These days, if you’re in the content marketing game, you’re likely creating content that needs to appeal to millennials.
Not only are millennials projected to become America’s largest generation in 2019, most of them are also entering their prime spending years as they’ve all reached adulthood.
A wide swath of Americans—anyone born from 1981-1996—qualifies as millennials, which means it’s impossible to market to all of them at all times. There are, however, some similarities among the group that you can use when targeting this demographic.
For example, according to the Pew Research Center, millennials lead all generations when it comes to smartphone ownership and social media use. They also rely heavily on influencer recommendations, online networks, and integrated shopping experiences when making a purchase.
Understanding how to reach millennials is crucial to influencing how they view your brand and whether they’ll end up a devoted customer. With the plethora of options available to them, it’s very easy to turn them off and lose them to a competitor.
Here are six ways to appeal to this enormous market with your content.
1. Avoid traditional, interruptive advertising
In decades past, traditional advertising that “interrupted” regular programming—such as commercial breaks—were an accepted, if not happily endured, part of the entertainment landscape.
Millennials, and future generations, no longer feel required to endure this bygone format. By turning to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, and social video platforms like YouTube and Facebook Watch, they’ve largely abandoned traditional television.
The appeal of a streaming service like Netflix isn’t just the wealth of content available to users, but the lack of ads. The rise of the use of internet ad blockers also speaks to this desire to be left alone to watch the content they’ve chosen to watch, not the content you push upon them.
Smart brands know that they can’t win this fight, and instead, they’ve shifted to creating content that young people choose to watch because the themes resonate with them. This content marketing is genuine and authentic, rather than calculated.
For example, REI’s crowning content achievement is their Forces of Nature series on YouTube. The recreational equipment brand puts out short-form documentaries on topics that resonate with their audience—inspiring feats, environmentalism, and groundbreaking athletes.
Nowhere in these videos do the subjects turn to the camera and say, “And I couldn’t have done it without the equipment I bought at REI.” The videos don’t play in between other videos that have nothing to do with them. They are well-made, highly valuable pieces of content in their own right, circumventing ad blockers while still getting REI’s name in front of viewers.
You don’t need to fund a high-quality documentary series, but you can start making content that speaks to your target audience, rather than speaking at them. The first step is to make sure it doesn’t interrupt their experience, and that they would choose to watch it—either on your social media channels or your own website. Consider exploring the themes of your business, rather than the products you sell, to figure out how to create in this space.
2. Create meaningful partnerships with important causes
Your business might not have a social or philanthropic component—it may not be built in your model at this point. But your content marketing campaign can take a major step forward in the eyes of millennials if you find a way to partner with organizations and causes that make a positive impact on the world in some way.
In fact, it’s not clear that the particular cause makes a difference to millennials—just that there is one. A reported 90% of millennials are likely to switch from one brand to another if the second supports a cause—even if cost and quality of the two are the same.
Start by expressing support for a cause or charity—it can be an apolitical organization like the American Humane Society or Cancer Research Institute—and graduate to more demonstrable action like donating a portion of proceeds.
Taking a prominent stand in support of a cause that aligns with your business’s vision and model has two major benefits (beyond the underlying benefit of supporting the cause, of course): One, you catch the attention of civic-minded millennials with your stance. And two, you have a nearly endless content well to draw from—you can create infographics, social videos, and blog posts explaining your connection to your cause, and how a consumer’s dollar goes toward supporting it. Feel free to tweak, update, and re-release this content as needed.
Take Airbnb, which recognized the politically charged air around immigration and multiculturalism in the U.S. of late, and leaned in with their #WeAccept campaign:
Another prominent and recent example was Nike’s emphatic support of NFL star Colin Kaepernick, which included multiple digital and television spots in support of his cause of protesting against the treatment of minorities in America:
These major brands recognized that taking a political stand would pay off, despite some criticism, because younger customers want their brands to have a voice on these important matters.
3. Make your content interactive
Passive consumption of content is the past—actively participating in its creation is the future. In fact, it’s the present: More than ever, brands are exploring ways to create interactive content to appeal to millennials and younger generations. This kind of content includes quizzes, polls, choose-your-own outcome stories, sliders, and dynamic infographics.
There are a couple of reasons why interactive content is so appealing to these demographics: There’s the novelty, of course, in being asked to play a role in how content appears to you, since it’s only become truly possible on a large scale in the last few years.
Another is that while our attention spans may or may not be getting shorter, it’s true that we’re being inundated with content and thus have less time to engage with it all. Interactive content demands our attention and engagement, which drives up repeat visits and message retention.
Finally, it provides millennials with the kind of personalized content that they crave. If they’re using a web calculator, or watching a choose-your-own experience interactive video, the results are truly unique to that user. They can then share those unique results with their networks, further broadening your campaign’s reach.
If you don’t have the budget for an interactive video—such as Asos’s “Color Control” interactive music video on YouTube, where users can change the video’s color palette, style, and outcomes just by clicking the screen—start small with quizzes, surveys, and polls, which can be mostly text-based and easy to build. Enlist the help of a developer to create a slider, calculator, or other coding-savvy endeavor.
4. Encourage user-generated content
Arguably the easiest and least-expensive method on this list is to encourage your millennial users to produce content for you, which you can repackage and reshare, further deepening your bond with your customers while adding to your content catalog.
Millennials love authentic content, and they can tell when a brand is trying to “fake” it. The most authentic form of content is by far UGC—60% of users agree, as opposed to just 20% who think brands themselves are most authentic.
Garner Instagram posts or other responses on social media by making it a part of a giveaway, or promising to “re-gram” the best posts. Create a unique hashtag that other users can scroll through for inspiration. Your followers will appreciate being highlighted by your business, and you’ll build your reputation as an authentic source of content.
Aerie, the women’s swimsuit and intimate apparel line, does an excellent job of this with their #AerieReal campaign—inviting users to submit unretouched photos while wearing their products. It supports body positivity, community, and, of course, their swimsuits. All the content is, of course, UGC, and it has to be—photos like this coming directly from the brand would contradict the message of Aerie customers feeling comfortable enough to share these photos willingly to Instagram.
5. Enlist the help of micro-influencers
The value of a recommendation from a friend or family member is difficult to match, but influencer marketing comes close.
Millennials, in particular, relate to and enjoy the work of digital stars who came up in the social media age. They may not like traditional advertising, but the majority of them are fine with an ad if it’s delivered by their favorite digital media personalities. A whopping 87% approve of product placement if it’s an influencer shouting out the product.
Influencers convey authenticity in a way that even celebrity endorsements can’t touch. This speaks to an important takeaway: It’s not so much the size of the influencer’s following—i.e., how important they are—but how genuinely they can express support for your product to their fans.
For example: That Dad Blog is a beautifully made blog about a father’s life with six kids—the trips they take, the holidays they prepare for. Chrysler saw a perfect opportunity to create a partnership with Alan Lawrence (the dad in question) that makes sense for all parties—creating content around the themes the blog already covers, such as travel:
With that in mind, micro-influencers are the next wave in influencer marketing: Even though they have a smaller reach, their ability to persuade followers in their niche is impressive. Smaller businesses might investigate micro-influencers in their field who they can align with smoothly, for maximum impact.
6. Utilize FOMO
The most popular social media platforms among millennials and teenagers are Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, with younger users skewing towards using Instagram and Snapchat.
Instagram and Snapchat have one major thing in common from a marketing perspective: They specialize in creating ephemeral content through their “Stories” function—posts that disappear within 24 hours.
Here’s what’s great about posting to Stories—they are almost expected to be unpolished. You don’t have to dedicate hours choosing the right filters or the perfect camera angle. Social media users appreciate brands that give users an unadulterated look into what goes on behind the scenes.
Take this example from BarkBox, a subscription-based provider of dog toys and treats, posting about their “Bark Park” project in Nashville:
This post is loaded with different fonts and emoji—which means it would likely never make it into a professional presentation or investor deck. But that doesn’t mean it’s not perfect for telling a story that resonates with their followers.
Makeup brand Glossier is also well-known for their expert use of Instagram Stories. Check out one of their posts promoting a new product, Lidstar. Notice how the font sizes aren’t exactly the same or perfectly spaces, and yet it imparts the message—there are different shades and colors that look different on your skin—in a way that makes sense to their customers:
Because these Stories disappear quickly, it forces users to follow your channels and check back often for new content, which can include sneak peeks, discounts, or other reasons that they’ll have FOMO—fear of missing out.
7. Simplify your message
When it comes to text-based content marketing, the golden rule is to keep things short and simple.
Millennials aren’t dumb, and they actually prefer to read their news over watching it in video, as compared to older generations. But as we’ve emphasized throughout, their time is valuable and limited. They may even be using a second screen to read your content while they watch something else.
If you are writing an essay, email newsletter, a blog post, or social media copy, keep these tips in mind:
- Put important details in bullet points.
- Don’t waste time with platitudes or needless stories to pad out your word count.
- Provide links to case studies and other detailed information so readers can explore further if they wish.
Simplified storytelling isn’t bad—it’s more direct and to the point. Leave larger storytelling goals for your interactive or visual content.
Targeting millennials through content marketing means creating the kind of content they crave (real, authentic, interactive, detailed yet simplified) and delivering it where they live—the social media and video platforms they frequent on a daily basis. Understanding this market is critical if you want to succeed in the years to come, so start today and see how your reach with millennials grows going forward.