Millennial Marketing Insights

Understanding Millennial Insights

Chances are if you’re reading this, you are not a Millennial. But truly understanding this up-and-coming generation (born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) is keenly important to marketers today. An abundance of opinions—and vast generalizations—about their habits, inclinations and foibles seem to be everywhere. But what are some real Millennial insights that can be drawn from real consumers in this category?

We asked a group of savvy Millennials to reveal some insights about their lifestyles and mindsets.

In an attempt to move past the myriad generalizations, a few Ideas To Go facilitators combined their expertise in consumer understanding with the articulate skills of our talented Millennial-aged Creative Consumers® associates. They conducted a session and asked these savvy Millennials to reveal some insights about their lifestyles and mindsets—and the new opportunities they see for their generation. After sorting through their responses, we identified six themes that seemed to rise to the top.

Six themes for Millennials:

  1. Treat me like I’m a partner, not just a purchaser.
  2. Give me products that fit ME.
  3. Connections are important to me.
  4. I’m insecure about today, but optimistic about tomorrow.
  5. I want to make a difference.
  6. My life is an adventure.

We’ll examine these insights further below, while providing some illuminating facts and figures—and explain how we see the data and insights come together to create some real possibilities. Because it’s one thing to say you generally get what Millennials are about…and another to actually talk to a few for deeper understanding.

1. Treat me like I'm a partner, not just a purchaser.

Millennial Insights

The Millennial generation has been marketed to their whole lives—not just in print, radio, and television mediums—but also online, on their phones, on the shows/movies they watch, and across social media. And despite their life-long immersion in marketing, Millennials have a more positive view of it than other generations—studies show 68% don’t mind advertising.

- 68% don't mind advertising.
- 60% believe companies should offer more ways for consumers to share opinions.
- 40% want to co-create with companies.

What we heard our Creative Consumers® associate Millennials object to, however, is when companies treat them merely as consumers to be marketed to. One obvious reason why: Millennials are aware of how the world works—and they know companies want to sell to them.

Additionally, Millennials are creators. The last few years have seen the rise of a “Maker Revolution” with events like Maker Faire, and websites like Pinterest and Etsy. But Millennials don’t want to just make things on their own—they want to create with the companies and brands that they love. Over 60% believe that companies should offer more ways for consumers to share their opinions, and 40% want to get their hands dirty co-creating with companies. (1,2)

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

After years of working with Millennials, we’ve seen that these consumers aren’t just interested in a new idea—they’re interested in the HOW. How is it communicated to them? How does it work in their lives? How do they engage further with social media?

Some brands do this well in many ways—from user-generated flavors to consumer-created advertising. These types of activities transform consumers into partners in a powerful way. And forward-thinking companies like Zappos are taking it even further by converting helpful brand advocates into truly valuable brand ambassadors. So when it comes to Millennials, focus on making them feel like your partner—and your new ideas will have the chance to work even harder for you.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. How can your product/brand better engage Millennials?
  2. How can your brand effectively tap Millennials for their creative energy?


2. Give me products that fit ME.

Creative Millennial Insights

- 40% express their individuality with tattoos.
- 75% describe themselves as "authentic." 

When Millennials were young—as with teens in previous generations—it was all about fitting in. They wore Abercrombie and Nike. They flocked to see the Spice Girls and N’Sync en masse. But as Millennials grew up, their feelings changed. Today, more than any other generation, they desire to be seen as unique within a group. Once mad for popular brands like Tommy Hilfiger, now a majority of Millennials reject trends to develop their own personal clothing style. (3) Nearly 40% have gone beyond clothes to express their individuality with a tattoo. (4) Three-fourths describe themselves as “authentic.” (5) Brands like Chipotle, which offer customers complete customization of their entrees, are Millennial favorites.

That’s why companies are allowing their consumers to custom design products from ground up. Custom shoe manufacturer Shoes of Prey is getting attention because it allows women to customize heels – from height to color to embellishments. And Nike’s website lets athletes do everything from personalizing their favorite Nike shoes with their own colors and accents to building the perfect Nike Free running shoe for their foot.

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

For better or worse, Millennials were raised by their Boomer parents to believe they were the center of the universe. And this mindset has translated to the products they look for—that is, personalized and tailor-made. Millennials expect more. So it’s up to companies to solve the challenge of bringing in an acceptable level of customization and personalization, while still making a viable business case. Along with tailoring, it’s time for companies to take a fresh look at channel choice as well. Millennials are just as comfortable doing their grocery shopping at a Club Store or Amazon as they are at a traditional grocery store.

In the same individuality vein, we also often remind our clients not to tell consumers how they feel during concept development, as it almost always comes across as inauthentic. We find that when it comes to working with Millennials, this is especially true—because when it comes time to test an idea, they will not hesitate to tell you if they sense something is contrived.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. How can your brand be customized? What can "customized" mean?
  2. In what ways can you communicate to Millennials that your business understands them?

3. Connections are important to me.

Insights from Millennials

- 6 out of 10 believe that losing their car would have less negative impact on their lives than losing their phone or computer.
- 53% interact with brands on social networks.
- 43% have Liked more than 20 brands on Facebook.

Millennials have grown up in a connected world. The oldest participated in the birth of the social Internet, learning to type while chatting with friends on AOL Instant Messenger. (6) As college students, they threw themselves into Facebook. Today, Millennials are more connected than ever before with a slew of social media options ranging from Instagram, to Twitter, to Snapchat and TikTok. In fact, six out of ten Millennials believe that losing their car would have less negative impact on their lives than losing their phone or computer. (7)

But Millennials don’t want to just be connected online, they want to be connected with the people and brands that are most important to their lives. 53% interact with brands they care about on social networks, compared to only 37% of non-Millennials. (8) Millennials not only want to connect with brands, they want to communicate to others that they like a brand. As one example, over 43% have publically liked more than 20 brands on Facebook. (9)

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

Something that always strikes us when working with Millennials is observing their unique relationship with brands. They seek to befriend brands that are real—that make a contribution to their life experience, as well as making a difference in the world. So when you’re innovating in this space, “relationship” is an important concept. For a Millennial consumer, it’s an act of good faith for a brand to reach out and listen to what they have to say.

Practically, we’ve seen this work very well with online consumer panels—where companies proactively check-in with their customers as they plan and implement their next products, brands and services. This purposeful communication achieves a level of relationship that proves valuable not only for the Millennial customer, but for the company as well.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. In what ways are you connecting with Millennials?
  2. What do you see others doing to connect that you find really powerful?


insights from a millennial

marketing to millennials

- Only 6 in 10 have jobs, if part-time jobs are included.
- 75% describe themselves as "very happy."
- 60+% consider themselves "entrepreneurs."
- 5th most popular job title listed by Millennials on Facebook is "owner." 

The recession hit the Millennial generation hard. Despite the fact that Millennials today have a bigger economic impact than Generation X, they’re not where they should be—and they know it. Only 6 in 10 Millennials have jobs, if part-time jobs are included. (10) For every two who are making it on their own, one has moved back in with their parents because of the recession. (11) On average, Millennials carry debt loads of over $20,000—more if they took out education loans. (12)

More 18-35 year olds are unemployed or out of the workforce now than in the previous three decades. (13) But even though the recession has depressed their income, it hasn’t dimmed their optimism about the future. Three-fourths of Millennials describe themselves as “very happy.” (14)

They also show their optimism by using smart strategies that help them maximize the income they have. More Millennials live with roommates or family than alone. (15) They save money on necessities so they can splurge on the things they really want (like iPhones and Chipotle.) And when they can’t find jobs or can’t make enough with the jobs they have, Millennials are happy to strike out on their own. Over 60% of them consider themselves “entrepreneurs,” and the 5th most popular job title listed by Millennials on Facebook is “owner.” (16,17) Millennials may be economically stressed now, but this is a generation that believes it’s on the verge of something great.

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

Before each ideation session at Ideas To Go, we ask our Creative Consumers® associates to do a preparatory homework assignment, and I am continually impressed with our Millennial-aged consumers—as they are consistently our furthest-out thinkers. When sharing a not-yet-possible idea you will hear them say, “They just have to figure this out.” They do not limit their imaginations because they assume technology and ingenuity will prevail—anything is possible.

Another vital point to consider for this segment is the value equation—it has to be there. Good, Better, Best is important to Millennials. Setting a good price point for a good product will help get your relationship started—and then pave the way for you to nurture it on as these consumers move up financially. And whatever you do: don’t even attempt the lower price, smaller pack size trick. They honestly see right through that. Focus on value—really take the time to define it, and show what’s in it for them.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. How is your business engaging with Millennials now, so that they turn to you when they do have more money to spend?
  2. How can you better appeal to Millennial aspirations?

5. I want to make a difference.

Marketing to Millennials

- 90+% buy products that are associated with causes.
- Almost half will abandon brands they perceive to have ethics they don't agree with.

Over 6 in 10 Millennials report that they feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world. (18) Frustrated with government inaction, Millennials want businesses to solve society’s greatest problems. (19) And Millennials overwhelmingly believe that business success is more than just profits—and that companies should do more to address resource scarcity, climate change and income equality. (20)

Far more than any other generation, Millennials say that it’s very important that their purchases make them feel good about themselves. (21) Almost half of Millennials will abandon brands they perceive to have ethics that they don’t agree with. (22) Over ninety percent buy products that are associated with causes. (23) When price and quality are equal, 80% of Millennials will choose products from companies that support causes they care about. (24)

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

At Ideas To Go, we consistently hear Millennial consumers talk about making a difference—but the thing we're most struck by is their willingness to broadcast it. And they don’t discriminate: Millennials are equally open to broadcasting both the good and the bad. So it’s really in a brand’s favor to make sure they’re consistently creating good stuff to talk about.

One way to do this is with Millennial-minded promotions that contribute towards positive, change-making causes. But it’s not enough to lay out a merely feel-good promotion. It has to look, sound, feel and BE truly authentic. That’s why it’s key to include Millennial customer input from the start—so you move past internal assumptions about what this segment cares about, and move towards what they actually find meaningful.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. How is your business creating positive partnerships with organizations Millennials care about?
  2. What would be effective ways to highlight the good things your brand is already doing?

my life is an adventure

Millennial Insights

- 70% want to visit all seven continents.
- 75% enjoy food from cultures not their own.
- They're 2.5 times more likely to adopt new technology than older generations. 

Millennials want their life to be exciting. They’re always looking for new places to visit and experience. They’re 23% more likely to be interested in traveling abroad than any other generation and 70% want to visit all seven continents. (25,26) But Millennials aren’t just seeking to bring adventure into their lives by travel. When they can’t hit the road, they look for ways to enrich their daily lives. Three-fourths enjoy food from cultures not their own, and over nine-tenths have tried a new beer in the last month. (27,28)

Millennials especially look for excitement in small things. They’re behind the rise of spicy flavors like cayenne, and responsible for the new fancy bread trend in fast food restaurants. (29,30) They also keep their eyes open for new technology – which they are 2.5 times more likely to adopt than older generations. (31) Millennials want their lives to be exciting, even if that excitement comes in small bits in their everyday lives.

Marketing to Millennials: The Takeaway

Millennials love the experiential nature of products and services. It’s what makes them give your brand a shot, and what makes them come back for more. And even though most companies understand that “experience” is worth pursuing, many fall in the trap of watering down a unique and Millennial-relevant idea into just another offering that already exists.

How? The envisioned product experience doesn’t mesh with the current production capabilities, so you change the product slightly so it will. The margin isn’t quite where you need it to be, so you change the product slightly so it is. The really unique feature is too expensive, so you change it slightly to reduce costs. In the end, this iterative reduction of the original idea leaves you with a product or service experience that has lost its wow. So if you’re working on upping your brand’s experience factor, don’t hesitate to check in with your Millennial consumers to make sure you avoid the water-down effect, and move forward with only your most potent ideas.

Questions as you move forward:

  1. What sorts of surprising or exciting twists can your brand offer to spice things up for Millennials?
  2. How can your business tap into Millennials' love for adventure?

How to use these Millennial insights

Over the next 10-15 years, there will be a dramatic shift in what consumers want as the Millennial generation becomes the greatest spending force in the US market. More and more Millennials will be advancing in their career, making big purchases, and beginning their families. Their spending habits will affect everyone from restaurants, to financial services, to producers of consumer packaged goods—and companies will need to find ways to adapt.

With so much at stake, it makes sense to check in with actual consumers in this segment early and often to see where they’re heading to next. In fact, the future of your business depends on it.

Each of the insights and questions we’ve outlined above suggest there are many valuable areas of opportunity for companies to explore—but this is merely one snapshot in the lives of a group known to abandon what’s “new” as quickly as they’re known to adopt. Millennials are a moving target—often changing their minds quicker than many marketers can keep up with. With so much at stake, it makes sense to check in with actual consumers in this segment early and often to see where they’re heading to next. In fact, the future of your business depends on it.

Get a taste of our Millennial insights session

Wondering what a session with our Millennial consumers looks like? This brief video lets you take a look behind-the-scenes as some of our Millennial Creative Consumers® associates try out a creative excursion.

Ideas To Go Millennial Consumers 

Work with our Millennial  Creative Consumer associates

22. 23.

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Ideas To Go

Ideas To Go is an innovation agency that leads start-ups to Fortune 500 companies through insights exploration, ideation, and idea and concept development while incorporating the voice of the consumer.