The 5 Biggest Mistakes Most Marketers Make When Targeting Millennials

The most common mistakes in Millennial marketing, so you can avoid them - written by a Millennial.
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The most common mistakes in Millennial marketing, so you can avoid them - written by a Millennial.
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Millennials are a tricky bunch. They're a huge generation raised on tech, hyper-speed media, and rapid-fire cultural change, making them difficult for previous generations, not to mention marketers, to understand. At Ypulse we've studied Millennials day in and day out for a decade, and for every successful campaign aimed at young consumers that we see, there are three more that miss the mark. Luckily, we've rounded up some of the biggest, most common mistakes we've seen in Millennial marketing, so you can avoid making them.

1. Getting Hung Up on Stereotypes

Starting an article about Millennials with the words, "They're lazy, entitled, selfish, and narcissistic," has become a cliché in the generational insight world. While the conversation about Millennials has been heating up, much of it still relies on the same old ideas about Millennials that have been rehashed for years. We understand that some of the characteristics of the generation, and their expectations of brands, create some gaps and misunderstandings. But approaching the generation with a head full of stereotypes that only tell part of the story about who they are will only lead to dissonant communication. They aren't a clustering of clichés, and understanding who they really are right now is vital in getting them to pay attention to you.

2. Making Fun of "Kids These Days"

We often tell brands that one key in representing and talking to Millennials authentically is to understand how they see themselves, and how they talk to one another. But once you've started to understand who they are, it's probably not the best idea make fun of them for it. There have been a slew of commercials and ads that have made targets of Millennials in both subtle and overt ways. One Wendy's commercial that aired last year comes to mind as an example. The spot contained lines like, "'So have to tweet it.' 'Or we could eat it!'" and implied that Millennials' social media habits are more than a little dumb. Commercials like these often rely on "kids these days" humor, making it feel like marketers are talking down to the very demographic they are aiming to capture.

3. Going Overboard with Hashtagging

On the other side of the spectrum, sometimes brands' eagerness to be involved in Millennial media trends leads to some missteps-and some uninspired marketing. Hashtags are everywhere, being thrown out by nearly every brand with a campaign, whether or not it makes much sense. Hashtags are meant to create and foster conversations, and unite people in a communal digital experience. But most brand hashtags aren't cutting it. In one writer's recent casual survey, they counted 39 distinct hashtags over the course of 12 hours, including Neutrogena's #unseenacne tag, which was deemed "#FreakingGross" by one Twitter user. Slapping a hashtag in front of a slogan that makes little sense to young consumers isn't likely to inspire participation, and some of the hashtags being slapped onto the end of commercials feel more like afterthoughts than actual engagement efforts.

4. Using Throwback Gender Tropes

Too many brands are still relying on some traditional gender stereotypes that just plain don't resonate with Millennials, who are constantly redefining their gender relationships. Toning down over-the-top testosterone-fueled messaging for Millennial men is essential. Hyper-macho depictions do not ring true with a group accustomed to blending traditionally masculine concepts with their own current conventions, if not rejecting typical macho expectations completely. Traditional approaches in marketing to women, like using coded language and being afraid to tackle "womens' issues" head-on, also persist in too many markets. Millennial women want brands to take off their kid gloves and get honest-think of tampon delivery service HelloFlo's frank, honest language and storytelling. Finally, Millennials are becoming parents and their ideal partnership is sharing the child-rearing workload, so talking to just Millennial moms instead of Millennial parents could be a turn-off.

5. Being Too Afraid to Try

Millennials might be a tricky group to target, but one of the biggest mistakes that marketers can make is being too afraid to try something new and different to reach them. Brands that don't hesitate to experiment with new social platforms, and step outside the norm in marketing language and visuals are being rewarded. This year Velveeta's offbeat Facebook and Twitter efforts have gained attention and praise from young consumers for being " amazingly weird." Wet Seal grew its Snapchat following from 2,000 to 11,000 in just one weekend by handing control of its account to 16-year-old teen beauty vlogger Megan Hughes. Taking a marketing risk can pay off big with young consumers, who expect brands to embrace change as much as they do. The good news is, if the experiment doesn't work out, Millennials are quick to forgive and forget.

MaryLeigh Bliss is a Millennial and the Trends Editor-in-Chief and Strategic Consultant for Ypulse, a youth marketing and Millennial research firm offering daily news and insight into the Millennial generation for media and marketing professionals.

[Image credit: HelloFlo First Moon Party]