Millennials Pose Challenge for Marketers

June 28, 2006 | By John P. Mello Jr.

“No generation continues what came before,” said Neil Howe, a partner in LifeCourse Associates in Great Falls, Va. and co-author of Millennials and the Pop Culture. “Every generation turns a corner, and in some critical respect, changes fundamentally the direction of whatever trends they inherit from the last generation.”

Reaching the Millennial Generation—a label nailed to nine- to 28-year-olds, a group which, at some 79 million in the United States, is larger than the Baby Boomers—poses some real challenges for marketers, especially marketers entrenched in their mass media ways.

“The key thing to recognize when marketing to this generation is that it has seen more marketing, more advertising, more hype starting at a younger age and in a more pervasive way than any other generation,” Kari Chisholm, president of Mandate Media in Portland, Ore., told the E-Commerce Times.

“As a result of that,” he continued, “their BS detectors are very finely tuned."

“When it comes to the Millennial Generation, they can sniff out hype and spin better than anyone else,” added Chisholm, a former chief Web strategist for Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

Multi-Tasking Mavens

If you can’t hype this generation, what do you do? “You have to be authentic,” Chisholm asserted.

Marketers looking for traction among Millennials must understand that they’re competing not only with other marketers but with multiple delivery systems.

“It is a multi-tasking oriented generation,” Brent Magid, president and CEO of Frank N. Magid Associates, a marketing consulting firm with offices in New York, Sherman Oaks, Calif., Marion, Iowa and London, told the E-Commerce Times.

He noted that, on average, Millennials use three devices concurrently. Two of the three devices are usually communication-oriented—a cell phone or computer with instant messaging or e-mail.

Word-of-Mouth Is King

That’s important to product peddlers, he maintained, because it feeds another trait of Millennials, their trust of word-of-mouth marketing.

“Word-of-mouth has always been important, but its importance has risen to levels never seen before,” he said. “It’s been enabled by advanced technology and the proliferation of the means of communication.

“If you’re a marketer, you have a great opportunity to market yourself via word of mouth,” he added.

Hollywood Gets It

Up to now, the word-of-mouth phenomenon hasn’t been fully understood by marketers, Magid contended.

“Sure, some people have tried various viral marketing campaigns, but there hasn’t been a lot of consistent effort or a lot of money [that] has gone into that sort of marketing,” he maintained. “I believe that should change and a much stronger effort should be made by marketers to put themselves in the word-of-mouth flow.”

That’s not to say that the importance of word-of-mouth eludes all marketers. Hollywood, for example, understands the concept very well.

When exit polls are taken at movie premieres, Chisholm explained, a key question is, “Would you recommend this movie to a friend?” “Based on the response to that question, they can tell you what the revenues for that film will be,” he said.

“It all goes back to authenticity,” he observed. “It’s much more meaningful to a Millennial for a friend to say, ‘Check out this song, this band, this clothing brand, this politician, this college,’ [rather] than a commercial for those things.”

Short Attention Span

With their faculties divvied up by multiple devices, do Millennials suffer from a massive case of attention deficit disorder? Not necessarily, maintained Chisholm.

“They have a short attention span for meaningless marketing messages,” he declared. “But they have a really long attention span for meaningful interaction.

“Because they’re multi-tasking, when a marketing message comes in on one device, they just shift their attention to another one,” he added.

New Marketers, Old Mistakes

Neil Howe, a partner in LifeCourse Associates in Great Falls, Va. and co-author with William Strauss of Millennials and the Pop Culture, published in March, noted that the mistakes marketers are making now about the Millennials are the same ones they’ve made about all generations.

“They assume that the next generation will be like the last generation, only more so,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“No generation continues what came before,” he added. “Every generation turns a corner, and in some critical respect, changes fundamentally the direction of whatever trends they inherit from the last generation.”

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