Marketing To Millennials: 5 Things You Need To Know About Gen Y

In the realm of marketing, there’s a lot of discussion lately about what to make of the millennials, AKA generation Y. Here’s what marketers need to know about marketing to millennials.

1. We’re extremely career-oriented







This is really the number one thing that defines our generation. There is an enormous pressure on twenty-somethings to develop a professional identity.’s infographic “GenY In The Workplace” humorously but accurately sums up the working millennial’s identity:

At work by 10 a.m in their skinny jeans, sharing photos of their espresso, Gen Y workers have built a reputation far different from any generation before them.

We’re attracted to products that help us construct that youthful, professional identity. I asked my fellow millennials what they bought in the last month, and here are some of the things that came up. Notice how many of them serve to semiotically display a professional identity:

  • Starbucks
  • A fitted blazer
  • Smartphone
  • Chic purse for work
  • More Starbucks
  • Mad Men-esque suit vest

If it screams, “Take me seriously! I’m an adult now, damn it!” we will eat it up. Seriously, test it out. Go shopping with a 20-something and see what catches their eye. More often than not, it’ll be something that helps define them professionally. So keep that in mind when marketing your products to us.

2. We’re nostalgic for the 90’s








There are so many websites dedicated to the 90’s. And millennials go nuts for them. When Nickelodeon ran “The 90’s Are All That” last year, everyone born between 1982 and 2000 collectively lost their minds. This article by Ben Bransetter on Thought Catalog brilliantly explains generation Y’s love affair with the 90’s:

The 1990s were largely the same as the 1950s… Both were eras of mass economic surplus, extensive consumerism, and suffered great tragedy immediately thereafter… Both the assassination of John F. Kennedy and 9/11 were followed by periods characterized by failed leadership, disastrous wars, and economic hardships. This has allowed both generations to have a “before” and “after” division between the time their life was simple and joyful and the time their life became one of unemployment and war.

While a big part of the reason for our collective nostalgia can be explained by this post-9/11 cultural zeitgeist, another reason why my generation enjoys reminiscing about the 90’s is because it’s yet another thing we do to define ourselves as adults. The fact that we are now finally old enough to have a childhood to look back on reaffirms our sense of adulthood. So when coming up with a marketing approach to your Gen Y-targeted products, consider keeping it retro.

3. We’re inexplicably obsessed with being healthy








Farmers markets. Kombucha. Juice cleanses. Locavorism. Bikrim yoga. While not exclusive to millennials, you can expect to find a huge number of them involved in these and other healthy lifestyle activities. According to this report by JEFCO, millennials are:

  • Willing to pay more for fresh, healthy food
  • Aligned with key food movements, including organic agriculture and small-batch artisanal cuisine
  • More likely to buy natural and organic products than Baby Boomers

We are guilty of allocating an irresponsible percentage of our income to healthy lifestyle foods and products (and Instagraming them to prove to everyone how responsible we are), so knowing how to appeal to millennials is crucial if you’re product is related to healthy living. If your product happens to have health benefits, spell them out for us and we’ll be at your attention.

4. We believe that phones are for everything but talking

Lady Gaga Gets It






They’re for texting our friends to make plans, looking things up online while we’re out shopping, checking in on Facebook, Yelp, and/or Foursquare, and taking and sharing pictures. When I do call someone, I usually send a quick text to notify the person that I’m about to call them. Calling a millennial unexpectedly is kind of the equivalent of showing up at their door unannounced. In this article, “Why Gen Y Hates Phones“, the author asks,

You wouldn’t step into my office, plunk down, and say “give me 20 minutes of your undivided attention”… Would you?

If we have such a low tolerance for personal phone calls, think of how much we hate receive marketing phone calls. Use opt-in mailing lists for email and text messages if you want your message to be heard. It’s not that we don’t want businesses to communicate with us, it’s just that we prefer to receive communications on our own terms. I sign up for mailing lists from my favorite brands but would be pretty furious if I got any unsolicited communications from any of them.

5. If we like something, we want to share it- with everyone










Millennials are likely your biggest and most powerful band advocates. Unlike other generations, who might take the time to email specific people to tell them about a product, place or service they think they’ll enjoy, millennials share the news across all their social networks. Consider the differences in how these two generations share:

  • When baby boomers want to tell people about a restaurant, they might send an email to a specific person whom they think might enjoy it: “Saw this article about a new Thai restaurant that opened near you, thought you’d be interested!”
  • When millennials want to share something, we’re more likely to plaster an image of the pad thai we ordered all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and check in on our smartphones to boot (“You guys! This pad thai is ungodly tasty, you MUST go to Thai Palace on 23rd and 9th!”) And then we’ll go and write a gushing Yelp review about it.

So when marketing to us, encourage us to check in, tweet, and otherwise spread the word about your brand. Because we will, everywhere, and with everyone.

For more on marketing to millennials, check out Lindsey Kirchoff’s awesome website:

2 thoughts on “Marketing To Millennials: 5 Things You Need To Know About Gen Y

  1. Great article Jessica!
    1 and 2) I think it’s very true that Millennials are a generation that desperately wants to be taken seriously as “adults” while at the same time maintaining putting it off as long as possible. Embracing Mad-Men style clothes (and drinks! Is it just me or are old-fashions making a come back?) and identifying nostalgia for the 90s are important parts of setting ourselves apart from kiddie-dom. On the other hand, we’re putting off marriage, home and car ownership to later than ever. Some of our most pop culture movies deal with late twentysomethings coming to terms with adulthood (I’m looking at you Seth Rogen!). Interesting paradox…perhaps one worth examining in a further blog post? (I’m writing it down!).
    3) For your other points, telephones are never for talking and don’t even think about leaving us voicemails.
    4) I think the trend in food movement for millennials also has roots in our inherent desire to be “foodies”–I wrote about our growing preference for craft beer and Carol Phillips ( did an awesome post on rising gourmet food in millennials.
    5) As for sharing, yes please! Speaking of, thank you for sharing my link :)

  2. Pingback: Delayed Social Media ROI: The Case Of Wallaby Yogurt » Get Stuck In Traffic

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