Marketing to millennials

Those born between 1980 and 2000

Culture and history intertwine

As a sociologist and marketer, I’m fascinated by the different subcultures that define our different ancestries, socio-economic groups and generational identities. You don’t have to live in abroad to appreciate the power of culture. A large percentage of us had grandparents or parents who immigrated to the U.S., enriching us with stories of their home countries.

My Swiss grandmother, for example, moved with her family to New York in the early 1900s, then moved back to Switzerland before finally immigrating to Southern California in 1914. Her family was on the second boat to make passage through the Panama Canal, fleeing from what they believed was an imminent German invasion of her country. That didn’t materialize, of course, but it’s humbling to know that were it not for the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand in 1914, my grandmother would never have met my American grandfather–and I wouldn’t be on the planet. Such fateful ‘what if contingencies’ across generations apply to all of us.

Each generation has distinctive cultural qualities

In 1992, William Strauss and Neil Howe published their groundbreaking book “Generations” in which they described a five-generational cultural cycle in U.S. history going back to the 1600s. This laid the foundation for a rich body of marketing/other research exploring how each generation develops its own distinctive subculture.

Millennials will soon be the largest generational demographic

Much has been written about how Millennials are different from Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) and Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980). However, Millennial generation product/service preferences in the U.S. are mixed and complex. Simplistic assumptions about this group have resulted in marketing strategies that have completely missed the mark.

What marketers need to understand about millennials–
  • According to Howe and Strauss, only 3.5% of Millennials are first-generation and 20% are second-generation. Among Hispanic-Americans, a full 66% of Millennials were born in the United States.
  • Significantly, 43% of them identify as non-white.
  • They are predominantly liberal in political orientation.
  • Cross-cultural and interracial marriage among Millennials is higher for any previous generation. Fifteen percent of all US marriages in 2010 were between spouses of different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, millennial families often align with more two or more cultural groups.
  • For that and other reasons, it’s no longer possible to have a broad “Latino” or “East Asian” immigrant marketing strategy. Product choices of such groups are contingent on multiple factors.
  • Millennials will soon be outspending other consumer groups, including GenXers and Boomers. In addition, their values and consumer preferences are being assimilated by their older generation counterparts.
  • Above all, Millennials want personalized online experiences that allow their active participation. Companies need a strong digital presence if they want to tap into this trillion dollar + market.

Millennials are more receptive to global brands

Skype, email and Facebook give recent immigrants and their descendants immediate connection with overseas relatives that was impossible for older generations. This global influence is reinforced by an increasingly diverse network of Millennial generation friends and family who often influence them to purchase foreign brands.

Bottom line: nineteenth and twentieth century American immigrants were eager to assimilate into the mainstream culture. By contrast, the ‘new multiculturalism’ involves identifying with and appreciating aspects of ‘originating cultures’ that directly influence consumer habits–not only for immigrant groups, but for the broader society, as well.