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Targeting Millennials: Marketing to the Largest Generation

Millennials, defined by Pew Research Center as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, are a key consumer demographic. They're on the cusp of becoming the largest generation in the United States, a diverse cohort numbering more than 71 million with spending patterns that are disrupting traditional marketing. With a projected spending power of $1.4 trillion in 2020, reaching this generation is critical. For businesses targeting millennials, this starts by going digital.

Reaching your target millennial audience is not as simple as sending an email or posting a photo to Instagram. While your target audience may be constantly checking those social feeds or emails, it can still be information overload — and cause your message to be overlooked in the digital clutter. Before jumping ahead with a social media strategy or content marketing program, consider the following three things: your audience's behavior, your method of communication and the message itself.

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Understand the Audience

As a cohort, millennials are highly engaged online, using social media to discover, follow and interact with brands. While this behavior can be a helpful starting point for understanding your audience, there is also significant variation within this 15-year age range that can impact your targeting strategy:

  • Older millennials, sometimes referred to as the micro-generation "Xennials," are in their early- to mid-30s. Older millennials report facing greater financial responsibilities, such as balancing student loans with saving for a home or starting a family.
  • Younger millennials, who are in their mid to late 20s, may have fewer financial demands outside of student loans and spend more freely on experiences, such as eating out and travel.

As your company develops its targeting strategy, consider how age impacts your audience's needs. You may benefit from developing separate messages for older and younger millennial cohorts or other sub-segments, rather than a single blanket message. Attitude also plays a part, according to research from Deloitte, which cautions against generational stereotyping. Consider conducting your own research into your audience's needs, motivations and aspirations.

Consider the Channel

Common digital channels for targeting millennials include email, social media and pay-per-click search ads (PPC ads). As a general rule of thumb, it's beneficial to use the channels your audience is already active on, but also consider the context for this activity. Millennials may be open to interacting with certain consumer brands on Instagram, for example, but find a message about a B2B product jarring and out of place here. Younger millennials may be frequent Snapchat users while older millennials may rarely or never use the app. An effective social media strategy requires time, expertise and careful consideration of your target audience's needs and expectations.

Refine the Message

As you refine your message, tie it back to your overall goal. For example, are you focused on early-stage sales funnel goals like building brand awareness? Or, are you trying to communicate a more transactional message, such as an upcoming sale or discount package? The message you choose will impact your targeting approach.

Organic social media postings, for example, can be beneficial for strengthening existing customer relationships but will not necessarily result in new customers. If your goal is increased brand awareness, partnering with social influencers may help get your company in front of a wider audience. Your business may also benefit from promotional posts on social media channels or a PPC ad campaign.

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