The Startup Guide to Marketing to the Millennial Generation

Many startups, entrepreneurs and big brands are having the dilemma of finding a way of successfully marketing to Millennials (ages 20 to 34). For a wide variety of products and services - like eCommerce and social media products - reaching this generation of users is absolutely vital. But ask any advertiser and they'll say the same thing: this isn't an audience that's easy to reach. So why should your business care about putting in the effort to reach these fickle consumers?

Because these savvy young adults represent the consumer market of the future, and communicate their product usage loudly. Many are heavy users of social media platforms (like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook), and on these platforms signal or experiment with the fashion, technology, and behaviors that will become trends for the masses.

All companies want a significant segment of this generation in their demographic. Let's get to know them a bit better, first.

Millennials for All

Millennials have grown up in an age of technological change, globalization and economic disruption.  This gives them a different set of behaviors and experiences than their parents. They are digital natives and their affinity to technology affects how they shop, communicate, work, and even date. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information, reviews from peers and continuous feedback on their own choices and behavior by people that they trust.

They are described as everything from tech savvy, highly connected and sophisticated to impatient and egocentric. They are immune to most marketing and sales pitches.  Millennials expect more of a two way conversation with companies, as they engage emotionally, extensively and more personally compared to older consumer generations. And they're forming and reinforcing these consumption habits and preferences now.

As an example, look at how Tinder has changed the dating landscape forever with the first product to target and attract the Millennial generation. Providing targeted, geographically available singles a way to communicate within an easy to use mobile app appeals to many of the behaviors Millennials exhibit, detailed below.

Millennials already account for $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending. It is estimated that by 2030 this group will outnumber baby boomers by nearly 20 million (78 million to 56 million.)  A study conducted by Accenture estimates that Millennials over the next 2 decades are going to inherit close to 30 trillion dollars from their Baby Boomer parent generation.

Here are some characteristics you can expect from the Generation Y demographic:          

  • Young adults value “experiences” over products and services -- 73% prefer these over material goods.

  • 46% of the Millennial generation are interested in starting a business.

  • Millennials are passionate about causes and 40% of them believe they are capable having a global impact for change in some way.

  • Millennials have microscopic attention spans, which are dwindling down by the second — literally.  In 2000, the average attention span was ten seconds. In 2014 a Microsoft study confirmed it was eight seconds. This statistic has now whittled down to a mere 2.8 seconds.

Even Google is Shifting its Marketing Strategy to Reach Millennials    

Millennials will not hesitate to bounce and abandon your website immediately if you do not provide the information that they are searching for. If your website loads too slowly, they will bounce back to look at other results. If you are not paying attention to their unique personalities, they will leave.  Google’s own web trends analyst, Gary Illyes just recently gave a keynote presentation at Pubcon 2015 describing Millennials and how they are shaping the future of search. Google has updated many search features to increase its ability to serve users better.

Take a look at how industry is adapting to the new Internet natives:

  • Application Indexing - Google is now indexing apps that don’t have matching web content and starting to let users stream apps that they don’t have installed.

  • The Mobile Friendly Update - Google adjusted its algorithm to keep up with the growing demand of mobile usage, especially among Millennials and lower income bracket people.

  • Google Now - Google released a personal voice assistant that is a competing product to Apple's Siri.

  • Voice Search - Google implemented the voice search feature whereby users ask a series of questions, and each answer builds upon the previous question's context.    

  • Now on Tap - Google has developed a way from within an app to long press the home button and get contextually relevant information on Android devices.

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages Project - Google's newly developed framework will help speed up page loading time for publishers and ads viewed by a user on a mobile device.       

And it doesn't stop here: Google has many more updates planned for the Millennial Generation, like Micro Moments:

Search is becoming much more location aware or context-sensitive.

Here's an example: imagine you're standing in front of movie theatre and you ask your smartphone, "when are the opening hours?” Google will answer this query, knowing exactly which theater you are next to. Google’s next goal is to build the ultimate AI personal assistant, (kind of like a less creepy version of the movie “Her"). The ultimate plan? Google Co-founder Sergey Brin suggests Google hopes to react to your thoughts.

A few tips on how to make your content more useful to the millennial audience: try using bubbles or callouts to highlight a specific or an important part of a sentence that answers the question that got the user to find and land on a page. Users don’t always read whole posts or articles anymore. Remember Millennials' short attention spans, which require short bite-sized morsels of bulleted information that they can consume quickly. If you can add in a question, that is also helpful. Remember, if your website loads slower than 2.8 seconds Millennials will leave it. Make contact and registration forms on your website easier for users to use on mobile devices - autocompleting their info on forms is something they will remember.

Related: 12 Ways You can Be Better at Content Marketing for Your Business

Here are some of our best do and don’t tips.    


  • Create useful original content (shocking!)   

  • Allow users to find information fast - it should be easy to find with a quick scroll.    

  • Whenever possible, offer bite sized bits of info, or highlight the important part of the content on the page.  

  • Leave comments, forums or user generated content on your site unless it is spam - Millennials like feeling as part of a community.


  • Don’t just write a page of content to rank in search: a page that is not designed to benefit users will hurt your site's bounce rate as most users will leave.

  • Do not try to optimize for phrases or information that you do not have on your site.    

  • Do not send all of your website’s visitors to affiliate sites.

  • Instead of thinking about how many visitors your site had today, you should ask yourself, "how many visitors did I help today?"

Plan of Approach: 5 Tips for Marketing to Millennials      

1. Use Personalization and Customization

Millennials do not want disruptive, intrusive ads that distract the user from the content experience. Many Millennials will install ad blocking extensions in the Chrome Browser or on YouTube to try and block them out altogether. With their short attention spans, it means that they are less likely than older consumers to put up with ads in exchange for content. The old banner and popup ads are becoming relics of history.

So how can get you get their attention?  

You must find a way to give a personalized, non-intrusive advertising experience that speaks to them not at them.  A study just done by Quotient found that Millennials prefer customized and personalized offers from retailers. Want to know how to appeal to them? Here's a place to start: 80% of Millennials are always searching for the best price. If you want their attention, you have to get creative and just buying visible “ad” space is not going to cut it.

Use Data to Craft the Experience

Millennials want to have conversations with a brand, and smart marketers can do this by utilizing content data in the correct way.

Besides learning about a young adult’s search and purchase history, you need to analyze more actionable data, like the kind of videos they watch or the type of content that they share more frequently.  This will help your content and audience development teams to build profiles of who they are, as consumers of content and not just as customers, when they make a purchase. You must find a way to appeal to them on a personal level - it is vital for building brand loyalty and trust with a demographic that is notoriously distrustful of corporations.

You can have the most relevant and personalized ad out there, but if the ad gets delivered in a way that is distracting or interrupting of content, then Millennials are not going to be receptive to it. Using content data to create conversations with “20 and 30 something” customers is a good way to reach this ad avoidance culture.

2. Use Mobile Marketing

Ever since mobile search surpassed desktop search, having a mobile marketing plan has become important in general. But now, since a Nielsen study confirmed that 85% of Millennials own a smartphone, it’s a must for targeting this group. What are the basics of mobile marketing?  

  • Do you have landing pages that are optimized for mobile?  

  • Are the calls to action clear on a smaller screen?

  • Are the images so big that it makes the loading time longer, especially on slower connections?

How do you use creativity to reach the young consumer? Brian Wong, a Millennial entrepreneur, founded a company called Kiip, which figured out a way to incorporate native advertising into mobile games by allowing brands to offer users playing rewards after reaching a high score. Although Klip started its mobile rewards network with the gaming sector, they now have expanded into music, cooking and sports categories. Gatorade has used it to offer users free drinks to users who log athletic accomplishments, for example. Finding creative ways to integrate ads natively into highly used mobile applications and platforms, especially if it is portrayed as a reward, is a smart way to reach the Gen Y demographic. 

3. Create Functional & Delightful Experiences

Some retailers are using the internet and technology to appeal to Millennials. Starbucks, as an example, created an app that attracts younger consumers with interactive functionality features. Now, 11% of Starbucks' in-store transactions happen through a mobile device. Millennials demand and love having the ability to:

  • Tip and Pay via a wearable or mobile device

  • Purchase eGift cards  

  • Earn rewards and status

  • Shake to pay   

  • Find the nearest store

Even if not with an app, how can you make something your users already do - or which you would like them to do - more simple and delightful?

4. Focus on Design and Imagery  

How do you think about graphic design and images affect Millennial marketing? They make the message more effective and delightful -- they become digital experiences. Design with brightly colored images and integrate motion where appropriate, like the new Reddit property Upvoted.

When you can, try to use pictures of Millennials, thereby mirroring the audience you are marketing to, as people tend to gravitate toward images similar to themselves.

5. Target Social Groups Rather than Life Stages    

Millennials are a non-traditional finicky generation. Not convinced by traditional "life stage advertising," such as the Subaru commercials geared towards moments with your family, advertising to Millennials demands a creative approach that the customer will feel was crafted just for him or her.

Their contexts are wildly different than previous generations. Their word associations, for example: the word “family” can have different meanings, both positive or negative, and not all of them inclusive of marriage or actual relatives. The word “community” has many meanings and the neighborhood Millennials live in is probably not first thing that comes to mind. 

Many Millennials may not be thinking about purchasing a home, a new car or other luxury items, given college costs and the current economic environment they face. Many of them gravitate towards on demand access to products without the burdens of ownership, which has sparked many successful startups like Coworkrs, Airbnb, Uber in the “sharing economy."  Millennials' idea of happiness is working towards more of a location independent, traveling lifestyle.

Related: How to Build a Loyal Audience for Your Startup with Content

Marketers need to adjust their tactics because Millennials aging into adult life is not as linear as it was for the baby Boomers. Instead of trying to target life stages, you can focus on social groups. As an example, you can target population segments that are drawn to social causes, those who into alternative lifestyles, or those who follow specific celebrity or social media personalities. Millennials are a lot more likely to have stronger attachments to these social identities than they are with particular stages of life. According to a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, 48% of young Millennials reported that they “try to use brands of companies that are active in supporting social causes.”      


Cracking into this elusive market segment is not easy.  Make sure not to call Millennials “Millennials” when marketing to them - there is no faster way to alienate your target audience than by making it very obvious that you are marketing to them. BuzzFeed, suggests you use terms like “young adults", “20 somethings” or even “20 and 30 somethings” instead. Startups and established brands should relate to Millennials by moving from push communications to a targeted, two-way open dialogue with them.  If you get them to engage, it's the first step toward brand loyalty and effective marketing.