and Don't Even Know It
By: Colleen Walton
I recently saw a LinkedIn article titled “Don’t Leave Millennials Voicemails.” During a conference, I heard a speaker say, “Millennials don’t like to drive.” These sweeping generalizations are sending some communities into a tizzy over how to appeal to this mysterious generation. “Millennial” is a buzzword used to describe anyone born between 1982 and 2004. If we limit this to working-aged individuals, we’re looking at a group of people between the ages of 16 and 32. This is such a broad range that making any assumptions about the generation as a whole is setting you up to fail. I wish I could tell you the secret to attracting young people, but I can’t; however, I can tell you the most common mistakes I see in marketing to millennials.
Saying all the wrong things
A while back, I met with the landlord of an apartment complex in the suburb of a major metro. When I asked her to describe the neighborhood, she told me it was “quite, safe, and perfect for young families.” I didn’t hear anything she said after that because that’d already put me off. As an unmarried, childless creative type, “safe, quiet, and family friendly” sounded boring. None of that appealed to me, but it does to other people. A high school friend of mine is a newlywed engineer with babies on the brain. For her, a place described as family friendly is ideal. Despite being young, highly-educated, and in a high-paying job, she doesn’t want to live in a place that focuses on marketing its bars and restaurants. The problem might not be what you’re selling, but rather how you’re selling it.
Just like how a home-buyer assumes that when a real estate agent uses the word “cozy” she really means “small,” people on the receiving end of your marketing efforts have the potential to misconstrue the things you say. Take a step back and try to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Are they hearing the same things you think you’re saying?
Trying too hard
Every sitcom has an episode in which the mom and/or dad try a little too hard to be cool and end up embarrassing themselves and their children. Sometimes marketing efforts aimed at young people feel a bit like that. It’s like someone Googled “What’s cool?” and ran with the first thing they saw. It’s important that your millennial magnetism grows genuinely from what you already are because people can tell when it’s insincere. We tell our clients all the time that their brand already exists. You can fight tooth and nail to change it, or you can embrace it.
Stop Googling millennials, take a walk around your community, and look at what you’ve got going for you. If you already have a vibrant downtown, make it the best downtown you can. If you’re already attracting young families, beef up your parks and playgrounds. When you stop trying to be someone else, you can become a better version of yourself.
Looking in all the wrong places
This last bit may be hard to hear, but someone has to say it: Sometimes kids just want to leave. It’s not you. It’s them. When they spend their whole lives living in one place, they lust for the adventure of leaving. It doesn’t matter if you have everything they’re looking for, they’re going to leave because they feel like they have to go out and see the world. No matter how hard you try, they’re still going to go. The silver lining is that young people in towns all across the country are leaving their hometowns in search of something new and shiny.
In my hometown of Indianapolis, a lot of kids grow up with dreams of living in Chicago. Kids in Indiana’s second-tier cities dream of living in Indianapolis. Kids in small towns dream of living in those second-tier cities. If you’re a second-tier city, you might not be able to attract young people from the big city, but you can get them from the small towns. You may not be new and shiny to your own kids, but you can be new and shiny to someone else’s.
Marketing is all about identifying your strengths and using them to your advantage, but sometimes that requires a shift in thinking because your preconceived notions about millennials might be what's hurting you. Like generations before, millennials are a diverse group. Treating them like they have a hive mind will only repel them. When you begin to recognize what you have and use that to drive what you want, you'll find much more success.
Brand Acceleration is a full-service marketing communications, brand management and website development firm with a focus on community and economic development.