When it comes to marketing towards the millennial generation, glossy statements often fall on deaf ears, and that’s simply because the traits that define the millennial generation run against the grain of conventional marketing wisdom.
The Millennial Audience: Lofty Goals and Tight Wallets
Both culturally and financially, millennials are a unique audience to cater to, which means companies and marketers will have to reinvent their outreach tactics. On the financial side, millennials grew up with the recession, which means that we aren’t as willing to drop money on houses, cars, fancy weddings, or even have children – we are not settling down in the way our parents did. Although millennials now make up the largest demographic in the U.S and have enormous buying power (approximately $200 billion), they are much more cautious with their finances, which means that they will be harder to convince that a product or a cause is worth investing in.
And how do millennials decide what’s worth their money? This brings us to the cultural aspect of this new generation’s spending habits – millennials are idealistic and independent-minded, more socially conscious and “hipster”. They are more willing to buy from small, local, indie companies rather than big brand names (i.e: Sierra Nevada is in and Coors is out). Most importantly, millennials want authenticity and a reason to believe in your product, company, or cause. They’re interested in social activism, environmental sustainability, and buying in a way that they believe will benefit the common good. That’s why it’s important to market the cause and message behind a product.
Missing the Mark: A Demonstration from Fiat
The advertisement below is an example of Fiat trying and failing to appeal to millennials:
While most companies don’t go as overboard with their advertisements as this Fiat one does, most mainstream ads still make the same mistake in trying to appeal to millennials’ desire to be ‘cool’ and fashionable rather than their sensibilities.
Aside from its bizarre allusions to ‘popular culture’, such as Tumblr gif characters and catch-phrases that play out more like the latest Youtube phenomenon, the Fiat commercial doesn’t directly address the concerns of millennials. Apparently, the Fiat guarantees ‘endless fun’, but that’s not what is going to ultimately convince millennials to cash out thousands of dollars. With this type of big investment, millennials are not only more willing to look at the environmental sustainability of the car but its actual utility and economic value. As the book ‘Millennials As New Parents: The Rise of a New American Pragmatism’ says, millennials do enjoy luxury but “are more interested in substance”. As such, the Fiat ad was unsuccessful not just because of its offensively shallow portrayal of millennial culture, but also because it didn’t appeal to the real interests of its target audience.
“Indie” Beer: Millennials Celebrate Originality
We won’t buy cars, but we will walk to the store to buy beer. Our parents had a handful of mainstream (watery) beers to choose from, but we want a better value—beer with more taste, alcohol, and originality (and I think at this point, our parents do too). Besides giving us a better bang for our buck, craft beer and micro brew beer (“indie” beer) have more personality than mass market beer. Exotic backdrops, expressive characters, and bold text give us something other than a brand name to look at (and think about) as we sip our beer. While the majority still drinks mass-market beer, more and more millennials are opting for the “indie” beer over the mainstream stuff. Even PBR is losing its charm.
Many of the indie beer labels are quirky and allude to pop-culture, but some also display themes that resonate with us at a deeper level. They reflect our generation’s curiosities and humor, but also what we are most preoccupied with—history, politics, and the future to name a few.
21st Amendment Brewery is a brewery from San Francisco that gets us. It proudly reps the community it grew out of, markets its mission rather than its brand, and “celebrates the right to be original,” which is of utmost concern to us millennials. Unlike Coors, which “stubbornly refuses to compromise, since 1873,” indie beer companies like 21st Amendment have adapted to the tastes, preferences, and values of our generation. Despite not having a clearly defined ‘mission’ like many other indie breweries, they are mission-driven. Take a look at the banner on their homepage and you’ll see that 21st amendment cares about many of the same things as millennials–originality, substance (more hops!), people’s rights, and freedom!
It cleverly lays out the history of prohibition in San Francisco and sends us the message that hoarding hops is not cool. 21st Amendment is proclaiming that people have the “right to hoppy, aromatic beer.” This indie brewery doesn’t trust the establishment and doesn’t wants to skimp the consumers.
Indie designs are visually appealing, but they also tend to highlight ideas that resonate with millennials. Although 21st Amendment is primarily driven by the desire to give people hoppier, more original beer, their designs also allude to controversial themes like evolution, exploration, war, liberty, and women. Their designs reimagine historic icons and events and reflect our “obsession with nostalgia” as well as our cynicism towards politics. These examples draw from the old, but put a modern, millennial spin on it:
Besides giving us food for thought with every hoppy sip, “Indie” beer companies tend to use an old-timey, oddball design aesthetic that appeals to our time warped “hipster” generation. The indie brands are winning over customers for other reasons too, further cramping the mass-market beer companies’ style. Millennials tend to trust the local mission-driven businesses over the large mainstream “uncompromising” ones. Moreover, we are increasingly drawn to businesses that serve the environmental, social, and economic interests of the communities they operate in.
Marketing for the Common Good
We are rejecting some of the old (even the more environmentally friendly Fiats), but we’re also putting new spins on the things we want to see more of in the future (like beer!). And when we do shell out the cash, we want what we buy to reflect who we are.
Thanks to our internet savviness and unlimited access to information, we millennials are learning about and reflecting on history and current events. We are also reflecting on our position in the whole scheme of things. Though we are worried about the future, we are taking advantage of our purchasing power. By reflecting more on what we buy, we are discovering products with more substance. We are also ushering indie or local businesses into the millennial mainstream and helping to resuscitate and diversify markets that we care about. Companies that rely more on brand recognition than innovation must now show us something more original. Moreover, by not spending in other markets, like homes, cars, and on other big items, millennials are helping everybody rethink the way we’ve been gobbling up the environment.
Like Guenther Media, millennials will continue to care about the common good and we will press on even if companies like Coors remain uncompromising. Guenther Media likes the way millennials–and the “indie” businesses that attract them–are shaking things up. It also understands how to effectively communicate with millennials, which is probably why we wanted to be a part of the team.
-Wendie and Hannah
Here are the sources that helped inspire this piece: