How to Successfully Reach Gen Y

Millennials don’t come in one shape or size. Extraordinarily diverse, they comprise a multitude of ethnicities, family structures, and ways of life. What they do have in common is a high degree of comfort with new technologies and big consumers of entertainment. On the flip side, they’re known for their short attention spans across multiple channels. This can make them a real challenge to reach.

Millennial woman holding cellphone

Are they worth the trouble?

According to Comscore, Gen Y millenials hold $170 billion in purchasing power, which, well, kind of makes them worth the extra effort it takes to reach them. So, how can your brand make serious inroads with this somewhat elusive, but surely valuable, crowd?

Without a doubt, a strong mobile and social presence is critical yet, today, is considered table stakes. Even the best mobile and social strategy doesn’t mean you are “targeting” millennials, as there are many other demographics that use mobile and social as well. In order to speak to millennials specifically, your strategy needs to speak to them directly. So, who exactly are they?

Understanding the millennial mindset

The first step is to understand their mindset. Millennials tend to:

  • Quickly filter and judge content before exploring it fully
  • Actively embrace smaller social networks (as they lose interest in Facebook)
  • Identify with brands that advocate for equality and change
  • Be turned off by humor that makes fun of others
  • Access content from multiple channels
  • Expect websites and apps to load quickly

Relevance is key

Millennials skim over anything not relevant to them. Your content—whether a website, Twitter feed, or email campaign—needs to contain design, tone and imagery that speaks to them immediately and personally or they will simply move on. In short, it needs to get through the “me” filter.

Lest you think we’re dealing with attention-challenged narcissists, you have to think of the experiences that shaped them. Born into the information age, skimming became a necessary survival tactic and tailored, on-demand content their birth right. For example, they are the first generation to grow up with personalized TV programming. Could they imagine having to sit through the entire evening news waiting for something relevant to them? Or worse, for the next show to begin?

Keep it small

Back in February, Pew Internet released findings that millennials increasingly view Facebook as a social obligation rather than the exciting network it once was. Instead, millennials are actively trying out multiple niche networks that are smaller and more personalized. Think Tumblr, Vine, Quora, and Instagram

GE 6SecondScience Fair is fueled by Vine and Tumblr:

It’s a two-way street

Perhaps the biggest difference in the millennial mindset is an expectation that brands will engage with them directly. In previous generations, a public one-on-one conversation between a consumer and a business was rare, and brand adaptation to consumer demands occurred behind the scenes. Gen Y, on the other hand, was born with the expectation that brands could and should be held accountable over social media, and that the consumer have a voice in telling companies what they want. By responding to consumer comments (the good and the bad), brands foster a sense of trust and become known for a willingness to work with their customers.

Spirited, just not mean-spirited

Millennials, like the rest of us, love humor. However, they prefer smart humor to humor at the expense of others. In fact, it appears that turning the spotlight on ones own brand with a little bit of self-deprecating humor can go a long way (“Principles of Marketing, Kotler & Armstrong”).

Be the change

Millennials are an idealistic and altruistic generation, with strong feelings about equality and a powerful interest in improving the status quo. Brands can provide a way to change the world (by supporting your business). As a result, some of the most successful campaigns aimed at millennials tap into this sensitivity.

An animated video by Chipotle

Chipotle associates their brand with social change with a touching animated video and free game. (

A recent Chipotle campaign raises awareness about the troubling state of the US food industry and gives the viewer an opportunity to advocate for change (by supporting Chipotle). A video game further engages the viewer on this topic for an extended brand experience.

Do you have a good example of a brand that is successful in reaching out to millennials? We’d love to hear from you!

Categories: Digital Marketing
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