Millennials Millennials are leaving indelible footprints on the marketplace. It is a demographic group that has been the darlings and devils of marketers. How to influence these masters of customization and self-expression remains a mystery to many. To help crack the Millennials’ path to purchase code, here are five traits to keep in mind.

1. Millennials are brand agnostic

How do you communicate to a generation that has adapted to its environment by learning not to listen? For Millennials, everything is about “real” and “reality.” Raised on technology, Millennials know they can have things when they want them, customizing a lifestyle on their own terms. Millennials are Seasoned Consumers. Overrun with choice, suspicious, and non-responsive to traditional advertising, Millennials see brands as their own, and their knowledge and information empowers them. (Figure 1)

Figure 1. Mapping Brand Awareness from the Millennials’ Perspective

Language map for brands


Source: Are You Ready for Millennials? Understanding the Next Significant Generation report, The Hartman Group, Inc. 2008

Millennials have a different—less definitive—relationship with brands and products. In general, Millennials care more about brands in categories where there is a significant cost to getting it wrong (e.g., cars, computers). For Millennials who do not want a relationship with a brand, 60% haven’t really thought about why.

2. Marketers may think technology is synonymous with Millennials, but Millennials don’t think this is such a good thing

Yes, Millennials agree that technology is an integral part of their daily life: it’s how they learn, how they communicate, and how they research, but it is not a category in and of itself. Millennials (at every age) perceive technology as something that’s had a negative impact and believe it has impacted social interactions; people are always listening to music, always looking down at their phone—not interacting with the world anymore. They also feel a loss of traditional English as technology has enabled the creation of a new language, especially through texting. If you’re a brand, what’s the best way to communicate with Millennials? Texting is not on Millennials’ radar. They would rather receive marketing messages through email and Facebook than via texts.

3. Millennials tend to follow prevailing trends in personal care

Typical product category use by Millennials does not diverge greatly from other generations—broader fashion trends tend to dictate use of particular products at particular times. Millennials are showing increased interest in heritage or specialty products, and personal care regimens. For example: some women are experimenting with not washing their hair and replacing their typical shampoo with baking soda and apple cider vinegar once a week; some are trying 100% shea butter to help with dry skin and using deodorant or tea tree oil in place of antiperspirants. Millennials are also more influenced than older consumers by personal or online recommendations and striking packaging: they pay more attention to recommendations from friends and family.

4. Millennials don’t want to be advertised “to;” they want to be advertised “with”

How do you communicate with a generation that knows only unbounded choice, finds it challenging to take conventional media seriously, and has adapted to its environment with selective listening? Millennials pose a unique marketing challenge. There is no one blueprint to help navigate a terrain marked by many voices and a desire for entertainment over information. There is a belief they cannot be “sold” or “convinced” or that there is little need for facts or figures from you as they will seek it elsewhere. Most winning communications simply offer an opportunity for entertainment, whimsy, or play.

5. Millennials are no more likely than older consumers to consider environmental concerns when shopping

Sustainability is viewed somewhat differently by Millennials. “Sustainability,” the word, is not part of Millennials’ everyday language. Though they were raised in an era of recycling and composting, this conditioning should not be mistaken for an overriding belief, intent, or a “generation’s passion.” Many people who grew up in the 1970s, for example, were raised in an era of anti-litter consciousness, but this was irrelevant in terms of their future beliefs or purchase decisions. Millennials “like the planet” in a generalized sense, but it is never top-of-mind—it’s not about composting, the environment, global warming, carbon footprints, etc. When sustainability does impact Millennials’ purchase decisions, it is from a social responsibility or organizational health perspective. Where Millennials do respond is to companies that appear to have a “sustainable organization;” that is, companies that treat their employees well. They might, for example, view Starbucks with a certain halo that has absolutely nothing to do with fair trade, composting, or any of that. Instead, they might cite the fact that Starbucks gives health insurance to part-time workers. For Millennials, sustainability is about being a “good guy."

Connecting with Millennials

Millennials are linked as consumers to complex household and family structures, whether by the breadth of the life stages they represent (age range 16 to 30), living with their parents as young adults, or on their own with or without children, all of which influence changes in brand preferences in foods, beverages, and other consumer packaged goods categories.

While significant attention and marketing spend have shifted to shopper and retail-oriented promotions, the formation of brand preferences and choices occurs primarily in the household, not in the store. Millennials begin to shift their brand preferences away from the brands they grew up with upon leaving home. One out of five — 20 percent — switch almost entirely to different brands when they move out on their own. While Millennials characterize their food and beverage brands and products as more healthy, organic, and natural than those of their parents, they also say they are more expensive, indicating an expectation for paying a premium for higher-quality food and beverage experiences.

This does not mean Millennials are averse to forging a relationship with a brand; it means that companies and agencies should rethink and reimagine how they market to them. One of the most effective ways to connect with Millennials, in fact, may be in not marketing directly to them: Millennials don’t want to be advertised to, they want to be advertised with. To connect with this generation, don’t take yourself too seriously; keep messaging and promotions light and entertaining.

(Unless otherwise noted, source of insights for this article: Culture of Millennials report, The Hartman Group, Inc. 2011)