There’s more to Millennials than you think. If you believe the size of this population is all that matters, you are missing the point. The secret ingredient for marketers here is diversity. They have experienced more of the world than any other generation in this country. With the help of social media, globalization, and immigration, Millennials know more of the world than their parents ever did.
Millennials travel more, and when they do, they stay in touch with the people they meet by using social media. For many Millennials, travelling abroad has become almost a rite of passage. More than 310,000 American college students travelled abroad during the 2014-2015 academic year, a 2.9 percent increase from the year before, according to the National Association for Foreign Student Affairs (NAFSA). Add to that the increase in diversity in the population of the U.S. and rising use of social media, and you will get a group of internationally-literate individuals, both personally and digitally. That means that the target audience for a marketer is more nuanced than ever before.
First, let us talk about globalization. It continuously ‘shrinks’ our world, making it feel like a small community. What does this mean for marketers? It means that you are more visible than you think. Today, every move your business makes is magnified. So, depending on how you act, it can be either an opportunity or threat. Your digital activity can reach beyond the boundaries of the U.S. You see, except for rare cases, social media has no borders. Your business better face this fact sooner rather than later, because its digital footprints are everywhere AND permanent.
Here are some things to take into consideration when marketing to the diverse Millennial.
Well-intended actions can have unintended consequences
If you pitch to a particular sub-group of Millennials, you should realize that it, too, is diverse. In other words, there are people who do not fall into preconceived categories. And here, I can speak for myself. As an Arab, I can often identify a person of my ethnic group. That person does not have to wear ethnically traditional clothes or ride a camel in your ad for your product to come across as authentic. So, even though I would recognize communication from a company that tries to relate, I will not appreciate stereotypes and racial simplifications. PepsiCo, Inc. is a great American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation, but it has its fair share with inappropriate ads, too. Check out this Mountain Dew ad, which online viewers found offensive due to sensitivities in terms of racism and violence toward women. Look, if you recognize the complexity of my community, it will demonstrate to me that you understand me, and therefore, I will embrace your message, trust you, and buy your product.
The risk of getting it wrong
The size of this generation and the tools it has at its disposal make them a very attractive target for marketers that do it right. Millennial consumers are highly driven by social causes, and their exposure to other cultures empowers them to stand up for the vulnerable. They have also been provided with a very powerful tool to express their feelings—social media. Consequently, when they sense a threat, even if it’s not aimed at them, they retaliate. Social media enables them to mobilize and boycott your product or service. Consider the case of Uber, which lowered their prices in a move that many saw as a way to gain market share when New York’s cab drivers withheld services to protest President Trump’s travel ban. Quickly, the hashtag #DeleteUber trended. More than 600,000 people deleted Uber and downloaded the competitor’s app, Lyft. Regardless of your political stance, there’s no way you can ignore this as an example of getting it wrong with Millennials.
Your role as a global citizen
Your obligation as a marketer is not only to your business. Everywhere you go, you represent more than just yourself, and so does your message. Your message is a U.S. Ambassador. Whether you like it or not, it influences other global citizens and shapes public opinion abroad. A poorly drafted press release or out-of-touch Facebook post can go viral. For example, an ad for the American multinational corporation, Intel, included an image of six muscular black runners bowing in front of a white man dressed in business attire under the headline “maximize the power of your employees.” This led to outrage over its parallels to plantations and slavery. Messages like this not only make the U.S. look bad in the eyes of others, but they also encourage similar behavior. The U.S. sets an example for other nations on the issues of equity and equality. Therefore, you must not only look after your brand, but also the world.
Your brand limits
Targeting social issues in an ad isn’t for everyone. Airbnb gets it right. Their ad relies heavily on the multinational crowd. Clearly, messages about inclusivity and acceptance are a core component of their marketing strategy. That is part of their identity. Other companies that may not have the same DNA can still be successful in marketing with messages of inclusivity. For instance, Budweiser, has often channeled themes of diversity into its marketing tactic. But even if your target audience is Millennials, you must not stretch yourself too far. If you are a marketer for Cheetos, as well described by Saturday Night Live, you might want to stick to simpler messages. Otherwise, people will see you as lacking authenticity—the thing Millennials care about most.
So, what should you do?
- Include diversity and a global consciousness in your marketing thought process especially when aiming at the Millennials
- Research messages of competitors and carefully watch the feedback (and blowback) they are receiving from tactics
- Test your message on a diverse sample of your target audience
- Prepare backup plan for unintended miscommunication
- Monitor the impact on your audience and modify in response
Fahoum Fahoum is a member of the Millennial Principle team covering diversity issues.