Are You Treating Millennials Like Baby Boomers?

Every marketer knows the drill. People born in different eras have different values.

You may think that you already took generational demographics into account when creating your marketing plan. You used Facebook and Twitter. You created YouTube ads and made sure they were less than 30 seconds long. You used 50% post-consumer recycled packaging materials. You made sure to use Millennial language; you even threw in an emoticon and the phrase “LOL.” Shouldn’t that have covered all of the bases? [I say sheepishly.]
While Millennials may appear to mimic Boomer behavior at times, they’re not driven by the same motives. If your firm has built its past successes by marketing to Baby Boomers, there’s one critical thing you need to understand: Boomers love a good story; whereas Millennials love a good hustle. Millennials don’t take things as seriously as Boomers.

The key to selling Boomers on your brand is to get them to fall in love with the story behind it. Baby Boomers are fiercely brand loyal. The products they buy become a part of their identities. Coca-Cola understood this principle and used it effectively when they incorporated Superman in their marketing materials. They successfully sold the notion that drinking Coca-Cola was the American way. To a Boomer, selecting a brand is making a sacred pact. Boomers will stick to an inferior brand for years, just because it’s their brand. When they change brands, it’s a big deal. If you take away what they love about your products, they will feel deeply offended – even betrayed.

Millennials are almost exactly the opposite.

Millennials will drop a brand like a hot potato if a better one comes along. They don’t value their behavior as disloyal; they see it as common sense. In fact, Millennials take pride in switching up. They like to stay ahead of the curve. Brands like Apple that appear to have won the loyalty of the Millennial generation have simply learned to consistently deliver value. It is possible, albeit difficult, to earn the genuine adoration and respect of the Millennials. Understand, though, that you will have to continue to earn it, because they will jump ship as soon as you fall short.

Note that Millennials aren’t cynical like their Generation-X elders; they are simply realistic. They have no interest in feel-good stories. If you try to convince Millennials that your business is committed to taking care of their families, they will take it as an insult to their intelligence. If you focus the content of your marketing messages on the addictive qualities of your products, Millennials will respond with a gleeful smile. They won’t admit it, but they love to be sold. Millennials prefer short, direct conversations, and they find small-talk annoying. They will most often respond to marketing messages with a get-right-down-to-business feel. This same kind of message may be off-putting or even offensive to a Boomer.

Consider the case of Rovio, creator of the Angry Birds video game. You can download their game to your smart phone for free. You don’t pay for anything until you’re hooked. It’s classic crack-dealer marketing at its best. Rovio has made a fortune selling video game upgrades primarily to Millennials, because they understand precisely how the Millennial mind works. Millennials “hustle” their friends, usually by saying, “This is addictive!” Coming from a friend, that line is virtually guaranteed to perk the ears of a Millennial. Boomers, on the other hand, share products with their friends by telling heartwarming stories.

You can no longer build a brand on the greatness of a few individuals and ride the coattails of their legends for decades. Millennials don’t have that kind of attention span. If you want to win the hearts of Millennials, you have to start from scratch and win their hearts anew every day. If the Millennials had a mantra, it might be “What have you done for me in the last ten minutes?”

Challenge question: What would happen if you lost all of your Baby Boomer customers and had to rely solely on Millennials for future business? Is your organization capable of embracing the Millennial mindset? If not, what are you going to do about it? After all, the Boomers aren’t going to be around forever.