Marketing to Millennials: Part One – Understanding Generation Y


By Whitney


Friday was a rather blustery day here in the SLC. It called for a jacket and some great fall fashion. So I slipped on my oxfords, argyle socks, and long tweed riding jacket (no, I’m not British—just well dressed and I like the word blustery) and hastily made my way out the door. No breakfast and running late as usual, there was just enough time to lock my bicycle nearby, grab an overly caffeinated soy latte from my favorite coffee shop, and take an artsy photo of my new shoes against the trendy mosaic tile.

I was rocking the staple “I value sleep too much to do something cute with my hair today (actually EVERY day),” ponytail. With fair-trade coffee in one hand and my iPhone playing Spotify in the other, I made my way a few more blocks to the ad agency office. Buses drove by, billboards loomed in the distance, and I passed multiple newspaper dispensers as I rushed by many a storefront windows—all places for ads to flourish, right?

But did I see any ads? I had to. Yet, the thing is, I can’t remember any of them. What I do remember, however, is this:

  • The Instagram photo I liked that highlighted fall fashion trends.
  • My friend’s check-in at the local coffee shop I decided to visit.
  • The blog post I read about which kind of bike lights to buy.
  • The really cute, sassy ponytail (that would still take very little time in the morning) I repinned on Pinterest.
  • The YouTube video my friend posted.
  • The hashtag that lead me to find a really cool BPA-free travel mug to use for next time.
  • The song that I Shazamed from the coffee shop, which I immediately added to my Spotify playlist.
  • The Tweet I saw about Syria, which lead me to the New York Times article I read.

That’s what I remember about my morning. Not what was on the billboards, not the ads on the side of the bus, not the words in the actual, physical newspaper, or even the clothes in the windows. What I remember was what I directly sought out—not what was thrown in my face.

I’m a millennial. And this is how we millennials operate.

As the most studied generation to date, here are some hard-hitting facts about millennials. Marketers, take note.

  • Currently, millennials constitute around $200 billion of direct purchasing power and about $500 billion of indirect spending (due to the influence of their parents). (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • Gen Yers are predicted to surpass the spending power of baby boomers by 2018. (Oracle)
  • 84% report that user generated content on company websites at least somewhat influences what they buy. (Bazaar Voice)
  • A retailer’s ability to make a millennial smile is 33% more important than it is to a baby boomer. (Casual Living)
  • More than 75% of millennials have a profile on a social networking site and typically they spend 1.8 hours of an 8-hour workday on social media sites. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • Millennials switch their attention between media platforms 27 times per hour. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • 63% stay updated on brands through social networks. (Ipsos)
  • 32% of millennials say they don’t like advertising in general. (Experian Simmon)
  • 55% of millennials share bad brand experiences on social media. (YouGov)
  • Once millennials lose faith in a brand, it’s nearly impossible to win them back. Keeping positive relationships are critical. (U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation)
  • 41% of millennials have made a purchase using their smartphone. (Edelman Digital)

We’re the Echo Boomers, the Generation after X, the “Peter Pans,” and the ever connected, digital natives (80% of us sleep next to our phones). We consume what we want, when we want, and how we want. We respond much better to unforced, naturally occurring content, rather than traditional advertisements. And no matter how much money a brand throws at its ad campaigns, if they’re not trying to connect, then neither are we.


This entry was posted in: Inbound Marketing, Social Media Marketing


  1. October 2, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Okay Whitney, I understand you. I have seen the data. So this is my question. “Are you worth the investment?” If my business is not a highly entertaining, blog-worthy, come back for more with every cup of morning soy latte operation, then is this relationship going anywhere? If all I bring to the table is the best value and highest level of service, will you still introduce me to your friends? Do millennials invest in relationships, or do millennials only hang out with the popular brands?

    • October 4, 2013 at 7:16 pm

      Hi Thor,

      I love this question! And the answer is yes—millennials are completely worth the investment. But, it’s not just millennials that you’re investing in—it’s everyone. While you’ll find more millennials in the social space or on blogs, more and more non-millennials are starting to engage with brands via social media and are making purchasing decisions based on user-generated online content about a brand. So if your customers can’t find you in the social space or can’t find anything about you online, they’re going to turn to the company that they can. The reason for this is transparency, trust, and a two-way dialogue.

      Not all brands are glamorous or exciting or hip, but all brands whether they’re B2C or B2B provide a service/product to someone. And if you’re offering the “best value and highest level of service,” I (and anyone else) am most certainly going to introduce you to my friends. Why wouldn’t I? I may not be coming in every morning for my trendy fair-trade coffee to Instagram a photo, but I am telling people about your business. My bike lights are a real life example. I read several blog posts about which lights to buy, and ultimately made my purchasing decision based on a blog post by a fellow cyclist—not the company who makes the lights. I like their product so much that I tell my friends to get the same lights, but it would be nice if I could tag them in a post on social and share with all my friends and the company itself. The company who makes the lights isn’t in the social space and they don’t have a blog. I wish they did though. I’d like to interact with them. I’d like to hear what they have to say. I want to go to their social site to interact with others who are passionate about the same thing. I’d like to tell them thanks and give feedback. I’d like to have a relationship with them.

      In one of our recent blog posts (which you can view by clicking here), we elaborate on this a bit more. While it’s not geared toward millennials, it does highlight how even non-glamorous brands can create a meaningful relationship in the social space/through the use of a blog and why they should. You

      Hopefully I addressed all parts of your question. Feel free to reach out with any more questions. Thanks for your comment!


  2. October 2, 2013 at 10:16 pm


    I’m 49, but I think I am also linked somehow to this generation, that’s my day too. Who knew…ha! I shared on linked-in too, love you guys!

    Thanks for making me smile,

    • October 4, 2013 at 5:57 pm

      Hi Jessie,

      Age is just a number anyways :) I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post and we made you smile! Thanks for sharing! We’ll keep the good stuff coming.


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