It is interesting to see the impact that technology has had on a generation, and in turn the impact that this generation is having on business and society today - and will continue to have in the years to come.  Millennials, loosely defined as adults age 18-35, are estimated to have an annual buying power approaching 2.5 trillion dollars within the next year. Sometimes referred to as “echo boomers” and numbering around 80 million in the US, we are already seeing the great opportunities and challenges for brands as they move through their consumer lifecycles.  What worked in marketing to earlier generations will no longer hold true.  How have things changed and how have they stayed the same?

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More than a couple of decades ago, while in the midst of figuring out what college I was going to go to, I remember taking a campus tour of Syracuse University.  One of the highlights was visiting the Carrier Dome, where the student-led tour leader provided statistics about the many great events that had taken place in the venue.  She went on listing some of the most popular bands in world, and also described the atmosphere around the stadium during D1 football and basketball games.  I remember all of the students and many of the parents were captivated (including myself), with many taking pictures both inside and outside of the dome to be developed at some future date.  The dome and the history that it held was clearly the star of the show.

Flash forward quite a few years to present day, where I recently toured the University of South Carolina with my daughter, who is beginning her senior year of high school.  At one point, the student leading our tour group pointed out a spot that she designated as “the most popular spot on campus for Instagram pictures”.  Several prospective students (including my daughter) took “selfies” with their smartphones on the spot and of course instantly posted them on social networks.  I did not realize it immediately, but upon reflection I learned that the star of this experience was my daughter, with the school visit as a backdrop.  Unlike many years ago, it could now be shared, discussed, and a potential future imagined for her in real time.

Challenges are numerous in marketing to Millennials.  Brand and channel loyalty are elusive for this group, as many will quickly ditch the present best thing for the next best thing.  Facebook for my daughter no longer exists, as she has moved on to Instagram, Snapchat, and other networks.  I’m pretty sure that time on those social networks is numbered as well, and that at some point something better or more popular will come into vogue.  There are specific brands that she is interested in that have done a good job of capturing her attention such as Free People and Louis Vuitton.  And no, she does not own a Louis Vuitton bag but hopes to someday.  Other brands fell out of favor much quicker than I would have anticipated including PINK from Victoria’s Secret. 

In my case, while visiting colleges, during visits I asked myself the question “Could I or should I be a part of that school and what it represents?”  For my daughter, it was more about “Could or should the school, become a part of my life?”  It is not quite the same, although at first glance it might appear to be.  The sole focus today is on the individual, which is not a bad thing – but it turns traditional marketing on its head.

So what causes a brand to stand out and stay relevant for Millennials? What is the secret to marketing to this generation? It can be explained in many ways, but you might find value in my companion post on the “Five Ws of marketing to Millennials.”

Steve has 14 years of database marketing experience, inclusive of cross-functional leadership, strategy, and sales positions.  He has worked across numerous verticals to help develop and execute successful campaigns for both mid-tier and large organizations. Steve has a MBA from Rochester Institute of Technology and resides with his wife and two children in Webster, NY.  He enjoys tennis, golf, reading, travel, and is an avid Buffalo Bills fan.You can reach Steve at sstreibel@sourcelink.com