How To Advertise To The Millennials (& Why Most Brands Get It Wrong)

How To Advertise To The Millennials (& Why Most Brands Get It Wrong)
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B&T’s resident favourite Millennial experts, Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell – Directors of Love & Wine, and co-founders of Gen Y brand specialists HOW&Y – are back and probing the Ys like no one else can… 

The Gen Y demographic is the most analysed in history. No surprises there. It’s been poked, prodded, and probed since its unconventional lifestyle priorities became obvious. The result is a collection of hypotheses amounting to speculation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the marketing literature. And it comes about in an apparently logical way. Analyses of a generational market take history as their starting point. The easiest way to get a fix on a new generation, so the logic goes, is to chart where and how it differs from the previous generation. The changes can, and have been, mapped on generational continua, where the transitions are laid out. These are often predictable – or at least, explicable in hindsight.

Enter Gen Y, and what seemed a logical approach goes out the window. Because Gen Y doesn’t play by the old rules. Predicting their behaviour as consumers, based on insights and experience from previous generations, is guaranteed to frustrate.

We spent 20 years in the FMCG industry in the US and Australia working with top international companies at senior sales and marketing levels, across widely diverse categories and brand portfolios. No one disputed the fact that, irrespective of generational embellishments, the key to sales remained the same – consumer needs.

Through some kind of alchemy in the generational mindset, the motivation of Millennials shifted from needs to values.

It’s the difference between a brand that performs its stated purpose well (so meeting Boomer/X needs) and a brand that also creates a statement about identity and enhances image (Gen Y’s aspirations for a brand). Or, if you like, it’s the difference between a brand you can depend on, and a brand you can have an emotional connection with.

Sure, Gen X and Boomers are also into image – talk to any BMW salesperson. But there’s a sharp distinction here. Gen Y’s commitment to image is far more than individualised vanities. It’s all-pervasive. It’s a value that defines a population, and influences lifestyle decisions across the generation.

Nor are image and identity the only influencers of Gen Y decision-making. They represent the homogeneity within a generation that is also heterogeneous. The differences within come in the form of a range of (we’ve identified 20) aspirational values that straddle the generation.

The challenge in marketing to Gen Y comes down to identifying the right aspirational values for your product or service, and targeting these in a way that doesn’t mess with Millennial shibboleths. Not a simple thing to do. With Gen Y it’s easy to make logically seeming, but naïve and totally wrong, assumptions. A common fault in advertisments to this market.

A generation driven by values rather than needs is a game-changer for any B2C company. Through the superiority of their own organic evaluative processes, the best companies have twigged to this.

Most haven’t – they’re still unaware of the problem. But Gen Y is a case of history teaching a painful lesson.

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