Direct "Mailennials": Marketing To Generation Y

Say what you will about Millennials, but they are damn important to both the economy and the direct marketing space. As a group, these men and women in their 20s and 30s represent the largest workforce of any generation and have completely shifted the focus of marketers everywhere—interruption has been slowly replaced with conversation and social sharing has put an end to the blind-faith ask, i.e. "trust me, it works." Primed with a smartphone in one hand and a laptop in the other (a generalization of course), Millennials are the most media savvy and well-educated of all previous generations...not to mention, their annual spending power will surge to an estimated $1.4 trillion by 2020.

On the other side of the coin, Generation Y hasn't approached adulthood the same way previous generations have—thanks to a weaker economy and prevailing "negative" attitudes about socioeconomic conditions, milestones like buying a home and having kids aren’t as feasible for Millennials; in 2015, they were reported as earning up to 20% less than the generation before them. This, coupled with mounting student debt (despite higher college attendance rates), many Millennials have become "economically challenged" in their young adult lives.

That said, Millennials still represent the largest opportunity for brands moving forward (as they mature financially) and the right communications strategy will require a thoughtful mix of both digital and physical marketing. In spite of being more media savvy and digitally inclined, the research actually shows that offline advertisements, such as print and direct mail, stand out to Millennials.

Millennial Consumer Snapshot

Millennials are considered "digital natives" and have been segmented even further as "Generation C", that is, the subset of Millennials concerned with creation, connection, and community. Here's some of the data behind this assertation:

  • More than 85% of Millennials in the U.S. own smartphones (Source: Nielsen).
  • U.S. Millennials touch their smartphones 45 times a day (Source: SDL).
  • 51 percent of U.S. Millennials would share information with companies in exchange for an incentive (Source: USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future).

Qualitatively speaking, Millennials grew up during the height of the information age; the proliferation of the Internet and digital media created a consumer that is yearning to be connected with and understood.

In this, Millennials don’t see just one path to consuming or achieving—they see endless possibilities, much like the world they live in. In general:

  • Millennials consider themselves individuals—while general classifications hold merit, Millennials only respond to personalized content and product/service offers.
  • Brands that are authentic, cohesive and transparent are the most well-received—Millennials expect you to reinforce these brand values at every stage of the business lifecycle and at every consumer touchpoint.
  • Millennials understand the importance of technology and expect marketers (and brands) to communicate through the most relevant device and platform.
  • Millennials expect your brand to be accessible via every channel, at any moment. They also expect you to innovate constantly, and devise new ways at standing apart.

Marketing To Millennials

So how do you make your message stand out? Despite being "digital natives," the data shows that Millennials respond well to traditional marketing. Online consumers are faced with a sea of digital ads, in the form of banners, product placements and endorsements, sponsored posts, advertorial content, and the list goes on. It's easy to see how tangible, personalized communications that are physically delivered to you stand a greater chance of making a connection:

  • Because they spend a majority of their time on a computer or mobile device, Millennials are exposed to a tremendous amount of online advertising—oversaturation has led to desensitization of these marketing channels.
  • Millennials are actually more likely to ignore pop-up, banner and email ads because those tactics are considered annoying distractions, not to mention, Millennials' trust in online advertising is notably low.
  • Direct mail, and by extension physical media, is tactile in nature which helps engage Millennial consumers. The finish, fold, weight, perforation, die cut, texture, and even scent of a printed piece of mail can evoke someone in a way electronic mail simply can’t.
  • Getting a tangible piece of mail at home stands out; there is a "novel" effect around receiving mail as it only arrives once a day. DM also has a certain "charm" to it, making recipients feel special as if the sender is personally reaching out to them. (This is even more pronounced with the inclusion of data-driven direct marketing to create one-to-one messaging.)

As our friends at Mintel have explained:

Companies or brands that successfully market to millennials are ones that recognize that there is no such thing as a ‘millennial’—just individuals or groups of individuals who are at a similar life stage and have lived through similar experiences. They want to be treated for who they are, rather than be lumped together and labeled.

Of course, there's no such thing as a "Silver bullet." No one tactic working by itself can do all the heavy lifting for you. Give thoughtful consideration to the role each marketing tactic you employ plays in communicating your message. Align both online and offline tactics to maximize your impact, ensuring your message is cohesive across all marketing channels. And remember: no two Millennials (or consumers for that matter) are alike—appeal to them as individuals and take a market unto others as you’d have them market unto you approach. It might just separate your brand from the pack.

Published on May 11, 2016