y’ers are more motivated by the mission rather than money. “They want to transform a broken industry, save the planet, feed the starving, etc.,” said Halligan. This idealistic undercurrent carries over to their buying behavior, as well. In order to feel invested, they need to believe in your product and the message behind it.

Along with the rise of the Millennial, then, comes a change in many people's buyer persona -- and the time has come to recognize once again that our traditional methods of targeting this persona may not be working. I've written about this extensively in my latest ebook, The Guide to Marketing to Millennials, but in this post I just want to break down how you can shift some of your more traditional methods of marketing to appeal to the Millennial generation.

Direct Mail

When it comes to your direct mail strategy, here’s the thing; it’s not working. 

To help illustrate the decline in engagement with physical media, one only needs to look at music sales. In 2013, CD sales dropped 13%, while digital formats increased 9.1%. Millennials don’t necessarily value the touch and feel of a product -- but rather the ease of acquisition and use of a product.

The same goes for mail. Most even pay their bills electronically, rendering the mailbox a place often reserved for an ever-growing pile of recycling. Says Tracy Lewis, senior consultant at PR 20/20, “I rarely see traditional advertising. Aside from bills and birthday cards, mail goes straight into the recycling 

How to Adjust

Shift your mindset dramatically. If you're used to direct mail, I think you'll find the easiest transition into more Millennial-friendly turf in email marketing. It'll help promote new products or services in a similar way to direct mail -- one piece of content for one person -- but allows you to personalize your messaging more easily, and more efficiently, than personalized print marketing. These efficiencies will enable you to reallocate budget to other aspects of your marketing strategy.

And, most importantly, it’s measurable. Direct mail is often feast or famine, but email marketing is easier to track and improve upon. By analyzing open and clickthrough rates, you can more effectively make the necessary adjustments to increase conversion rates.

Email Blasts to Purchased Lists

The days of blasting emails to purchased lists -- or to your entire contact database for that matter -- are over. It provides very little context and minimal return in comparison to the more personalized methods synonymous with inbound marketing.

Keep in mind that Millennials grew up with caller ID. They were early adopters of luxuries like TiVo and Hulu. They’ve been marking emails as spam since Boy Meets World was on the air. They’re extremely adept at recognizing spam and blocking it out altogether -- and then creating their own blog to make fun of you for email spamming them.

How to Adjust

Before you consider ditching your entire email strategy, understand that Millennials are still utilizing it. According to a study by Pew Research Center, 90% of Millennials use the internet to send and receive email at least occasionally.

Therefore, it’s not them; it’s you.

Utilizing a marketing automation platform, introduce a little context into your email marketing strategy. By segmenting your contacts into lists based on demographics and behavior on your website, you can more effectively target your emails to the right audience and experience greater returns as a result. 

The skeptics will point to volume. “But I can get even more contacts from a list than I could ever get from my own database.” The retort is a simple one; a smaller list of relevant, targeted contacts is far more valuable than a higher volume of prospects that will simply drop you in their spam folder.

Print & TV Advertising

It’s not that Millennials aren’t watching shows or reading magazines -- they simply have a much different method of doing so.

Millennials all but created second screen viewership, using online streaming in order to access their favorite shows anywhere. The same applies to reading their favorite magazines. It’s more convenient to stream your favorite show or read a magazine on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

While live TV still dominates, Millennials are watching 5 hours and 39 minutes of video online every week, a number that has continued to rise. And while newspaper circulation continues to decline – nearly 20% since 2003, it has become imperative for marketers to discover alternate methods of reaching younger audiences.

How to Adjust

While TV advertising can still be effective as a whole -- although more so if you have a big budget -- relying on mass media as a sole method of promotion moving forward will prove to be ineffective. Consider how Millennials prefer to view video. They want it on-demand. Whether it's through their tablet or through TiVo, they’ve found ways around advertisements.

As Millennials redirect their attention to a second screen, so should you. There’s tons of video online that your audience is viewing. Find out where, and look into methods of advertisement there ... or better, yet creating your own online videos and amping up your YouTube presence. The same applies to print; Millennials prefer digital subscriptions to the touch and feel of paper. Considering the nature of your product or service, shift your budget away from physical media as much as possible in order to attract a more digital, multi-screen generation of buyers. May I suggest, say, a blog as your own version of the digital magazine?

Cold Calling

This is exactly the kind of solicited marketing initiative that simply won’t resonate with the Millennial market. At all. (Actually, is there any generation with which cold calling resonates?)

Technology has enabled us to learn more about prospects before a call is ever placed. And they know this. As a result, Millennials expect a more personalized, engaging experience in order to solve their problems.

“We care about authenticity, we care about sustainability,” says Brianne Carlon, content marketing director at Kuno Creative. “Don’t try to trick us; give us something real and useful. Tell us a story. Better yet, make it funny.”

Relying on cold outreach as a method of prospecting will yield nothing but a ton of hang-ups ... and perhaps even a few expletives.

How to Adjust

Stop doing it. Well … the “cold” part of it, anyways. Stop prospecting over the phone. Younger buyers don’t respond to this. Instead, let your content do the prospecting and educating for you. That’s ultimately what they’re looking for, a resource to assist in their decision-making process.

Reallocate budget and focus your marketing efforts on creating resourceful content that effectively shortens your sales process. This means less time on the phone. And more importantly, the time spent on the phone is with quality leads, ensuring a more efficient, personalized conversation and higher close rates.

PPC Advertising

“Millennials are a skeptical bunch,” says David Wells, founder of Inbound Now. “If there is a bunch of marketing/sales jargon behind a specific product, an alarm immediately goes off.” But PPC advertising can be tricky in the sense that, when targeting the appropriate audience and channels, it can still be effective with Gen Y’ers. 

Therefore, ditching PPC altogether isn’t the answer. Instead, supplementing your PPC campaign with other effective strategies consistent with Millennial behavior will help to maximize results.

How to Adjust

Millennials are taking to social media as a method of performing search queries almost as much as search engines.

According to a recent study by Telefonica, “57% of them use search engines to find information on restaurants, nightlife, entertainment and services. Nearly as many (52%), however, said they also use social media a.”

It’s nearly a split, which means allocating your entire online advertising budget toward PPC won’t deliver the type of results you expect or may have experienced in the past. Supplementing your PPC campaign with social media advertising, however, has never been more essential.

Using Facebook’s model as an example, you could target your ads to a specific demographic based on age, gender, or location, and establish a complementary organic presence with potential to be even more effective than PPC.

Banner blindness, coupled with the fact that Millennials spend 8 hours a week on social media -- more than any other generation -- stresses the importance of valuing social adverting and organic social presence as much as you do PPC.

Tone it Down

If you’ve noticed, there’s an obvious underlying theme here of a generation extremely adept at blocking out unwanted marketing messages, and more importantly, seeking out brands that provide the substance and engagement they’re looking for.

Millennials come equipped with a fairly accurate BS radar, if you will, meaning it’s critical that you adjust your tone in order to engage them more effectively -- no matter what marketing channel.

They’re adverse to sales pitches. Rather than being sold to, they prefer doing the research on their own in order to make decisions. They value conversation. Think walkie-talkie over megaphone. 

The need for engaging and resourceful content has never been greater thanks to the buying behavior of Millennials and their thirst for information. Consider adding someone to your team with strong written, oral, and communication skills that can more accurately convey the message to your personas in a manner that speaks to and with Millennials, rather than for and at them. Work hard to include them in the conversation. If not, the conversation will be happening somewhere else -- without you.

This is a guest post by John Bonini (@Bonini84), marketing director at IMPACT Branding & Design. Visit the IMPACT Blog for more content from John and the agency.

Image credit: Themeplus

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