Writing For Millennials: Engaging The New Generation Of Consumers

By azfar on February 1, 2016

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writing-for-millennials

Millennials are one of the fastest-growing consumer groups in the world, with more entering the world of adult consumerism every day. There’s a lot of competition to market towards them, but marketing to Millennials presents a number of challenges that are completely unlike marketing towards the Gen-Xers and Boomers who preceded them.

The question of writing for Millennials is a complicated one, but it’s a challenge anyone seriously trying to market to the younger generation will have to grapple with. Attempting to use older methods will almost inevitably fail. Writing for Millennials means, first and foremost, thinking about how Millennials view the world.

So in this article, we’ll take a look at common trends and attitudes among Millennials, and offer concrete recommendations on how to write and market towards them for best results.

Why Market And Write For Millennials

Millennials were “just kids” a few years ago, but now they’re quickly becoming one of the most important consumer groups in the nation. It’s estimated there are around 80 million Millennials in the US -roughly a quarter of the population- who have a combined buying power of $1.3 Trillion dollars per year.

Those numbers are only growing by the day, as more Millennials enter the workforce and obtain supportable incomes. The oldest are already starting to have families -although Millennials have been slower to reach that milestone than previous generations- and will very soon be the mainstream marketing audience.

So whether you’re more interested in the device-obsessed youth market, or currently pitching your products mostly to Xers, Millennials are a major buying force that cannot be ignored. It won’t be long at all before they are in the same positions that the Xers currently occupy.

Millennial Traits and Behaviors

So what is a Millennial, anyway? Even that question is a bit hard to answer, as demographers have had a difficult time defining when the generation began.

They are generally defined as the children born in 1980 and beyond, but even that definition has quite a bit of leeway. There’s a shadowy sub-generation, occasionally referred to as Generation Y, which could be roughly defined as: “Old enough to be an Xer, but raised in a tech-focused household that provided a Millennial-like upbringing in the late 70s and 80s, especially access to online information before it became ubiquitous.”

Likewise, there are some who are young enough to be Millennials, but were raised in a traditionalist or less-technological way which gave them Xer- or Boomer-style mentalities.

While not universally agreed-upon, access to the Internet (or earlier online iterations) seems to be one of the primary factors that separates Millennials from previous generations, especially psychologically. This would also account for why the beginning date for the generation is so hard to pin down, since Internet access took roughly 20 years to roll out to widespread use.

So it’s hard to have too many specifics for Millennials as a whole, but these are some traits which are often common to the generation:

  • A globally-minded view. Millennials are much less susceptible to jingoism and nationalism, raised in an online world where events in India seem as immediate as events in Indiana. Rah-Rah-Go-America style messaging usually falls very flat, especially outside of the South.

  • Deep cynicism. Like a generation of Holden Caulfields, they are aware of how much hypocrisy is in the world and they hate it. None the less, they can be rallied to optimistic action if they can truly be convinced of the sincerity of a cause.

  • Low religious affiliation. Millennials are the least-religious demographic in history. Only about half believe in a God, and many are staunchly anti-theist. Avoid religious messaging unless you are certain your target segment will be receptive.

  • Strong egalitarianism. Millennials are less likely to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc, than any other generation. They strongly view most people as basically equal and will usually reject materials which suggest otherwise.

  • Short attention spans. Raised on the Internet, they’re accustomed to content which can be consumed in a few minutes -or less- and have difficulty dealing with longer time commitments.

  • Hyperactive trend sensitivity. Online memes and other Internet trends are the closest thing to a culture most Millennials have, which also feeds into their global views.

  • Deep distrust of advertising. According to studies, only 1% of Millennials say that adverts can create favorable impressions of a brand. They view virtually all open advertising as inherently biased and self-serving, which means they cynically distrust it.

  • A strong social focus. Social media and independent blogs are the sources of information Millennials find most trustworthy and compelling. According to that same study, 62% are more likely to view a brand favorably if it engages them via social media.

  • A deep desire for authenticity. Authenticity is probably the single most highly-valued virtue among Millennials. This also means that should they believe something is authentic but then see it revealed as fakery, their resulting scorn will be almost impossible to overcome. Millennials take betrayal very badly.

So, it’s not hard to see just how different Millennials are from the generations that preceded them. This is vital to keep in mind when attempting to write for them, or engage in any sort of marketing efforts.

Writing For Millennials: Engaging An Audience That Resists

It’s little wonder that many marketers, especially older ones, consider marketing to Millennials to be a Herculean task. Yet it CAN be done, and mostly requires patience combined with an understanding of how their minds work.

So, let’s start with the cardinal rule which should be remembered in any engagements with them of any kind:

Do not lie to Millennials.

There are no exceptions to this rule, and violating it can risk destroying a brand’s credibility among millions of individuals. Every Millennial with an online background is deeply familiar with search techniques and getting information out of Google. It can be safely assumed that any factual claim made in any form of outreach will be fact-checked, and the presence of a seemingly-deliberate falsehood is an instant dealbreaker. Worse, social media can spread such gaffs worldwide in a matter of hours.

Honesty truly is the best policy when talking to Millennials.

Plus, younger buyers will often reward honesty, such as the success of Domino’s self-effacing admissions that their pizza “tasted like cardboard” and needed to be reworked.

Now, with that in mind, here are some more specific suggestions:

  1. Use a conversational tone. Millennials are extremely informal -just think of Mark Zuckerberg and his iconic hoodie- and tend to distrust material written in vernacular or “business-speak.” Keep it down to Earth and relateable, even in professional ventures.

  2. Use appropriate pop-culture and viral references.* Pop culture is the glue connecting most Millennials, so they appreciate references to current trends and fads when it’s appropriate to the material. Keeping an eye on current movies, books, TV shows, and video games is a good idea, and can be effective linking material in blogs.

  3. Reference memes when applicable.* Memes -those cute pictures with text- are some of the most common pieces of pop culture for Millennials, and can make your materials much more relevant to them. The websites KnowYourMeme and UrbanDictionary are invaluable resources here.

  4. Be brief. As mentioned above, Millennials have short attention spans and are very unlikely to read materials longer than 400-800 words unless it’s extremely compelling. If the material requires more in-depth attention, consider making a video or podcast instead.

  5. Include plenty of images. This isn’t an insult to Millennials; they’re simply accustomed to a “multi-media” mix of text, graphics, illustrations, video, and even audio. Images reinforcing the message of a blog or social post will increase message acceptance, especially if those images themselves are shareable via social media.

  6. Focus on readability. A”wall of text” is immediately offputting to Millennials. Include plenty of whitespace and visual cues to guide their wandering eyes around a page. Break up large chunks of text with graphics or other mixed-media inclusions.

  7. Mix in a strong social media strategy. Your social media outlets will be at least as effective in funneling Millennials towards your blog as your SEO. Social media and blogging go hand-in-hand.

  8. Don’t be afraid to swear. Most Millennials have very little negative reaction to the traditional “bad words,” and strategically deploying them can often boost perceived authenticity.

  9. Utilize strong market segmentation. Millennials see themselves as unique individuals and respond best to materials they feel are targeted directly at them. Segmenting and writing for Millennials based on elements such as favorite gamesmovies or specific music subcultures is a good idea, because generic or mass-market messaging is often disregarded.

  10. Seek brand evangelists. Beyond writing your own materials, one of the best strategies for Millennial outreach is to gain the favor of populartrusted figures in social media, blogging, and vlogging. Engage in active outreach here.

*One Big Caveat: Attempts to use memes, trends, or viral materials inappropriately will misfire and lead to mockery. Seek to understand memes and their common usage before deploying them, to ensure they’re properly received. There’s a section of Reddit called /r/FellowKids devoted entirely to failed attempts at “talking like the kids do,” and we suggest browsing it for many examples of what not to do when targeting younger audiences.

Conclusion: Writing For Millennials Isn’t That Hard

Writing for Millennials mostly requires an understanding that their needs, interests, attitudes, and psychology are vastly different from previous generations. Effective outreach is largely about recognizing these differences, and being willing to update your strategies accordingly.

Brands which are honest, forthright, sincere, and look to engage Millennials on their own terms should have great success in their outreach.

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Updated: 15 December 2017

Azfar Hisham

About Azfar Hisham

A copywriter with previous experience developing computer simulations, managing websites and being the social media guy. Interested in Google Patents, Knowledge Graph and questioning everything.

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