I’ve been interested in the emerging generation known as Generation Y or Millennials since I watched a 60 Minutes episode about them in 2005. Mark Johnson, Founder of Loyalty 360 and the Loyalty Expo, trusted me to give a lunchtime keynote presentation on Millennial Marketing at the first ever Loyalty Expo shortly thereafter. Far from an expert at that time, I attribute my survival of that presentation to a guy named Todd Dugas and the fact that marketing to Millennials was a brand new topic and I was probably one of a handful of people in the room that had done significant research on the subject.
Fast forward almost 10 years and one of the hottest topics still debated in marketing and business circles is how to solve the Rubik’s Cube called the Millennial consumer.
In my own journey to better understand this consumer group and to unlock ideas of how to shape future loyalty program (or any data-driven marketing program) designs, I’ve conducted primary research, have reads hundreds of articles and have intentionally hired people in the generation to augment my own team as a means to “walk the walk”.
I’ve noticed a trend of late. Marketers writing on the subject of Millennial Marketing seem compelled to compile their recommendations for solving the Millennial mystery in Top 10 or Top 7 or Top 5 lists. Sifting through the stack of material in my office, I had revelation that the key to reaching a nirvana-like state in your own Millennial marketing efforts can be boiled down to just a simple Top 3 list:
- Stop making Top 10 lists to define your Millennial marketing strategy
- Accept there is no recipe or formula that can reliably predict marketing success with Millennials
- Understand that lists, recipes, and formulas that attempt to box in our precious Millennial targets are simply evidence to the people whose brand love we seek that we persist in our old school thinking
Among the articles I have recently read, one on Forbes.com struck a note of agreement with my own thinking. The most important reality check is that Millennials are already growing up. It’s inaccurate to paint them with the saggy pants look anymore. Not when they are buying half a million dollar homes and townhouses in Austin, Boulder, and Palo Alto as evidence that they are getting on with their lives. If we defined Millennials as 19-29 in 2005, it should be clear that a significant group of the 80 million we talked about at that time are now in an age range of 28-38. I can hear the cries now “OMG, I’m getting old!”
Consider the irony of brands still trying to figure out these “kids”, the digital natives that won’t configure their voice mail, upload oodles of photos online, and research just about every purchase online in depth before making a decision. The target has moved. The kids have grown up and are seeking the same things that their older siblings, Aunts and Uncles, even parents, have asked of their favorite brands over the years.
Solid value, product quality, good (better) customer service are table stakes of what Millennials seek and their expressed desire for transparency and clarity from brands is something that every consumer wants. It might just be the Millennial legacy to consumer marketing that they were the first generation to summon the courage to clearly demand straight talk from brands while letting them know this transparency is an important precursor to doing business.
No doubt that the information transparency enabled by the proliferation of the internet, mobile devices and connectivity via our Wifi world has give Millennials the tools to learn more, share more and also to have their voices heard by brands in a more powerful way.
The question remains, what do we do with all that we have learned?
Looking into today’s consumer markets, I see Sephora and Lancôme each centering their customer loyalty efforts on mobile and digitally driven strategies. I see Panera Bread “surprise and delight’ its customers with a program that so far has avoided use of an explicitly rewarded currency. And, I’ve seen companies as diverse as AMC theaters and Kickback Rewards/Phillips 66 making their loyalty programs work in real time with points being earned, redeemed and communication of new offers being made as part of the customer visit experience.
It is in this spirit that we are expanding the boundaries of Contextual Loyalty™ with each passing day. While there isn’t a formula that can be whipped up for every brand to create a successful loyalty or engagement program with Millennials, there is a new sandbox in which to play. Remembering that our customers are human beings is a good place to start.