Recently, a Huffington Post article from September of last year circulated around our office. It discusses the challenges of marketing to millennials in today’s day and age given this generation’s unique experience of media. As a millennial myself, I sometimes find articles about my generation and me a touch reductive. Or, as I guess a millennial should say, it’s #atouchreductive. Case in point:
“They do not read newspapers (at least not the paper kind) to see the ads or watch television commercials. They are oblivious to billboards, telemarketers and any other type of traditional marketing. They would rather text or Facebook message you than talk in person and, if you do talk face-to-face, it is likely to be your virtual face using Skype or a Google+ Hangout.”
Ummmmmm, can everyone please stop telling me how much I hate talking to people in real life?? Get off my back, MOM! But seriously, the truth of the matter is my generation is fundamentally no different than generations past. We want to know what’s going on in the world, we want to interact with our fellow man, we want to buy products that may improve our lives. We simply have a much larger toolbox at our disposal with which to do those things than generations past.
Let’s take the newspaper example: 50 years ago, there was one way to get the news. You read the paper that landed charmingly on your doorstep, right? Skip ahead to now: you can read it on your New York Times iPad app, you can watch it on any number of TV stations, you can skim online news outlets you might have bookmarked on your browser of choice, you can read an email newsletter you subscribed to, you can listen to a news-oriented podcast or dag gummit, you can read the paper that landed charmingly on your doorstep. Millennials aren’t disinterested in reading the physical newspaper or talking to other humans IRL. Instead, we are interested in choosing exactly how we read the news or talk to other humans.
Now before you start picturing all millennials as brats that only do what they want cuz #yolo, it’s not simply that we want to do it a certain way. It’s that we choose to do it in the best, most efficient, and most convenient way available to us. For instance, I would much rather talk in person to my brother who lives on the other side of the U.S. But I can’t afford a plane ticket every time I want to share my intense and emotional reactions to the most recent Game of Thrones episode. Instead, I shoot him a text, I write on his Facebook wall, I Skype him. It’s not about a desire to avoid face-to-face communication; it’s about a desire to communicate meeting the inability to do it face-to-face. And rather than choose not to communicate at all, I reach into my toolbox and choose something else.
Which brings me back to the offending Huffington Post article. The article ends by making a fantastic point about us millennials. In an effort to make the point clearer, the writer sources a friend’s book:
“A friend of mine, Jay Baer, recently published a book called YOUtility. In it he talks about how, in today’s social media-influenced world, the successful brands will be the ones who make themselves useful to consumers. By useful, I mean provide them information and incentives in a time and manner that is convenient for them.”
And bingo. Millennials do, in fact, want brands to give us information when it is useful to us. And so did you Baby Boomers and Generation Xers, too! Brands simply didn’t have the tools in their toolbox to make that happen before now. Today, however, a brand can target someone who might want their product, when they might want their product. And that isn’t something unique to my peers and me. It’s something unique to the time we live in and the technology available to us. And personally, I think it is a beautiful thing for a brand to have to think about and care about me before they try to sell me something. I want to engage with and experience a brand in a way that fits within my life. And so did my mom and grandma. The difference, in my mind, is that millennials have come to expect that kind of brand thoughtfulness because today’s technology can make it happen.