And so it comes to pass that Generation X has made way to Generation Y, or Millennials, in the affections and focus of the marketing community.

Somehow it seems apt that Alphabet now owns Google and its offshoots. After all, marketing has long been an alphabet soup of generations (X and Y) and social classes (A to F).

Who are Millennials?

As with most of these things, it began in the US, when William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book called ‘Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation’. They defined Millennials as the generation born between 1982 and 2004. They were named Millennials in 1987 because those born in 1982 were the generation that was going to be coming of age at the turn of the millennium (confession: when I first came across the term, I kinda assumed that Millennials were born since the turn of the millennium and all the fuss was over what they were going to turn out like!).

Apart from their age, what defines Millennials?

Millennials have been much derided as vacuous, narcissistic (selfie, anyone?) spongers (Time Magazine called them 'The Me, Me, Me, Me Generation') but there is an awful lot more to them than that.

Millennials represent about a quarter of the population, but because they include the trendsetters they have huge upward influence. Brands have always geared their advertising plans around the 18-35 group. But their problem now is that this latest pesky generation is the first one that can be said to be a post-TV cohort. The irony is that this is the group that has never had so much TV available to them. They would have laughed at Bruce Springsteen’s ’57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)’ as being wholly unrepresentative of their experience (which was closer to 5 times that).

A study by Elite Today has thrown new light on some of the previous conceptions of Millennials. As it is a US study, there are some elements that don’t apply quite so much here. But the technology and media consumption patterns are universal. And while they are the most educated generation in history, they have been scarred by the recession, postponing marriage and children more than ever (only 4% were married with kids).


  • Represent about a quarter of the population
  • Have huge buying power ($1.3 trillion annually in the US – Barron’s)
  • Are trendsetters and influence older generations
  • Are highly educated
  • Are career-driven
  • Are politically progressive (Exhibit 1: the Marriage Equality referendum in Ireland, your honour)
  • Are happy to rent rather than buy (the recession has changed this attitude in relation to house purchase, though we might expect this to be less pronounced in Ireland due to our cultural insistence on house purchase).

Marketing to Millennials

These are the reasons why they are so sought after, but where are the clues that give us insight into how to sell to them?

They are hard to connect with through traditional, disruptive advertising

Apart from the fact that they have greater access to time shifted TV viewing and x30 fast forwarding through the ad breaks, they spend their TV time multi-screening. So it is harder to get them on the failsafe giant of traditional advertising.

But they are also screening out the pop-up and display ad online. Disruptive doesn’t just apply to TV.

Only 1% of millennials surveyed said that a compelling ad would make them trust a brand more. They think ads are all spin and value authenticity more. 84% say they do not like advertising.

They live online

As the first generation of digital natives, it comes as no surprise that they spend an average of 25 hours a week online (Source: AdAge). So online is a good place to talk to them, obviously.

In fact, when asked what was the one thing they could not live without, the Internet (47%) topped their best friend (35%).

Particularly on Social Media

62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. They expect brands to not only be on social networks, but to engage them. And if they do, then they are happy to reward that brand. 52% of Millennials use their mobile devices on social media to note they like a brand.

They value authenticity and society

75% said that it’s either fairly or very important that a company gives back to society instead of just making a profit. They value authenticity (43%) over content itself (33%) when evaluating news sources.

They are more likely to be influenced by blogs, friends and family

Unlike prior generations, Millennials rely mostly on blogs (33% selected them as their top media source) before they make a purchase. Fewer than 3% of millennials rank TV news, magazines and books (traditional media sources) as influencing their purchases. They also rely on their friends (37%), parents (36%) and online experts (17%) ahead of purchase.

They are more image conscious

40% of Millennials are happy to pay a premium for a product that reflects the image they wish to convey about themselves.

They are happy to collaborate in developing products and services

42% said they are interested in helping companies develop future products and services. So rather than develop a product or service and hope they like it, why not run a creative competition around your brand or service?

They are more likely to trust retailer websites

50% of younger Millennials and 47% of older Millennials trust retailer websites, compared to 33% of GenX and 36% of Boomers.

They are brand loyal (in the right circumstances)

60% said that they are often or always loyal to brands that they currently purchase. 48% said that the quality of the product is the most important attribute they check for before they decide what to purchase, which is more than twice that of price (21%). When asked about what influences them to share information about a brand online, 39% said “a quality product” and 30% said “a good customer experience”.

But savvy with their money

43% of Millennials check for coupons or promotions on their smartphones while in a store.

In a nutshell

The clear lesson is that if you want to future proof your brand, you need to not just engage these guys online, but do so in an authentic way, using real experts and genuinely assisting them in solving their problems. If you do that, then they will talk about you and recommend you to their friends, in whom they place a lot of their buying trust. They will even go out of their way to help you in your product development.

Content marketing is the marketing discipline that can help you connect with Millennials by making you more easily found online in the non-disruptive way that they prefer.


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