5 Millennial Marketing Fails You Should Avoid

Takeaways from Advertising Week 2016

September 30, 2016

5 Millennial Marketing Fails You Should Avoid

I attended several sessions at Advertising Week focused on Millennials and all of them believe one thing to be true: Understanding Millennials is confusing and frustrating. One session in particular, "Breaking Through: Media Strategies that Impact and Reach Millennials”, outlined things you should ‘always’ and ‘never’ do when marketing to Millennials. In a world of gray area, I tend to believe that ‘always’ and ‘never’ statements are a bit too black and white. And it’s almost impossible to take one tactic and apply it to an entire - extremely diverse - generation and hope for success. However, I did walk away from this session with a couple of things marketers should avoid doing to effectively reach my generation, inspired by the discussion held by the following panelists:

  • Andrew Capone, SVP, Marketing & Business Development, NCC Media
  • Doug Weaver, Founder & CEO, Upstream Group, Inc.
  • Ben Dietz, Director of Business Development, Vice Media
  • Kathy Kayse, Yahoo Vice President of Sales Strategy and Solutions
  • Walker Jacobs, Chief Operating Officer, Fandom powered by Wikia

Sit back and settle in for a cautionary tale. Here are 5 Millennial marketing fails that you should avoid at all costs.

1. Painting with too broad of a brush

The first step in marketing to millennials is understanding that millennials aren’t a group of clones with one set of beliefs, values, or habits. As with any audience, marketers need to know what millennials value, how they consume content, and what messages are most likely to resonate with them. It is far too general to think about marketing one message to an entire generation of people.

As Capone said, “Somewhere along the way we’ve created generations out of media buying demographics.” Marketers tend to paint with too broad of a brush. That tactic wouldn’t have worked with previous generations and it certainly won’t work with Millennials. When marketers focus on demographics rather than individuals, their efforts will fail.

2. Inauthentic marketing

Millennials are even more resistant than Gen-Xers to hard-sell pitches. The Mad-Men style “buy this because we say so” messaging won’t fly with us—it’s too authoritative and too one-sided.

We closely watch what brands do outside of their advertising efforts. Are they giving back to the community? Do they have an inspired vision? We expect more from brands than ever before. Not only do brands need to have a good product, we need to genuinely like the company before we’re willing to invest our dollars.

As Jacobs also pointed out, Millennials are the first generation of native content creators. Typical ad tactics aren’t working on us because non-marketing is the only marketing we know. As social media natives, we are used to brands building a relationship with us, rather than pitching a product. And since we are content creators ourselves, we can smell your scent of phony from a mile away. “Marketers need to re-think old media tactics,” Jacobs said. “Brand that think, ‘maybe if we just yell out of our megaphone louder,  they’ll listen’ are doomed to fail.” Millennials are weaponized with tools to block ads we don’t like, and we aren’t afraid to use them.

3. Not speaking our language

If you were trying to reach a Spanish speaking audience, but your ads were in Chinese, your odds of success would be pretty dismal. That example might be a tad extreme. But similar to regionalizing your content to make sure it resonates with different audiences around the globe, marketers need to speak to their target audience in a language that makes sense to them. As Dietz put it, “we should speak to Millennials in the same way that they speak to each other.” Talk to your audience like they talk to their friends, like you talk to your friends.

It’s true that millennials have a unique worldview. But we aren't the first generation to throw societal convention a curveball, and we certainly won't be the last. Marketing to millennials is less about understanding some strange new decadent breed of human, and more about understanding the circumstances that shape their worldview. As with any audience, marketers need to know what millennials value, how they consume content, and what messages are most likely to resonate with them.

4. Blindly following data

Big data is good, in fact, it’s great. It helps guide content strategy and helps marketers become more relevant to their target audiences. At LinkedIn Marketing Solutions, we A/B test everything to ensure our content is as relevant as possible. We use data to predict creative effectiveness then follow-through with killer creative. But data doesn’t replace content, it just makes the content better. And while data is good, marketers shouldn’t follow it blindly.

Dietz warned that we shouldn’t follow data too closely - it can be dangerous. “Data suggests you do a certain series of behaviors. But it’s also telling everyone else the same thing. The result is a bunch of copycat content.” In the midst of all of this rich data, don’t forget the importance of instinct. Your strategy should be gut-led, but data-informed. Waiting and listening to data to try to determine your strategy is an innately flawed plan. Furthermore, Capone said, “Data can only tell you what happened. The most creative applications don’t necessarily come from data.”

5. Making our attention your goal

Finally and most importantly, marketing to Millennials shouldn’t be the goal. It should just be the icing on the cake of creating a brand that’s truly unique and innovative. If you focus on risk-taking and an inspired vision, all of the other benefits you’re looking for - engagement, attention, revenue - will follow. “If the primary goal is to sell to Millennials, you’re going to fail,” Walker said. As a brand, you have to ask yourself: Why am we here? This will help solve for the authenticity piece.

I overheard a speaker say that “Millennial” is the 17th most over-used term in our industry. Some of my own peers have expressed their concern that term is exhausted. However, Millennials have a purchasing power of $1 trillion annually. And the B2B buying power of millennials is only going to keep climbing. By 2020, we’ll also make up 50% of the workforce. It would appear we’re here to stay and we’re just getting started. In an age when the average human attention span is 8 seconds, the quest for attention is bleak, but attainable. And if you steer clear of the 5 marketing no-no’s listed above, you might just earn the attention of the coveted Millennial audience.

Whether you’re a member of the generation that is shaping the future, or you just want to know what makes us tick, download The LinkedIn Millennial Playbook to get informed and inspired.

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