Millennial Misconceptions: Marketing to Generation Y


If you’ve spent any time looking at the internet in the past couple of years, chances are you’ve seen a lot of information about “Millennials.” This is Generation Y: generally defined as people born in the 80s and 90s, or today’s 18- to 34-year-olds.

We’ve all heard the complaints about this cohort; some people call them narcissistic, or refer to them as being part of the “selfie generation.” 

These stereotypes are dismissive of millennials’ views, opinions, and experiences and can be harmful to your business. After all, there are more millennials than members of any other generation in the world, and together they spend over $1 trillion each year. Ignoring them is probably not in your company’s best interest.

If you find yourself feeling pessimistic about millennials, it might be time to reframe your thoughts. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions about 18- to 34-year-olds that might be hindering your company’s marketing habits, as well as some best practices when it comes to marketing to this demographic:

Misconception #1: Millennials Will Eventually “Grow Up” and be More Like Baby Boomers

It’s just not going to happen. Millennials are moving away from measuring their lives by traditional life markers like getting married, buying a house, and starting a family. They’re waiting longer to get married (or electing not to get married at all), and typically hold off on making large purchases in favor of paying down debt (hello, crippling student loans!). If your marketing team assumes millennials want the picket fence lifestyle, you may be missing the mark.  

Instead, Think: Millennials Already Have Grown Up

They’ve been exposed to many alternatives for adulthood, and are embracing them in all kinds of new and exciting ways. They’ve seen businesses grow from one-man operations to Fortune 500 companies. They’ve watched videos go viral. They’ve seen their peers and mentors thrive while leading many different lifestyles. Acknowledge that these “alternative” lifestyles and business models are just as valid as their traditional counterparts, and use them to your advantage!

Misconception #2: Millennials Just Want Attention

Sure, millennials spend a lot of time on social media (like, a lot). They take a lot of selfies, and are often indiscriminate about posting them. While this may come across as a cry for attention, it’s worth considering that this is simply the way people engage with others and build relationships in today’s plugged-in world. Relationships are just as important to millennials as they are to Generation X; there are simply more avenues available to millennials for forging those relationships.

Instead, Think: Millennials Want Relationships

And not just one-sided, fleeting relationships. When it comes to marketing to Generation Y, prioritize two-way, reciprocal communication. Look at what people are saying about your company on social media, and respond to them — authentically. Obviously you can’t personally craft a response to every tweet and mention, but as a whole, try to be more like Netflix, and steer away from robotic auto replies like what Lauren experienced from @24Fox.

For email marketing campaigns, you might consider sending more aesthetically pleasing newsletters over long winded emails. Keep the content short, sweet, and relevant to your reader. As we’ve said before, people don’t follow brands only to be bombarded with ads. Show your personality and focus on creating an authentic connection with your followers.

Misconception #3: Millennials Only Care About Themselves

On the contrary, according to a recent large-scale Pew survey, millennials are the most environmentally and socially-conscious generation to date. They’re more likely to pay higher prices for sustainable products over cheaper, less green options, and their loyalty to a brand is also affected by the brand’s sustainability practices. Millennials are hyper aware of what companies are doing to give back to the community and the environment.

Instead, Think: Millennials Care About Their Impact on the World

Maybe it’s time to think about your company in a similar fashion. What kinds of changes are you making to make your business more sustainable? This could be anything from cutting down on printing so many documents, to calculating and offsetting your carbon footprint. Millennials care about their communities, too. Consider what kinds of things you might be able to do in order to give back to your local community, such as donating school supplies. And then? Talk about that in your marketing campaigns! It’s a surefire way to get millennials’ support.

Above all, keep in mind that millennials are pretty receptive to new techniques and technologies — they’ve had to be, growing up in the Information Age. If you’re not sure whether something you’re doing is working, just ask! Try to be transparent in your business and marketing practices, and your customers (regardless of their age) will respond in kind.


Comments from CQL Readers

Millenial 05/08/2015

Give me a break, really? This is how you'd like to market to your clients? By insulting them?


Chris 05/08/2015

Are you even really real?


Marge 05/08/2015

Millenial- Were you thinking that the "misconceptions" (the insulting attitudes) were the marketing suggestions? I read those as "mistakes in thinking" that a company might be making and the "Instead" as a positive re-framing that might be a good hook for marketing to Millenials.


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