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If there’s one generation that marketers can’t stop talking about, it’s the Millennials. Brands of all sizes around the globe are trying to engage Millennials and understand what motivates them and drives their attitudes and behaviors.

Finally emerging from the shadows of Gen Xers, Millennials now make up the majority of the U.S. workforce. But study after study has shown that Millennials are wildly different from Gen Xers and even from Baby Boomers, the generation that raised them.
As Millennials enter adulthood and their preferences impact the economy, marketers and researchers need to develop a deeper understanding of them. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Who are millennials?
  2. What are the challenges in reaching them?
  3. How can marketers best engage with millennials?
  4. What are the consumer insight best practices when trying to engage millennials?
  5. Where can I get more info about engaging millennials?

Who are the millennials?

While Millennials are widely talked about in the media, a universal definition of who belongs to this generation doesn’t exist. Depending on what expert you talk to, this generation could be anyone born from 1982 to 2004 or from 1980 to 1995. Most experts agree, however, that Millennials include anyone born from the early ’80s to the early 2000s.

Millennials are poised to become the most educated generation in history, according to a Pew Research Center study. People sometimes refer to Millennials as Echo Boomers or Generation Y (or simply Gen Y).

This generation already controls $600 billion in annual spending in the U.S.—a number that’s expected to grow as Millennials inherit $30 trillion from their parents.

What are the challenges in engaging millennial consumers?

The evolving Millennial lifestyle constantly challenges marketers’ assumptions about them.

Here’s what research suggests about the Gen Y lifestyle.

  • Constant connection. Younger Millennials don’t remember what it’s like to not be connected to the web. This generation is used to checking online before buying something. And with the ubiquity of mobile, Millennials expect a seamless customer experience regardless of the device they’re using.

Black Friday shopper types - example of how to engage millennials
This infographic, from our Black Friday 2013 study, highlights how millennials use mobile devices to shop.

  • Short attention span. Several studies have shown that one of the defining characteristics of Millennials is their short attention spans. This trait is apparent in the prefered communication tools they use: text messages, Snapchat and Instagram all encourage concise and visual communication.
  • An appetite for collaboration. Another consequence of growing up with the internet is that Millennials prefer democratic, collaborative processes. Millennials love being part of a team: they want to participate and want their opinions heard.
  • A diverse group. It’s dangerous to look at Millennials as a homogeneous cohort. While they belong to one generation, Millennials fall on a wide spectrum of tastes, behaviors and income levels.
  • A dislike for traditional marketing. Seventy-five percent of Millennials believe advertising is disruptive, according to The Everything Guide to Millennials, a comprehensive report on the attitudes of this generation. In addition, 77 percent of them claim to actively tune out ads.
  • A love for new forms of media consumption. The same report shows that more Millennials have subscriptions to Netflix than cable TV. Other streaming services like Pandora, Amazon Prime and Hulu are also popular among this group. They like to consume media on their terms, on-demand and a la carte, instead of being constrained by traditional media.


What should marketers keep in mind about millennials?

Marketing to this media-savvy generation requires marketers to update their approaches. Here are some best practices to consider.

1. Create experiences.

More companies are discovering a painful truth: Millennials don’t want to buy stuff. This shift explains why Millennials spend more money on experiences and less on material items like cars. In fact, Millennials drove the rise of the collaborative economy—an economic movement where people access what they need from each other, peer-to-peer, instead of through traditional means of purchasing.

Rather than taking the traditional advertising route, some brands are shifting marketing dollars to events where Millennial consumers can experience the brand in action. In particular, auto companies have embraced experiential marketing to build affinity with Millennials. Toyota’s ‘Feeling the Street’ campaign , for example, brought vibrant musical performances to street corners around the globe, engaging Millennials on their turf.  

2. Support causes that are important to them.

Compared to older generations, Millennials care more about purchasing products and supporting brands that align with their values. Seventy-one percent of Millennials want products that align with their beliefs.

Rising companies like the shoe-retailer TOMS and eyewear retailer Warby Parker have seen success by aligning their business model with causes Millennials care about like poverty and climate change. More established companies like McDonald’s are also embracing transparency to better connect with younger consumers.

3. Keep it authentic.

For Millennials, brand authenticity is second only to loyalty discounts in importance when choosing companies to support. These customers can spot a fake and won’t hesitate to switch brands if they sense that a brand isn’t being genuine or trustworthy.

How can marketers create a more authentic brand? Speaking like a human is a must.

“Customers in today’s marketplace favor a straightforward, down-to-earth, even slangy style of communication,” writes Micah Solomon, a Forbes contributor, about authentic marketing communication, “from most types of business with which they interact. Excessive formality is hazardous to your business because it clashes with the personal style of your customers, Millennials in particular, making your brand appear out of touch or even condescending.”

4. Check your assumptions.

Millennials are challenging the status quo by not following the consumption habits of past generations.

“Millennials are focused on amassing life experiences,” says advisory company CEB, “rather than tangible objects.” More of them are living later and later in life with their parents. They’re also delaying significant life milestones like marriage, babies and purchasing a home.

Validate your assumptions about Millennials by engaging them in an ongoing conversation. Thankfully, Millennials want to be included in the decision-making process beyond focus groups or social media. As a young university grad wrote recently in Ad Age, Millennials want to be brought in as “respected thought leaders to help contribute ideas and develop concepts and strategies.” They want to get their voices heard in the early stages of a marketing campaign or new product development.

As Millennials grow older and lifestyles change, it’s crucial for marketers to continue to engage with them and gain an up-to-date understanding of how their tastes evolve.


Given the economic power of Millennials, customer intelligence professionals need to become experts in engaging with this group. Here are some best practices to consider.

How do I recruit millennials for research projects?

1. Capitalize on social media.

It’s no secret that Millennials are heavy social media users. If your company is already active on Facebook, Twitter and other networks, use those pages as a starting point to engage Millennials. If you are looking to add Millennials to an insight community, for example, recruiting through social media is a good option.

You can also use social media to amplify engagement in your insight community. For example, if you represent a sports organization, you could encourage fans to use a certain hashtag if they would like to be invited to your community (e.g. #PutMeInCoach, #MakeMeAMember, #FanHub).

stats on social media engagement - how to engage millennials
Millennial activity on social media. Infographic from our Social to Sale study.

2. Treat ’em like VIPs.

Traditional means of recruitment in customer insight don’t necessarily work with Millennials. During recruitment, explain what’s in it for them. From the onset, use your insight community to make current customers feel special by doing the following:

  • Establish prestige: Framing your community as an exclusive group of loyal customers might help attract Millennials. Pick the right name for the community.  Something like “Official Advisors” will reinforce the special status of the group.
  • Provide elite incentives: The intrinsic value of being a community member is important, but the right incentives can also make Millennial members feel special. Limited-edition merchandise, access to exclusive events and hard-to-find perks are all attractive incentives.
  • Share exclusive content: Let people know what happened to their feedback. Use your community to share study results and regularly give some inside scoop.

How do I keep millennial consumers engaged?

Many Millennials are used to multi-tasking since they’re always connected and on the move. These qualities make them difficult to keep engaged. This hyper-connectivity requires brands to take a strategic approach to keep Millennials focused for longer periods of time. Here are some effective tactics:

1. Keep your activities short and sweet.

Having a mobile-responsive platform isn’t optional anymore if you want Millennials to stick around. Long surveys are also not a great idea.

“Keep your surveys very short, tight and to the point,” said Marie Policastro, director of brand partnerships and market research of Barnes & Noble College, at the 2015 Customer Intelligence Summit. “It’s better to do more studies than one big long study.”

“Keep your surveys very short, tight and to the point. It’s better to do more studies than one big long study."

2. Do activities that are fun, visual and social.
Given Millennials’ social media acumen, adjust your research activities to replicate the experience they have online. If your brand isn’t speaking the language of Millennials, you might actually be turning them off.

“This is an audience who’s really visual,” said Rebecca Rahmanian, senior manager of sales and marketing at Tumblr, at the 2015 Customer Intelligence Summit. Instead of a typical text-only survey, here are some examples of more engaging research activities you could try in order to gather customer insight:

  • Ask them to upload photos. For instance, ask them to post a photo of their favorite snacks and when they like to indulge in those snacks.
  • Challenge them to take creative selfies to show how they use your products.
  • Use emoticon-like visuals to ask them about their satisfaction on a product instead of using a typical rating scale.

Your research design needs to be conducive to how a Millennial would act online. Allowing members to express themselves in a variety of ways will go a long way in keeping them engaged and excited to contribute.

Where can I get more information about engaging millennials?

If you’d like to learn more about engaging Millennials for marketing or consumer insight, we recommend the following:

Note: A version of this article was first published in March 2014. This post was updated with new information and examples.

The Everything Guide to Millennials

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