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Target Marketing to Millennials

September 24, 2014


“Nearly every digital marketer has a goal of creating a viral campaign,” writes Kelsey Libert (@KelseyLibert), a Marketing Vice President and partner at Fractl. “Getting mass exposure for high-quality content provides huge value to clients, but it’s not always easy to pull off; it takes an understanding of the complexity of human emotion and how it plays into consuming and sharing content online.” [“Age and Gender Matter in Viral Marketing,” Harvard Business Review Blog Network, 18 August 2014] As the headline of her article relates, age and gender matter when preparing a marketing campaign. At the moment, much of the marketing world is focused on Millennials (i.e., members of Generation Y). Individuals in this group were born from 1980 to the early 2000s with the oldest members of this generation having knocked on the door of adulthood at the start of a new millennium. Why all the fuss about Millennials? Jon Mertz notes, “Millennials [are] the largest generation standing at 14% of the population.” [“The Impact of Millennials: Big and Bold,” Thin Difference, 14 October 2013] When looking for consumers, retailers are interested in two things: large numbers and money. Ryan Donegan reports, “[Millennials make up] a generation of consumers 86 million strong — that’s 7 percent more than baby boomers — and they’re ready to spend money.” [“5 Tips for Marketing to Millennials From a Millennial,” Huffington Post The Blog, 7 October 2014]


In order for a marketing campaign to go viral, the campaign must touch emotional chords. Libert notes, however, that no two generations react identically to the same content. She explains:

“To gain better insight into what makes people share content online, Fractl studied the emotions associated with viral marketing campaigns, plotting the ones that are most commonly associated with viral content on Robert Plutchik’s comprehensive Wheel of Emotions:

  • Curiosity
  • Amazement
  • Interest
  • Astonishment
  • Uncertainty

Then, we looked more closely to see how certain demographics respond to different types of content. To get a better understanding of how people of different genders and ages react to content, we surveyed 485 people online and asked them to indicate which emotions they felt when viewing 23 viral Imgur images we chose from over a three-month period. They could select feelings related to joy, sadness, fear, disgust, or surprise by choosing an adjective related to that emotion. We also conducted a similar survey featuring non-viral images instead of viral ones for comparison purposes. The subtle differences we discovered could have big implications regarding the nature of virality and content marketing.”

Not surprisingly, Millennials were found to be a closer match to the up-and-coming generation (i.e., the generation following them) than they were to members of either Generation X or Baby Boomers. Libert reports:

“The 25-34 demographic has something in common with the 18-24 set, which is that both groups reported feeling fewer interest/anticipation emotions compared to the older two age groups. It’s possible that this is because younger online users are more captivated by dynamic forms of media rather than the common static images that were used in our study. However, this group also reported more emotional complexity than any other age group, making them the most likely to share content that incorporates a range of emotions — once their initial views are earned. In contrast, Gen X and Baby Boomers reported more positive and interest/anticipation emotions when viewing static images.”

It doesn’t surprise me that Millennials demonstrated “more emotional complexity” than any other group. As I noted in a previous series about Millennials (“Targeted Marketing: Millennials are Moving Targets, Part 1” and “Part 2“), it’s difficult to characterize them because they are still discovering who they are. Julia Cantor (@juliacantor) writes, “It is no secret that Millennials are, by and large, social media enthusiasts. With the expansion of the social networking landscape in recent history, Millennials are not just connecting online with friends; they are connecting online with thought leaders, experts, idols, and any other figures they are interested in but might not actually know in real life.” [“Best Practices When Engaging Millennials Through Social Influencers,” Engage:Gen Y, 18 July 2014] She continues:

“This phenomenon allows consumers to have direct access to a key set of influential figures across a variety of different topics — whether they are specialists in fashion, food, or finance. The exposure of these influencers leaves a huge opportunity for marketers to identify potential brand advocates based on their target audience. While it is extremely beneficial to tap social influencers to reach a specific audience, not all influencers will suffice. Just as it is important to reach your audience through a variety of relevant platforms, it is also important to consider a number of different factors about each potential influencer when selecting which would be the best fit.”

While the real value of “influencers” or “influentials” remains an open question, there is no question that Millennials are a connected generation. Millennials have been labeled the most informed generation in history. That’s why Cantor stresses that marketing content must be relevant. Millennials are not easily fooled. Cantor adds, “While relevance and reach are supremely important, two factors to pay particular attention to are resonance and relationship. … They’re both essential in ensuring that the product or message being promoted reaches the targeted audience in an effective way.” The following infographic from e-Learning will help you learn a little more about members of Generation Y.


Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics


Krystine Dinh (@KrystineDinh), marketing communications manager, Americas, for Exponential, may have written the best summation about marketing to Millennials. She stated, “We’ve been given a tech savvy generation completely open to digital absorption; a generation that personally relates their social identity to brands, providing advertisers with plenty of avenues with which to reach them. We should be seeing more socially-conscious, immersive, emotional brand experiences that capture the mind of the Millennial — executed through the devices across the screens they spend the most time on. That’s because the most effective marketing campaigns for Millennials starts with the right data, executes with the right technology, and succeeds with the right media. And if you don’t get that right, expect them to call you out on Twitter.” [“Marketing to self-absorbed selfie takers, hashtag obsessors – the Millennial generation,” exponential advertising, 30 September 2013]

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