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Millennials and the Holidays

November 27, 2015


Preparations for this holiday season started right after this year’s New Year’s celebrations ended. One big question on many retailers’ minds is what are Millennials going to do this holiday season? Spend or sit it out? Millennials are generally defined as people born between 1980 and 2000 and are the most connected generation the world has seen to date; but, they have also found that the employment picture has not been as bright for them as preceding generations. Burdened with education loans and uncertain of their financial future, Millennials have been careful spenders. This year retailers are hoping to loosen millennial pocket books. One reason they are hopeful is that many Millennials have started families and their children are at a prime age for being spoiled at Christmas. Another reason for retail optimism is that last year, Millennials bucked the downward holiday spending trend, which surprised some analysts. This prompted the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to issue a press release. In that release, the Foundation’s spokeswoman Gail Cunningham stated, “[Millennials] keep throwing us a curve, don’t they? I hope that these folks have a job and are responsibly paying back their student loan debt and they’re not letting the emotion of the holiday season carry them away into a financial disaster zone.”[1]


Of course, retailers are hoping that the emotion of the holiday season does catch on with Millennials. To encourage Millennials to open their wallets or purses, manufacturers and retailers are likely launch some intense targeted marketing campaigns. Daniel Newman (@danielnewmanUV) cautions, however, “There’s one thing that we all know for sure — not all shoppers are alike.”[2] This is particularly true when it comes to targeting members of Generation Y (aka Millennials). Millennials are too often discussed as though they form a homogeneous (even monolithic) group. Nothing could be further from the truth. That shouldn’t be surprising. The age spread of Millennials (from late teens to early 30s) is large enough at this stage to make any generalizations about them a bit suspect. To learn more about some of the differences found within Generation Y, read my article entitled “Targeted Marketing to Millennials means Identifying Lots of Targets.” The point here is that targeted marketing, even to members of a single generation, requires granularity that can only be obtained by analyzing big data. Marketers are learning that nuanced messaging is what makes a difference when personalizing market content.


Newman observes that how people receive those personalized offers is also important to know. He explains, “Millennials, for instance, have some very strong tendencies in how they use the Web and mobile while researching and shopping, and also around what triggers them to make purchases. Companies that truly want to target millennials need to understand this, and target them accordingly, or risk losing this giant demographic.” Alexis Azzie, Head of Strategy at Amorphous New Media, agrees that Millennials can’t be lumped into a single category. “Millennials are an enigmatic target market,” she writes. “As a group, they carry much economic power, but are difficult to define, despite being constantly and actively pursued by both local and international marketers.”[3] Because Millennials are so connected, both Newman and Azzie focus on the digital path to purchase. Newman notes:

“This may seem like an obvious point, but I know too many brands that are not quite fully grasping this concept with their mobile strategy yet, and who have yet to get their websites optimized for mobile. Millennials are tech-driven individuals, and most importantly, a generation that’s extremely attached to their mobile devices. As such, it’s not surprising that they spent a majority of their online shopping time on their smartphones and tablets.”

Even if millennials eventually purchase items from a traditional brick-and-mortar store, digital technology will most likely have played a role in their purchase decision. To underscore the points he makes, Newman cites the results of a 2013 survey entitled Global Mobile Media Consumption: Reaching Millennials. He particularly highlights results from the study that “show just how millennials view mobile shopping.” They are:


  • Seventy-nine percent of millennials surveyed said mobile introduced them to a new brand, product, or service.
  • Seventy-one percent agreed that mobile ads provided better options.
  • Seventy-three percent found mobile ads to be helpful in finding nearby deals.
  • Forty-nine percent felt mobile ads influenced in-store purchases.
  • And 51 percent said mobile ads influenced them to buy.


Newman concludes, “This means brands that have still not taken the mobile-first route are likely failing to capture the millennial mind share.” Azzie cautions that, despite their love of mobile technology, digitally connecting with millennials is difficult. She explains:

“The net for defining Millennials is wide, with anyone between the ages of 18-35 qualifying for this target market bracket. Millennials live their lives online and as a result are highly resistant to push marketing and advertising jargon. They set the bar high for brands to gain their attention and to win their appreciation. McDonald’s Global Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook famously called them ‘promiscuous’ in their brand loyalty, reflecting his brand’s struggle to remain relevant to Millennials. Millennials engage with smart, funny content that piques their curiosity and holds their interest. Hyper-targeted content is key and they place a high premium on recommendations from friends. Another interesting element is that Millennials are extremely interested in the social action that companies are involved with. Companies can actually engage markets and build loyalty by showing that they are socially aware and involved in social or environmental action projects.”

As noted at the beginning of this article, one of the reasons that some retailers are optimistic about millennials’ holiday spending is that they are starting to raise families. CharmPosh.com asserts, “The Millennial Mom is the secret weapon for the Christmas Holiday 2015 buying season.”[4] To substantiate this assertion, the company cited analysis of new U.S. Census Bureau data that reveals “one in five moms is a Millennial and they now account for almost 90% of the 1.5 million new mothers within the last year. Revealing, there is estimated to be 13 million Millennial Moms in the U.S. parenting kids.” Since Christmas is generally kid-focused, one can see why manufacturers and retailers are looking to Millennials to help boost holiday sales. CharmPosh.com offers the following “Christmas Holiday 2015 Rules For Targeting Millennials As Parents” to help achieve that goal:

#1. Use Online and Mobile Platforms — “The best way to reach Millennials as Parents for the Holiday 2015 season will be using online and mobile apps. Millennials parenting kids love to conduct research online and review top lists for best Christmas toys and offers.”

#2. Use Online Brand Advocate Sponsorship — “Learn to market with Millennials as Parents over marketing only to them. Online Brand Advocate Sponsorship is a solution to transform Millennials as Parents into customers. This Holiday 2015 season turn Millennials parenting kids into brand advocates by providing entertaining and informative content they will want to buy and share among their peers.”

#3. Use Transparency Marketing Promotions — “Always make the experience fun and honest when promoting Holiday 2015 goods and services to Millennials as Parents. The one way to win this audience is to provide trustworthy open communications.”

Azzie concludes, “It’s a good thing that brands are taking note of the change in tone that needs to be implemented when speaking to Millennials. Millennials want companies to be transparent and authentic about what they do and how they do it.” This holiday season is a good time to implement a good mobile strategy that will help build a relationship with millennials for decades to come.


[1] Julia Glum, “Christmas Shopping 2014: Millennials Most Likely To Spend More On Holiday Shopping This Year,” International Business Times, 15 December 2015.
[2] Daniel Newman, “What Brands Need To Understand About the Millennial Shopping Journey,” Forbes, 4 August 2015.
[3] Alexis Azzie, “Are your online marketing efforts missing the mark with Millenials?Memeburn, 13 November 2014.
[4] CharmPosh.com, “CharmPosh.com Christmas Holiday 2015 Rules For Targeting Millennials As Parents,” Press Release, 13 October 2015.

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