One of the Biggest Challenges Facing Brands Today

by Steve Olenski

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There is surely no shortage of challenges facing brands in the world today. I will not list them all, but chief among them — that is, if this particular demographic is in their target demo in the first place — is marketing, advertising and flat-out selling to millennials, or Generation Y. This group is, in fact, the largest in history with 80 million members strong in the United States alone. By the year 2015, millennials are expected to have an annual spend of nearly $2.5 trillion (that’s trillion with a T). Yet, far too many marketers are having a hard time selling to and reaching them.

Part of the reason so many are facing an uphill battle can be explained thusly:

  • Nearly two in five millennials say they do not trust big businesses. [TLNT]
  • A retailer’s ability to make a millennial smile is 33 percent more important than it is to a baby boomer. [Casual Living]
  • 64 percent of millennials feel that companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online. [Bazaarvoice]
  • 63 percent of millennials stay updated on brands through social networks. [Ipsos]
  • 41 percent of Millennials have made purchases with their smartphones. [Edelman Digital]

As you can see, just from this small sampling of key statistics, millennials offer a very unique challenge to brands.

Paging Queen and David Bowie

I know, far be it for yours truly to include a pop culture reference, but that’s the first thing I thought of when I spoke with Sarah Sladek, CEO of XYZ University and author of the aptly-titled white paper Getting Gen Y to Buy.

“The pressure is on for retailers and businesses to figure out this new breed of consumer that’s more informed and selective than any other consumer to ever walk in the mall,” she told me. “After all, this is a generation that has only known a world powered by the trademarks of a ‘Knowledge Economy,’ which is fueled by access, innovation and relationships. Anything else will seem foreign and irrelevant to them.”

The “digital natives” — a colloquialism used to describe millennials, as they are the first generation raised on digital — are naturally comfortable with technology and tend to be among the first to try new technologies. Sladek says retailers can capture millennials’ digital-savvy hearts by investing in social commerce sales (expected to top $30 billion in sales in 2015) and engaging customers in meaningful interactions via technology that make them truly empowered participants, such as sharing photos of products.

Marty Brochstein, SVP of Industry Relations and Information for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association (LIMA), who recently co-hosted a webinar with Sladek on the subject of marketing to millennials, says brands need to adhere to what they believe in and stand for, then back up their words with actions.

“It’s important that brand owners and those that use the brands follow through on the brand promise,” he said. “By the same token, when a product or brand succeeds, that success can be exponential given how adept Gen Y is at communicating their feelings to their entire social networks.”

In Closing

Some final thoughts from Sarah Sladek on marketing to millennials:

  • By and large, Gen Y is genuinely concerned their standard of living will be worse than it was for the generation that came before them.
  • As a result, Gen Y is open to the concept of sharing more and owning less, perusing Craigslist and thrift shops and researching prices and brands before they buy.
  • Contrary to popular belief, they are cautious consumers, and they will probably never spend as lavishly as their Baby Boomer parents did.
  • To get Gen Y to buy, businesses must focus on delivering continued, quick and easy access to new information, valuable services and products, meaningful relationships and experiences that deliver a real return on investment.
  • Gen Y will not respond well to tactics or messages rooted in negativity or criticism, and they won’t embrace anything ambiguous or meaningless.
  • The sooner companies can shift their focus on making the lives of their consumers and the lives of others easier, happier and better, the sooner they will get Gen Y to buy.

*This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.


Steve OlenskiSteve Olenski was named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred. Steve is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading marketing cloud software and services company. He is a also a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing and co-author of the book “StumbleUpon For Dummies.” He can be reached via LinkedInGoogle+, Twitter @steveolenski or at the nearest coffee shop.