Millennials are an elusive marketing unicorn. They are loosely defined, but egregiously misunderstood.

Dubbed the “selfie” generation, these “digital natives” who make up 24% of the US population will be in possession of more than $1.4 trillion in spending power by 2020 (according to Nielsen and Accenture). Therefore, it’s no wonder companies are grasping at straws to understand and market to Millennials.

The first step to understanding Millennials, and what drives their content consumption and buying decisions, is to throw assumptions out the window. The largest inference may be that this generation is self-absorbed and only cares about trite and meaningless fluff, fed by the latest reality TV star, but a 2014 Nielsen study reveals that Millennials, “…value authenticity and creativity, and they buy local goods made by members of their communities. They care about their families, friends and philanthropic causes.”

Step two is understanding that they have the highest “BS” detector of any generation and are not afraid to use it. As the co-founder and CEO of VICE Media, Shane Smith, succinctly put it, “Young people have been marketed to since they were babies, and they have developed this incredibly sophisticated BS detector, and the only way to circumvent that is to not BS.”

Who Are Millennials? The Facts.

While the term “Millennial” is open to interpretation, depending on who you ask, it is generally agreed to include 18-25-year-olds. Some may even include up to 30-year-olds in their definitions, but the commonality remains that Millennials are in the discovery stage of their lives. According to a Pew Research social trends study, they are embarking on, and often completing, major life milestones in abundance and in a short amount of time.

They are graduating college, entering the workforce, settling into long-term relationships, buying their first home, and perhaps even starting families. Their priorities during this process quickly shift from things to experiences as they become more socially conscious of their environmental and cultural footprints.

What do they want?

When pursuing millennials, there is nothing worse than treating them like a number. The word “authentic” is key for this group. It may take longer, but establishing a relationship with them will build the trust needed for them to invest in your brand long-term. Overly-aggressive advertising and “buy now” copy will only turn them off. Millennials are easily distracted by the many other companies vying for their attention meaning your window for first impressions is very short.

Transparency and self-acceptance.  These core values are the reason we see so many selfies floating around the net. Millennials have used advances in technology and communication to make the world hyper-connected and hyper-transparent. They are showing you everything about themselves and their lives and now want to see how your business is conducted.

What does that mean for companies? An opportunity to show authenticity.

Deloitte recently conducted a study that revealed 73% of Millennials are hopeful in the concept of corporations positively impacting society-at-large. However, many believe companies need to take a closer look at how their work affects society at a micro-level, from the individuals they employ to their impact on the local environment. Brands who attempt to cloud or ignore these issues often disqualify themselves from successfully engaging with Millennial audiences.

Useful content. A 2014 study by NewsCred on “The Millennial Mind” revealed that “62% of those surveyed feel that online content drives their loyalty to a brand – yet the content they’re receiving is turning them off by not helping them navigate their everyday problems, being too long, sales-driven, or not tailoring messaging to individual cultural interests.” Since 41% will abandon content if it’s too long and 34% watch mostly online video over broadcast television, it is integral that companies strike the right balance. Content must be tailored to their age, where they are, and to their cultural interests. Bridging the gap between company and individual with tailored content provides a personal experience. This experience, in turn, earns a level of trust that results in 46% of Millennials feeling comfortable enough to share their data with the company, and seven times more likely to give their personal information.

Entertaining & Compelling. The main reason Millennials would be willing to share content on sites like Facebook—the most popular Millennial sharing platform—Twitter, and Reddit, is because it’s funny. According to the aforementioned NewsCred study, 70% will share content because it made them laugh while 30% refused to share content that didn’t entertain or educate. If your company’s product or mission doesn’t align with a humorous or entertaining approach, then you’ll be inspired to know that 60% of Millennials will also share content if it is thought-provoking and intelligent.

How to Bridge the Gap

Create content that will inspire. Humanize your marketing and advertising by creating a transparent relationship of authenticity. When appropriate, be humorous or entertaining, but at the very least, address the pain points around the Millennial phase of life with relevant and intelligent information.

When all else fails, take a selfie, and let them see the face(s) behind the brand.

Interested about finding out more about the youth marketing industry in Europe?  Join Taboola and a thousand attendees from brands, agencies, universities, and youth organizations for a 3 day festival at YMS London!

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