Re-posted from Deliver Magazine, December 2011 Issue
Their purchasing power is enormous. Your future success depends on winning them over. How well do you know them?
You might think of them as the tech generation. They’re the folks who said in a survey they’d give up their sense of smell before saying goodbye to their smartphone. They are “The Millennials,” and, at 100 million strong, they’re the largest generation in U.S. history. They are also among the most coveted. Their purchasing power is estimated at more than $200 billion. According to one study, they influence as much as half of all spending in the economy. They’re the children of the Baby Boomers, an enigmatic young group that has already gone through several collective descriptions, having been dubbed everything from Generation Y to Echo Boomers to the Net Generation. Only recently have demographers seemed to settle on terming them “Millennials.” Experts still differ on time frames that bind the group, though the consensus that’s forming seems to hold that Millennials are those born between 1985 and 2004. In other words, if a consumer is currently between the ages of 7 and 26, he or she is a Millennial. If they’re not your customers now, they will be — if you’re successful. They are nothing less than the key to the long-term survival of your business. Do you really know what makes them tick?
A success story
Jeremiah Stevens likes to think he has some idea. Stevens, the director of alumni relations at Lake Forest (Ill.) Academy, saw untapped potential in building bonds with the private school’s recent grads. He launched a “Thursday is the new Friday” program, a series of fun events designed primarily for young audiences. The gatherings include activities ranging from karaoke to bowling to comedy to concerts. While Stevens uses viral communication to promote the event, he also relies on postcards to help spread the word and keep the event top-of-mind. “The postcards end up on refrigerators as reminders, but the mailings help in another way as well,” says Stevens.
In many cases, the address on record for the younger grad is the home of the parents, the people who paid for the private academy education. “We think it’s a good thing that the parents are involved in passing along the word about the academy’s events,” he adds. “It shows that we don’t forget about their children after they leave us.” The campaign is working — more alumni are getting involved with academy events, and fundraising is up.
Millennials and their mailbox
Tech-savvy may be their defining trait — more than 80 percent say they sleep with a cell phone — but ask one if they like to get mail. You might be surprised by the answer.
According to one study, Millennials say 75 percent of the mail they receive is valuable, and 73 percent of them have used direct mail coupons.
“We tend to move a lot, so we don’t get as much mail as older people,” says Matt Crandell, 24, owner-founder of a web design and computer services firm. “So when we do get mail, it tends to be a bigger deal.”
If they’re not moving frequently, they may still be living with their parents to save some money until their financial situations improve. Either way, Millennials can be hard to find.
But they are out there, and despite perceptions to the contrary, they do look forward to seeing what’s in their mail. “People may do away with landline phones in favor of a smartphone, but no one says, ‘Take away my mailbox,’” notes Tom Emmerson, vice president of sales and marketing for Premier Advantage Marketing, a division of Budco: The Dialogue Company.
How to reach them
But while Millennials may be more accessible than some imagine, marketing to this group comes with its own set of rules — including one especially gilded commandment: Be real.
In our conversation with four Millennial-generation subjects (see sidebar), we explored their thoughts on how best to communicate to their generation. A common theme emerged: “Gimmicks don’t lead to sales.” “Please, no tricks or smoke-and-mirrors advertising.” “We see right through you.”
“Millennials seek authenticity,” says Leah Reynolds, a consultant specializing in communicating across generational borders. “It’s not the mechanism that’s key — various forms of communication will work — it’s the voice. It’s the laser focus on their situation and their needs that will resonate.”
She reminds marketers that Millennials have “grown up to be suspicious of mass media. In some regards, they do not view big business, PR and advertising favorably. What I’ve learned is that Millennials can be resistant to traditional mass market communications.” Reynolds recommends that marketers use a more targeted approach. “They’re looking for something they deem credible,” she explains. “Peer-to-peer influence works — creating buzz within the demographic — and that can be done through a variety of tactics.”
Integrated campaigns are almost a must, say other experts.
“Millennials are very conscious of community,” notes Eric Cosway, EVP and chief marketing officer at QuantumDigital. “The ability to share messages, offers and preferences with friends is important to them. This presents an opportunity for brands to broaden reach beyond the direct mail offer, amplifying traditional marketing to engage this digital audience. Marketers need to think strategically about using direct mail to drive Millennials online, then provide ways for them to share content with their own sphere of influence.”
Emmerson of Premier points out that integrated marketing messages fit right in with the Millennials’ habit of multitasking across various electronic devices. “They have grown up doing one thing while managing to listen to their MP3 player, look at their e-reader and send text messages to their friends. It is just who they are. The rise of this strongly progressive generation has brought society into a ‘mocial’ era (mobile, social, local).”
Emmerson says that direct mail is effective at reaching tech-savvy, multitasking consumers “because it permeates barriers that many other marketing channels face. Consumers can literally be anywhere making buying and purchasing decisions,” he observes. “Marketers need to be everywhere consumers are, providing them information that will get their brand noticed and considered. Direct mail is critical to brand success. Integrating direct mail with alternate marketing media increases the ability to make a sale and drive additional revenue.”
Emmerson says that direct mail also brings a level of credibility to multimedia marketing campaigns that other channels still cannot claim. “Millennials are keenly aware and suspicious of digital spamming,” he says. “When direct mail is used in conjunction with mocial marketing, it drives action, delivers sales and helps marketers get their message seen.”
How to find them
One of the biggest challenges of marketing to Millennials is their mobile lifestyle. “Unlike older generations who are more settled, own homes, have established credit and are easily identified within compiled consumer household databases, Millennials are harder to identify and reach for direct mail advertisers,” says Bob Salta, a partner at DirectMail.com. “Our research indicates that within a defined marketing territory nearly 30 percent of the Millennial population is typically omitted or missing from compiled household databases.”
Salta says marketers must be able to delve deeper within compiled household databases to better locate this hard-to-find demographic.
“At DirectMail.com, we score each household with a recipient reliability code,” he says. “It’s a combination of multiple variables based on the U.S. Postal Service® address quality indicator and an internally developed mobility score. The end result is a comprehensive confidence code that ranks the overall deliverability of living-unit members at a specific address.”
The process helps identify additional households likely to include a Millennial within the living unit.
“Despite reports of Millennials having a distrust of marketing, Millennials will respond to direct mail via multichannel efforts when receiving a properly executed, relevant and valued marketing message,” says Salta.
“They are much more likely to become engaged through the use of PURLs, QR codes or even the request to call. They love to share. They won’t hesitate to provide a wealth of information and refer others as well.”
Mail tips on reaching Millennials
So how can you tweak your direct mail campaigns to better connect with this generation? Honoring the rules on how to speak to them is important, of course — and that also means giving them a chance to talk back.
Spencer Albers, an interactive strategist at Mudd Advertising, says that his group has found the need to increase the number of possible response channels in a campaign when reaching out to Millennials. “They want the opportunity to respond by following a link, using a QR code or a sending a quick text message,” he says. “Many are more than willing to try new methods with the hope of an advanced user experience. What I think is important to note, however, is that while they are more willing to try new things, they are also faster to drop you if it doesn’t work as planned.”
For her part, Cynthia Fedor, marketing team lead and senior copywriter at QuantumDigital, insists that marketers keep their eyes on the most relevant parts of their message. Do not squander this group’s time with fluff: “Relevancy and personalization is important — they need to see how your product or service directly relates to them and why it matters.”