There’s a lot of chatter among marketers about Millennials — what a huge and important segment they are, that they have different demands and expectations than generations before them, how they use their mobile phone to do everything, that they’re savvy shoppers who grew up using the Internet… and how it’s imperative to engage them now and start building a life-long customer relationship, before your competitor does.
While all of this may have merit, and while Millennials may be many things, what they are not is one big homogeneous group. The Millennial segment is roughly defined as those who are 20-36 years old, or close to that, as of 2015. As most of us can attest to, there are usually some pretty significant life changes that happen during that span of 15-16 years.
When marketing to this bunch, rather than thinking in terms of a vast pool of twenty- or thirty-somethings, you might be more successful reaching them if you target them by the stage of life that they’re in, such as college student, young professional, or new parent.
A Millennial Zips Through Life’s Stages
I look at my niece Kristyn as a great example of the importance of tailoring Millennials’ marketing messages to life stage. She was a vastly different Millennial consumer at many points during the years she went from being age 21 to 28:
- Single, Tan and Broke: At 21, Kristyn was finishing up her bachelor’s degree at U.C. Santa Barbara — in her self-described “single, tan and broke” era — she had plenty of time to hit the beach, but scraped by financially.
- The Great Adventure: After graduation, she spent a year in Italy, working as a nanny and a bartender and living in a hostel. It was a great adventure, and she spent her paychecks seeing as much of Europe as possible.
- First “Real” Job: Returning to the U.S., Kristyn moved in with her parents and looked for her first “real” job. Getting that job and a fatter paycheck, she was able to move into a San Francisco flat with four girls and steep rent.
- Movin’ On Up: By 25, Kristyn has a serious boyfriend, isn’t quite as tan, and has been working for a couple of years so she has more disposable income. The couple enjoys hip restaurants, good wine and traveling. An engagement comes next and they’re busy planning a wedding and determining where to live. A rarity among younger couples in San Francisco, they were able to purchase a house. So by 28, Kristyn is steadily moving up in her career, married, and a homeowner. After a couple of more trips abroad, the couple plan to start a family.
The Importance of Being Relevant
To reach a customer and cut through the massive amounts of content coming at all of us, the message has to be relevant. It has to serve up something that fits what a Millennial, or whomever you’re targeting, may need or want.
When Kristyn was planning to move to Italy, the likelihood of her clicking on an ad for furniture, diapers, or even premium-priced lululemon apparel, were slim. Though an email from Target may have gotten notice. A couple of years later however, when Kristyn has a steady job, more disposable income, and goes to yoga class, a lululemon ad is likely much more relevant.
Identifying a Millennial’s Life Stage
Marketing by life stage is a great idea! But how the heck do you actually do it? Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Millennials are good at sharing. This segment is far more used to, and comfortable with, sharing information about themselves than older segments. For one, they’re so used to posting juicy details about their lives on social media.
- Ask for information. At every appropriate opportunity, ask your customer to tell you about themselves. Knowing their interests, what types of events they attend, the kinds of things they do, what they buy, where they go for vacation, generally provide insights about their stage of life.
- A little incentive can go a long way. Though they don’t mind giving you data, Millennials prefer to get something in exchange for information. Offering a small, tangible reward — a discount, free shipping, or other “extra” — for sharing info can help build loyalty.
- Keep up with your customer’s life stage. A college student won’t be that forever (hopefully), nor will people’s children be babies for very long. Make sure to keep in contact with your customers and be aware when their life stage may be evolving or changing.
- Life stages can be messy. It would make marketer’s jobs so much easier if everyone followed a predictable, linear path. But they don’t. Life stages overlap, go back and forth, and go out of “order” more than not.
It’s not a perfect science, or easy, but the closer you can get to determining a Millennials’ life stage, the likelihood of your message reaching them, being relevant to them, getting them to act and engage with you, and retaining them, should improve.