Millennials Marketing is authentic, original, valuable and above all appealing to its generational namesake. Yet despite that what do you often hear? That it is trashy, spammy, self-absorbed and contrived. Well let’s just see shall we?
An inter-generational riddle, just to break the ice:
“What is fat, self-entitled, sheltered, and into instant gratification?”
TUT-TUT-TUT!!! If you answered “millennials” you are either a boomer yourself or a dime-store cliché junkie, misunderstanding the Millennials vs baby boomers divide: That tag applies much more comfortably to Boomers, who enjoyed 30 years of uninterrupted economic growth, obscene retirement plans, terror-free peace time without war and refused to invest in infrastructure in favour of “tax cuts”. They also came up with the ice-capades. No wonder millennials marketing (or marketing to millennials for that matter) looks like a UFO to Boomers.
Another fun family riddle around Boomers and Millennials:
“Who invented PR spin, mass-scale cold-calling boiler rooms, direct mail, ear-rape radio jingles, and TV Ads right at the apex of the movie?”
Ha! This time you know what I’m on about. Yes of course it was boomers too, who came up with these delightful marketing tools. Mass approach. Mass nagging. Mass media. Mass interruption of people trying to enjoy a film on the TV or a song on the radio. Turning a wee forest into paper pulp for the tackiest impulse from the direct-mail guy. Nixon. Lobbies. Etc.
As you can see every generation has its own generational marketing characteristics. So If boomers are going to complain about the worst aspects of millennials marketing then its only fair that they take their own share of punches.
I’m getting bored of hearing boomers revile millennials in the workplace and their so-called social media marketing. Just because they often see click-bait posts in their social media feeds? Especially when it was very much a millennial marketing solution to those ear-raping jingles we all hated.
When Millennials take over
Take it from a Gen X awkwardly sandwiched between the two cohorts. I have the growing mid-riff, one of my eyes feels dry all the time, and I don’t move about too good no more. No Zimmer frame yet, but a hangover will make me feebly whimper for hours, star-fished on the carpet whilst my kid pokes me in the ribs with a sharp object. That kind of station in life. I think that gives me the right wherewithal here.
Professionally too: I took my orders and “management” from Boomers for most of my life, and now work in social media marketing, spurred on by millennials. So I know both sides first-hand: Millennial marketing characteristics are sound, ethical, and effective.
Wait, hold on, what?
Oh my Gosh, did he just say that? Everyone knows that social media advertising is just noise and no substance, right? Actually, it is almost entirely the opposite and is something we addressed here. Inbound marketing (a term coined by Hubspot, the Cadillac of social media management systems) is all about value. It is concerned with nurturing visitors online, guiding them from strangers, to leads, to clients, to promoters, by giving them valuable content, at a time of their choosing. By talking of them, their interests and issues, rather than constantly pushing a product or promotion onto them.
If you’re interested in selling to millennials then this is the best way. Millennials marketing campaigns are more authentic, valuable and above all fast compared to traditional marketing. Just because you saw some LinkedIn contacts sharing trashy, attention-seeking / sexy /nit-witted posts does not invalidate inbound marketing or social media marketing.
Just do it
Because here’s the thing: The extended family of millennium marketing tools is simply more enjoyable, valuable than getting eye / ear-raped by some self-serving jingle when you least want it.
Inbound marketing gives you a choice. No one forces you to get on your computer or smart phone. You can choose what you are exposed to. There are millions of websites, podcasts, blogs, video channels to subscribe to. There is always one with the perfect message, content and tone for you. Compare that with TV which has been crushed by gigantic conglomerates, concentrating your possible choices to a few major networks. Digital Marketing to Millennials is a choice.
Inbound marketing, mediated by content through social media assets, talks to you, about your problems and interests. It does not repeat ad nauseam the same slogan about some obscenely exaggerated product feature.
Inbound marketing allows anyone exposed to your brand out there, to develop a more authentic bond with your company. A more emotional bond too. You have to be authentic to stand out these days (see what I did there?) There is more and more content out there. The amount of content produced daily is rising at a dizzying, exponential rate, whilst our ability to consume content is flatlining, rising by maybe a few % per year, and clearly destined to plateau at a finite level. This disconnect is often described as content shock.
It means your content needs to be better and better to stand out and be consumed, or engaged with. You can already see that in the return of long-form blogging at 1500 – 3000 words, the advent of video and AR/VR, the rise of opinionated, hopefully valuable and pleasurable content like this blog. You see it also in the gradual fade out of work-horse blog formats (7 tips to…) The return of vivid, authentic communication is made, if you ask me, much more through social media marketing than traditional marketing. That’s the definition of millennials marketing.
And isn’t that a great yin-yang of poetic justice, that clickbait trash indirectly contributed to making everyone more authentic? Well yes, because of content shock, the “noise barrier” has risen so much that… Anyone producing content needs to stand out. Be real. EVEN MORE REAL THAN “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER”
You cannot hide behind the brochure anymore, boomer.
Simon Sinek you are better at marketing than inter-generational insights pal
This one feels weird for me to write, because Simon Sinek is one of my marketing idols. His book “Start with Why”, the Golden Circle concept (Why > How > What) was a watershed event in contemporary marketing and a guide on marketing for millennials. It explains with amazing insight and compelling power, the inherent nature of companies and individuals who can achieve amazing results, build amazing branding, by living out a genuine “Why” (why does you / your company exist?).
But he then got famous for his take on millennials, in a video that did the rounds about six months ago, a kind of talk show interview he gave on Millennials in the workplace. You can watch it here.
In it, he sets out his millennial definition:
- Narcissistic and Entitled
- “Hard to manage”
The “funny” thing here, is that he just takes these modern clichés at face value, and then goes on finding an explanation for each. Weirdly, without ever challenging these assumptions. And admittedly, a lot of what he says makes some sense, but it all sounds eerily, one-sided, negative and out of context to me.
First, I would challenge these assumptions, by comparing that generation with the all mighty boomers.
Millennials are “Narcissistic and Entitled”
Really? More than boomers. Seriously? The luckiest generation of all times, that inherited functioning economy, peace, retirement plans, functioning infrastructure, actual 9-5 jobs, full employment, etc. Who staunchly refused to invest in future generations and ran apocalyptic deficits? Pretty rich no? Maybe it takes one to see one? Maybe boomers are so accusatory because they are used to getting the red carpet rolled out and they don’t like the new kids on the block who’d like a share? And on that note, frankly, at least millennials have the excuse of youth and its eternal sense of entitlement. Boomers however will rant on about that one time “all I got for Xmas was an orange”. And conveniently forgetting they inherited GIGANTIC life bonuses along the way. Talk of narcissistic!
Millennials are “Hard to manage”
I love that one. Well, they are different to manage, not necessarily harder. Of course, if you do not understand the times we live in and what values they cherish they will be hard to manage. If you try to cram them into soulless brochure-speak Orwellian marketing, the hallmark of boomer marketing, they will not like it. They want to do something of value. They want to have an impact (something Sinek weirdly scoffs at during the interview). Isn’t that good? OK there may be a bit of naivete here. So what? Isn’t that also what youth’s for? They will learn in time, the pragmatism needed to keep the lights on. That you can’t always abide to lofty ideals in business. At least they care!
Millennials are “Lazy and unfocused”
I ball these together because honestly, I just don’t agree, so I can’t even start putting this one in perspective. I work in an incubator and I see kids of that generation work day in day out, harder than their parents. Maybe my view is tainted by the fact that most are entrepreneurs, and that the company millennial may not work as hard. Possibly. Once again though. Remember the 9-5. Remember the 9-5 boomer… These kids will never know it.
It’s easy to make fun of their “bean bags” as he does in that interview, and refuse to see that they work just as hard, if not harder, than their parents. What’s wrong with that too? It’s pretty well researched and frankly obvious that having a bit of fun, during work breaks, contributes to higher motivation and productivity. It’s smarter. It’s less arrogant frankly than playing the hero professional, staying at the office till 8pm every day as some kind of personal branding badge. Playing solitaire anyway half the time.
Sinek’s explanations of Millennials traits
He explains why these (unquestioned) traits apparently are present in millennials, through four different explanations:
Failed educational / parenting strategies:
Millennials’ parents apparently told them all they could have anything they want, just because they want it. That many of them got A’s at school not through their own merit, but because their parents complained. Attendance medals cheapening the whole concept of meritocracy. And then they get to the real world and apparently their whole psyche implodes when they realise that they have been sugar-coated.
I think there MAY be some truth there, but frankly, I remember getting my fingers whacked to s*** by primary school teachers for not doing my homework as a GenX and it never made me very much more motivated or hard working. Filled me for a while with boiling rage yes but Meritocracy? Maybe a bit more. But really, a poor trade-off all things considered. Really, a tiny bit more care and empathy would have probably worked much better.
Social Media filters and idealised lives showecasing:
Simon explains how the advent of social media is making it easier and easier for kids, people at large, to pretend their life is amazing, even though it’s not.
I actually agree with this one, it is a deep concern of mine, even if I like social media, that it is effectively so often used to give a warped image of our own lives. It’s as bad as “fake news” if you ask me, and actively undermines the self-worth of growing children, or even adults, who keep being exposed to angelic, idealistic feeds of their friends. Here Sinek does admit the obvious: It’s not their fault. Clearly, our tech is evolving faster than our psyche and culture.
The answer to this one has little to do with the generation. Much more with the social technology (ironically not developed by millennials themselves) they have access to. And growing pressure to use. But social media networks are not natural networks, they do not obey Dunbar’s number (that cognitively, you can’t have a real network of more than 150 people, true of all cultures and generations). Social Media networks suffer more and more from Context collapse. The tendency to self-censor from posting authentic content, for you know some of your leftie FB friends will disagree, and fight with some of your more right-wing friends. And then your mom will wade in. And Content Shock, the over-saturation of content on the internet that is hitting our organic reach, something we covered here. There are all sorts of unnatural evolutions that make our current social media platforms undermining and stifling, in parts at least.
And in any case. Once again. Is that the Millennials’ fault? Was Mark Zuckerberg a Millennial? (Hint: No he wasn’t)
Millennials Technology acts as a drug
Simon quotes from a 2012 Harvard study that showed that engaging in social media releases dopamine in the brains of anyone receiving a like, a reply, a share, etc. The argument is that this can be highly addictive. Dopamine simply feels good, and your brain, timeless hedonist that it is, will go back out there to find a way to do it again. On the flipside, that your brain will hurt pretty bad, if you do get unfriended, if your post flops, etc.
He likens that dopamine to that of booze, tobacco, and gambling, and goes as far as suggesting that by letting kids use social media, is akin to opening the booze cabinet and telling them “Hey… if that adolescence thing gets you down… (flings the booze cabinet door open)…” He also claims that it’s particularly serious, because any addictive behaviour triggered in adolescence becomes much harder to shake off.
Well I don’t know about you but I remember seeing kids bullied “in real life” and it wasn’t too pretty. I have plenty of friends who started smoking at thirteen years old, and well. It’s heart-breaking to see where they are at now.
Once again. I don’t dispute the claim as much as I think it’s one-sided. Technology is an enabler, but human behaviour changes little. I doubt there is more overall addiction or bullying these days than there were 30-40 years ago.
I also take exception with his carpet-bombing claim that millennials apparently struggle to form meaningful relationships because of social media. Who knows there may be truth to it, it’s hard I find to be so definite with those kind of claims. But on the whole, it’s largely what you make of it.
My childhood friends who started hitting the boozer at 15 never had that many meaningful friends either. Staying glued to a TV set for 5 hours a day never did wonders for your empathy or social ability either. And research is beginning to show by the way, that millennials are not necessarily the biggest users of social media, and that it may actually be… Middle aged people.
Millennials are fickle and impatient:
Specifically he focuses here on millennials in the workplace. Apparently, they can’t maintain eye contact in meetings. They check their iPhone during trainings. Personally I never saw that.
He finally relates the points above to apparently, some specific inability found in millennials to be patient. They want to make an impact immediately at work, and get bored too easily. Failing to learn the basic of social skills which leads them to just “swipe right” (as in on Tinder) instead of learning the meandering social skills required to seduce a partner. Well I don’t know. Isn’t that youthful impatience largely than a generational thing? And who wants to go through the never ending ordeal of having to approach girl you don’t know just to face rejection?
I met my wife on Tinder by the way. Not that I was completely hopeless at striking up a conversation.
I didn’t stick to a job either for the first ten years of my career. And I’m glad about that too, it helped me refined my career goals. And allow me to travel.
Well it wasn’t exactly a guide on how to sell to millennials, is it? After all they are your current and future customers and one which you will have to understand better than Simon Sinek does if you want to have a hope of appealing to them.
Millennials, Millennials Marketing and Social Media
In the end, all that millennial bashing reeks of laziness and of jumping on the self-righteous bandwagon. As I sat through Simon’s interview on millennials I kept remembering that saying, “To someone armed with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Yeah, if you have decided that social media platforms are the spawns of the devil, you will always find some way to justify that.
I agree that social media raises real issues. It contributes occasionally to warping perspectives, lowering self-esteems, de-socialising some individuals. Then again plenty of other socially accepted things do the same and such behaviours have always existed. And once again, the industry and the platforms are evolving now, to counter that. To counter the fakeness, and prioritise authentic, sincere, and valuable content and contacts.
Anyone remembers those old news articles when steam power first came out? How the unprecedented speeds it allowed (50 mph!) would melt the eyeballs of passengers, gradually filling our streets with steam-power-speed junkie lunatics? Millennials marketing, and once again, marketing to millennials is not the end of the world. It can be exciting, real and valuable.
We are hardwired for progress. Sometimes yes we do careen over the cliff, and an intelligent debate will always be welcome. But hypocritically vilifying social media users, lumping them in a bizarrely negative generation, and blaming them for technological evolutions that were engineered by their own parents won’t get us anywhere good soon.