There’s a new article everyday on some product or industry that millennials are “killing.” I put “killing” in scare quotes because it’s silly to place the blame on the consumer for not preferring an inferior product. In fact, it’s often the brand itself that should carry most of the blame for not appealing to younger consumers. Frankly, marketing to millennials is a dumb idea.
Sometimes the product just doesn’t appeal to millennials (think landlines or cable TV subscriptions). But other times it’s the whole millennial-focused marketing campaign that leads a company down the wrong path. Companies misinterpret generational preferences all the time, especially when marketing to millennials. They just can’t help themselves from fixating on the stereotype of a millennial as someone who requires instant gratification, talks in ever-changing slang and cultivates a hipster aesthetic. The reality is that millennials are rarely any of these things. It’s time for companies to stop with the cringeworthy campaigns that frequently do more harm than good.
Take Applebee’s for example. Their popularity has diminished in recent years, and they blame it on millennials. Why could that be? Applebee’s used to be a chain that stuck to simple American staples like chicken wings, burgers and mac n’ cheese. In an attempt to win over those millennials with their infamously wacky flavor palettes, they’ve made the foray into more adventurous menu options like Firecracker Shrimp Cavatappi, and Sriracha Chile-Lime Sauce Shrimp. It should be a pretty clear sign that Applebee’s is out of their element when chili-lime is actually misspelled on their own website. Unless of course these limes come from Chile, which I doubt.
People go to Applebee’s when there’s one near the airport hotel and they need a quick and easy option. If millennials want to pay for an exciting and flavorful dinner, they’re going to go to a real, authentic restaurant. Not a mediocre chain’s thinly-veiled plot to lure them in with poorly made exotic cuisines.
Don’t try to be funny on social media
Brands that attempt to mimic the millennial vernacular on social media also fail in embarrassing fashion almost every day. Sure, if you’re a sporting goods store, you can use the soccer ball emoji. But stay away from trying to infiltrate millennial culture by getting in on a meme or viral trend. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how clever you think it is. By the time a company gets wind of a meme or joke format, all the good jokes have already been made. Millennials enjoy memes because they’re a generational inside joke. They don’t want to see a company ruin the fun in an attempt seem relatable and spike sales.
So how should companies reach millennials? For starters, don’t be lazy. Think more deeply about the niches you’re trying to reach. Sometimes the stereotype will fit, but most of the time you’re going to be met with eye rolls and falling demand.
Intensely examine your target audience’s interests and content acquisition preferences. Millennials don’t just speak in emojis.
As Neil Howe at Forbes tells us, they’re actually more likely to read than older generations. And they can spot pandering a mile away. A self-aware tweet can be endearing, like this recent example from Moon Pie, but that’s not a strategy for marketing to millennials.
It’s okay to occasionally be current with your content, but no one’s going to completely change their mind about a product because they posted lots of memes.
Don’t get caught up in an ill-conceived campaign marketing to millennials just because you sense a trend a-brewin’ and want to get in on it. A robust integrated marketing strategy will give you the insights you need to reach young consumers without the gimmicks.
Matthew Steele is an unapologetic Gen Z marketer just waiting for the onslaught of failed marketing to his generation. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Marketing to millennials will often result in talking to the hand rather than a sale.