How to Effectively Market Your Small Business to Millennials

What group in the US numbers more than 80 million, has an annual buying power of $200 billion, and makes up nearly half of the US workforce?


Sometimes called “Gen Y”, millennials are the much sought after generation born between 1980 and 2000.

This generation carries impressive buying power, so it’s no surprise that marketers are focusing on understanding and speaking to this lucrative demographic. Millennials are 1.75x more likely than baby boomers (born between 1946-1964) to say they’d like to be brand-loyal, so earning their trust is likely to yield a years-long relationship with your brand.

In fact, millennials will be the recipients of “the largest wealth transfer in history” as baby boomers transfer over 30 trillion dollars of their wealth to their children.

Every generation brings its own set of values, priorities, and cultural touchpoints, and millennials are no exception.

The West Midland Family Center recently created a generation comparison table highlighting the differences between four distinct demographic groups. Below is a sample of the information they compiled. To view the entire table check out the WMFC’s full report.

When you categorize a large group of people with a narrow set of descriptive labels, you risk homogenizing the messaging meant for them. Delivered poorly or without nuance, brand messages geared toward millennials will devolve into self-parody, or even worse, ham-fisted caricature. Forbes magazine expounds on this idea, writing:

This is the number one thing you need to know about millennials. They are not like other generations in that they are a simple demographic. You have to drill down deep into the millennial generation to come up with the right marketing campaign for you.

There are, however, some striking, fundamental similarities amongst millennials. Understanding and leveraging those similarities to reach millennials in meaningful, authentic ways is the first step to connect you to the Social Generation (as they’re sometimes called).

Since they represent an increasingly powerful group of consumers, nearly every business owner must figure out how to effectively market their business to millennials.

Bye, Traditional Marketing

Traditionally, marketing has been about all send and no receive: today, that’s termed interruption marketing.

TV spots and direct mail campaigns are examples of this one-way communication style which pushes information out to the consumer, but doesn’t allow for response or conversation. As the most technologically savvy generation ever, millennials expect to be able to interact with brands they like.

This doesn’t mean you should toss out that giant media buy just yet – traditional and other types of marketing will always have their place – but be prepared to really engage.

One way you can better engage with millennials is through inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing can impress millennials without making them feel they’re being condescended to. The Nielsen Company explains:

When interacting with companies via social media, they [Millennials] value authenticity – they want to feel like they have a personal, direct interaction with the brand–and in return, they’ll advocate and endorse that brand.

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Hello, Video Marketing

The goal to reach millennials is creating content that speaks to them in a language they recognize as their own (but don’t be “extra” about it). Engage with them on their own terms on services they prefer.

Use blogs, social media posts, podcasts, ebooks, and especially video to publish content that is meaningful and actionable. Invite customers to create and share their own content as well, and consider letting people remix and revamp your content to make it truly their own.

According to Hubspot’s The State of Inbound 2017 report:

  • 66 percent of millennials follow a company or brand on YouTube, and
  • 60 percent of them would rather watch a video than read a newsletter.

Video demos are especially effective: Animoto found that 85 percent of millennials found video demos useful, and a whopping 264 percent are more likely than baby boomers to share videos about a product.

One way to generate video content is by inspiring consumers to create their own. 44 percent of millennials are willing to promote brands on social media and other platforms. Try using an incentive or rewards system to get video reviews and other user-generated content from your followers, and be sure to leave virtual feedback on any content being created.

You can also generate quality content directly – here are examples of individuals and brands with strong video content on YouTube for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Who doesn’t get excited about having their posts liked and commented on? Not this lady, that’s for sure.



Want to get the attention and trust of a millennial? Millennials spend an average of 25 hours per week online, so starting with relatable

Millennials spend an average of 25 hours per week online, so starting with relatable web-based content is your best bet. 47% of millennials use their smartphone to discover brands via digital media after a friend followed, liked, pinned, or tweeted that brand’s info on social media. Seeing and listening to content spoken in the language of their peers feels authentic to them. That establishes a connection, which in turn engenders trust.

Offer millennials content that they feel proud to be associated with – millennials have been taught since kindergarten to share, and in the social media age, they’re good at it. Brand ambassadors are a thing now, and that’s because millennials have led the charge in building real brand-consumer relationships. To earn that loyalty, your brand has to be relevant, trustworthy, and shareable.

People who have posted, tweeted, or shared about their events and experiences in the past year. Via Eventbrite

Millennials want to feel empowered. When they share, like, tweet, or comment, the demonstrate a sense of empowerment in their community.

Millenials also feel empowered by companies looking to provide social benefits to society generally. In fact, over 90% of millennials feel it’s very important for a company to give back to society.

And if you’re frustrated that your traditional and online advertising isn’t working with millennials, you’re not alone. Millennials believe that advertising is largely spin, and definitely not authentic. Tellingly, 43 percent of millennials rank authenticity over content. They trust relevant, authentic opinions from real product users they can relate to:

  • 84 percent of millennials say user-generated content has at least some influence on what they buy,
  • 73 percent say it’s important to read others’ opinions before purchasing, and
  • Only 1 percent of millennials surveyed said that a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more.

Millennials are also more likely to both show their purchases to friends and write product reviews, perpetuating the share-purchase-share cycle.

Generation Now

As of April 2016, the number of millennials in the US surpassed baby boomers and generation X to become the largest demographic in the US. These numbers are projected to stay stable while older generations decrease in size over time.

One big difference between millennials and other generations: diversity.

Millennials are the most diverse generation ever. For example, a significant percentage of millennials are the children of immigrant parents, as noted by a White House report from 2014:

Many Millennials are immigrants or the children of immigrants who arrived in the United States as part of an upsurge in immigration that began in the 1940s. The share of people age 20 to 34 who were born in a foreign country is now around 15 percent — much higher than it was in 1950 and near the peak of almost 20 percent seen in 1910 during the last great wave of immigration to the United States.

More than 40% of the millennials in the US are made up of minority groups or individuals who self-identify as more than one race. This means that diversity and inclusion can’t be a hasty afterthought tacked on to the end of your branding and marketing – millennials expect inclusiveness to be an integral part of your message.


In large part thanks to this diversity, millennials tend to be socially aware and socially responsible. They expect the brands they interact with to be equally aware and engaged with the world.

Authentic. Engaged. Social.

Millennials are here, and their influence is felt across all markets and brands. If your business is ignoring millennials, you’ll quickly fall behind your competitors.

The good news is that many of the things that millennials value are values found in every generation. Optimizing your brand message to today’s consumers won’t just help you reach millennials; it will make your brand more attractive to everyone.

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