Marketing to Millennials: Knowing Your Customers

October 25, 2017

I’m 50. So if you’re seeking wisdom about marketing to millennials, keep in mind that you’re asking a guy old enough to be their dad.

Then again, if you ask some millennials, also known as Generation Y, they can tell you what they like and what they want, but they can’t necessarily tell you how to translate that into a good business strategy. Understanding the thinking and habits of a demographic is a perfectly good thing to do. However, when you run a business, the next step is a bit more complicated than simply saying “Give them whatever they want!”

What they would really like is free stuff, delivered free to their urban lofts. You’re not going to do that, nor should you. And no one is accusing them of expecting it. But the point is that if every business transaction is an agreement between two parties, then your prospective millennial customers are counterparts in a negotiation. Understanding them is only useful to you if it helps you understand how to make a deal with them.

So what do they want?

To start, let’s consider the aforementioned urban loft. These are popular homes for millennials, and I use the term “homes” advisedly because this is not a generation that is all that concerned about putting down roots—at least not yet. They’re quite different from the 1990s couple in their late 20s, newly married and somehow taking ownership of a 2,500-square-foot home in the suburbs with a “great room,” whatever that is.

Easy credit terms were really something while they lasted, eh?

Millennials sometimes don’t even say they “live” in a certain place. They say they’re “staying” there, because who knows where they’ll decide to be a year from now? But they do love the urban setting, and a quick trip through one of these apartment buildings will show you some things. You’ll see two or three boxes from Amazon or Overstock sitting outside almost every door. You’ll see as many bikes as cars in the parking area.

Oh, and you might not see some of them for days at a time. They hang with friends, and often they see no reason to make the late-night trek home because they can just crash with their friends.

A growing number of millennials work remotely, so it’s not even necessary to get up and change for work. And a lot of them have pets, especially dogs.

For whatever reason, some urban apartment buildings are more dog-friendly than cat-friendly. It might be the fact that dogs go outside to relieve themselves, whereas cats don’t. That’s not going to help the aroma when the day comes that the tenant moves out and you have to try to re-rent the place. Anyway, the urban-dwelling millennial has to walk the dog, often right in the middle of the city. Depending on the dog owner’s schedule—not to mention when the dog has to go—that could be very early in the morning or it could be late at night.

Also, since apartment living doesn’t provide the dog with much room to run around like one could offer with a house, the dog owner has to find an alternative. Many cities are recognizing the trend and are establishing dog parks, so people with nowhere else to let their dogs run around can make use of public facilities offered for that purpose.

So what can you do with all this? You know they like to buy things online.

You know a lot of them live in cities. You know a lot of them don’t have yards for their dogs to run around in. And you know that many of them don’t own cars, preferring to use Uber or Lyft on the somewhat infrequent occasion when they need to travel outside their immediate areas.

First, make sure your online sales system is robust and doesn’t depend on fulfillment services that require signatures, because a lot of the time there won’t be anyone home to sign for the item.

Second, you want to engage effectively on social media, which will allow you to push specials to this demographic group more precisely. You might consider a small incentive, perhaps a standing 5 percent discount, to those who like you on Facebook or follow you on Twitter and Instagram. That’s going to give you the ability to appear in their newsfeeds and highlight products that fit their lifestyles as pet owners.

Third, give some thought to the particular needs of urban dwellers who own pets. What do they need that other pet owners wouldn’t need? Maybe some sort of selfaffixing light so they have visibility when they have to walk their dogs late at night. Maybe some indoor toys that can amuse the animals when they’re indoors, because it’s never quite so easy to just let them out.

Or better yet, ask them. Find out how their lifestyles challenge them as pet owners, and let them tell you what would make it easier for them.

But remember: If you’re going to do all this for them, you should expect to get something out of the deal. They’re used to paying a premium to live free of chores like grass-cutting and weed-pulling. Don’t just give all this away. Price it to reflect its value.

You want customers, obviously, but don’t assume millennials will only be your customers if they don’t have to pay what things are worth. You’re either going to have to develop strategies to upsell them on other items or you’re going to have to charge what things are worth— especially if you do give those 5 percent discounts in exchange for social media following. That has to be reflected in the way you set the regular prices, assuming you can still move the merchandise at the slightly higher price points.

The bottom line is that millennials are no different from any generation in that they’re willing to pay what’s necessary to get real value. You just have to understand what value means to them, and then you have to decide what the value should be worth to them—and to you.

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