Millennials are Really Growing Up Is Your Marketing Ready

Everyone has to grow up eventually, even members of the generation pejoratively known for living in their parents’ basements.

Millennials may have enjoyed an extended childhood compared to past generations, but key indicators show they are behaving more like adults these days, said Bryan Melmed, vice president of Insights Services for advertising intelligence provider Exponential Interactive.

The problem is many marketers are still treating them like they’re digging in the sandbox.

Putting the Toys Aside

“In the past, marketers have relied on stereotypes, geography and demographics in their attempt to reach millennials,” says Melmed. “This led to this generation being marketed to as children. They weren’t perceived to be hitting their adult hallmarks.”

If you want to engage with this group, it’s time to change your marketing ways.

While millennials are starting to act more like adults, it doesn’t mean they’ve turned into clones of their parents. “First and foremost, millennials are starting to hit the milestones that other generations consider essential to 'growing up,' just later in age and while retaining their own unconventional spin. They aren’t swayed by traditionalist pressure. They explore their options and make personal choices,” said Melmed.

What does this mean?

Millennials are having babies and starting families, but they’re not necessarily getting married before they do. They’re interested in building wealth, but they are more interested in entrepreneurship than climbing the corporate ladder. “Silicon Valley is this generation’s Wall Street, typifying a broader rebuke of against traditional wealth-building,” says Melmed.

Because they're growing in their own way, they have retained many of the values that defined this generation in the past. “According to data we pulled analyzing online behavior across our network – one of the largest in the world with a global reach of 450 million –  millennials are still socially conscious. They're 45 percent more interested in sustainable living and more culturally explorative than their older counterparts — for example, they're 22 percent more likely to prefer more diverse, globally influenced cuisine and 18 percent more interested in world music," said Melmed.

Changing Marketing Strategies

To be  successful, marketing efforts aimed at millennials should be targeted at adults, but still recognize that this generation has some key differences with past generations.

Scrap the traditional advertising that relies on “telling” a message in one-way communication, and start using newer, more effective methods, said Melmed. Millennials expect conversation and variety and brands need to deliver if they want to reach them.

What should you do? 

Recognize one size does not fit all. Millennials are a generation, but they are also individuals. Don’t lump them into one group and expect marketing to be successful. “Interests vary within this audience, so it is nearly impossible to design content that will appeal to the audience as a whole,” said Melmed. What works  are products that are timeless and traditional. One successful brand that illustrates this point is Ray-Ban sunglasses, which are both classic and have longevity.

Don’t assume they are their parents. Just because someone becomes a mother doesn’t mean she’s going to act like her own mother. “Our data shows that while they appreciate tradition and will acknowledge and sometimes incorporate the parenting strategies of previous generations, Millennials don’t entirely shed their stereotypical values – especially with parenthood,” said Melmed. For example, millennial parents still maintain their global-perspective and are interested in health, technology and social issues.

Ensure your actions mirror your words. Nobody likes insincerity, but millennials are really turned off by it. If you make a mistake, admit it. “As an example, after facing a lot of criticism over their controversial ingredients, Johnson & Johnson did a good job of authentically and honestly responding with a campaign that acknowledged their mistakes and consumer concerns and pledged to improve,” said Melmed.

Give them a good laugh. “Intelligence and a sense of humor are valued above all,” he said. Brands shouldn’t take themselves too seriously.

But don’t laugh at them. “This should be obvious, but no generation likes to be insulted in their advertising,” said Melmed. “Unsurprisingly, a number of ad campaigns have bombed it while trying to (maybe comically) play off negative millennial stereotypes to win their hearts.” One good example, is BusinessWeek’s 2013 'Gets you ahead' campaign. Neither millennials nor their parents’ seemed amused by the line 'our American dream is for you to move out.'"

Skip the small talk. Be direct and transparent whenever possible. “It’s also okay to take risks and laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Millennials are extremely forgiving as long as you’re forthright and candid,” he said.

After all, they’re adults now.