Businesses spent years trying to win the hearts and minds of the baby boomers. Now they're on to the next challenge: winning over their kids.
The millennials — those born between 1982 and 2003 — will make up about one-third of the population by 2020. They have very different expectations and consumer behaviors than their parents’ generation or Generation X (people in their late 30s and 40s).
Marketing to Millennials
Business owners are smart to consider how they can tailor their products and services to millennial consumers. Here’s a look at how businesses can better engage millennials:
Build an exceptional experience. Older adults have tended to be more transactional in their relationships with businesses. They seek out the best price or best quality product or service and then buy it. Millennial shoppers, however, want to linger before they make a decision — they want an experience. Hip retailers like Urban Outfitters have started turning stores into full-fledged experiences — replete with coffee shops, hair salons and photo booths — exactly for this reason. But even service-oriented businesses like accounting firms or day spas can take a cue. Putting a coffee bar in your lobby or holding events or classes may help attract the millennial consumer.
Have a purpose. Research shows that millennials are more often attracted to companies that have social impact. Cone Communications tracks consumer sentiments toward businesses’ involvement in social issues. Cone’s 2013 survey notes a high increase in the number of U.S. adults — particularly millennials — who want to see businesses involved with social causes. Almost all millennials (91%) said they were more likely to trust a company that supported specific social issues.
For small businesses, this could involve supporting a local nonprofit, community group or national nonprofit. Some restaurants, for example, donate food or money to local organizations that help feed the homeless. Business owners should select social cause that’s connected to their business. Consider TOMS Shoes. The company’s One for One program donates one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. “Millennials are used to being surrounded by cause, so breaking through is about articulating personal and societal benefits, giving them a range of opportunities to connect and share with like-minded people and recognizing the diversity of issues that matter to them,” writes Craig Bida, Executive Vice President of Social Impact for Cone Communications.
Embrace technology. Unlike generations before them, millennials know and use technology. They love mobile apps and sharing on social media, including Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and other platforms. Small businesses should make an effort to engage their millennial consumers using these mediums. Having a Facebook page, for example, is a good start. But the messages you put on the page will make or break your social media outreach. Consider using Facebook to share interesting information that consumers may care about — not necessarily self-promotional posts. Post photos or write about how your business helps a local cause.
Marketing to millennials doesn't have to be a daunting task. Small businesses that take proactive steps sooner to build a loyal millennial clientele and understand its needs today will be far better positioned for the future than those that don't. Kelly Spors is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis. She previously worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering small business and entrepreneurship.