Marketing to the technology-averse millenials

There’s no lack of research on millennials. The last generation to be born in the 20th century is coming to (purchasing) power, and receives most of the marketing attention. Moreover, millennials have grown comfortable with the idea of a public internet life, where privacy concerns are mostly limited to who gets to see or not one’s latest social status update, which makes it easier than ever for marketers to scrutinize their every move and collect personal data on a massive scale.

Yet despite unprecedented insight available to marketers on every aspect of their life –from work habits to purchasing behavior and sexual preferences– millennials are extremely hard to market to. For one good reason: millennials have developed a near-genetical resistance to marketing. Not only are they familiar with every marketing trick ever invented –intuitively turning any commercial into a parody–, but they’re also less trusting of institutions and other people than the generation X before them.

Millennials are immune to marketing as you know it*

According to the (well trusted) Pew Research Center, only 19% of millennials in the United States agree that, “generally speaking, most people can be trusted”. This is 12% less than Generation Xers, and half the percentage of baby boomers. Millennials are also suspicious of institutions, with over 50% considering themselves as politically independent (vs. 30% of the boomers), and one in three not affiliated to any religion (an all-time high in the United States, yet still a much lower percentage than in Europe).

Resistance to traditional marketing and low trust in social influencers is a deadly combination for marketers, including those equipped with the latest social marketing and digital weaponry. It takes more than posting funny commercials on Youtube and developing brand values on Instagram to earn a millennial’s thumbs up!

The best of dreams is only worth the quality of the entire sleep

Where marketing has been broadly misused to make things look “slightly better” (euphemism), marketers are summoned to learn to be authentic. Better be true to the value proposition, or get prepared for a global pandemic of crucifying customer reviews. Posting apologetic tweets by the thousands for not delivering the service expected may not suffice to contain the virus, and earn the trust back (granted you’ve managed to gain some trust in the first place). Millennials are pushing businesses to become genuinely better, or more honest: make better products, or adjust their marketing (and price) to set the proper expectation!

A recent study by Goldman Sachs reveals that a strong brand is not enough to lock a sale with millennials: more than previous generations, they are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest possible cost, and a majority value access (renting) over ownership (buying) in most occasions. The little creativity in the latest release of OS X El Capitan that I installed this morning may not suffice any longer for millennials to purchase the iMac they’ve long dreamed of, at such a premium price.

What was invented in a garage shall stay in a garage

To make things worse for technology marketers, millennials hate technology. Yes they do. Their aversion to technology may not appear at first sight, and I realize that most observers may qualify as “technology affinity” their near-addiction to mobile devices, their natural aptitude for understanding graphic interfaces and visual languages, and their high dependency on the Internet to do, and learn how to do about anything.  Yet anyone who witnessed the hopeless face of a 16 year-old trying to troubleshoot his Windows computer without Generation X assistance may understand what I’m talking about: millennials only love technology as long as it works as intended.

The appeal of new technology has moved from the garage to the living room, from the workshop to the couch. Millennials want Wi-Fi to flow through their homes from the attic to the basement, with a cheap, low-range router plugged behind walls of steel-reinforced concrete. When the network is down, resetting the router is not an option they will consider (what is a router anyways?). Hardware failure is not acceptable. They demand flawless HD streaming and downloading software updates at the same time (updates for what again?). Capacity and bandwidth must follow, as expected. They want to create unique websites without coding, and any kind of suggested software-tweaking without intuitive visual assistance shall be reported as a bug.

Connecting the opposites

Resistant to marketing, suspicious of “thought leadership” and self-proclaimed social media gurus, expecting always more value for the money, and frustrated with complex technologies… Millennials bring new challenges to product marketers, especially in the software industry, forcing us to re-imagine products, how we market them, how we sell them, and how we support users:

  • Delivering ever more advanced functionality, in a simpler package.
  • Demonstrating simplicity, while showing a broad range of capabilities.
  • Crafting ever more creative marketing messages, without setting wrong expectations.
  • Setting the right expectation, while differentiating from more “relaxed” competitive promises.
  • Delivering customized experiences, without need for customization.
  • Adapting to personal preferences, while adopting standard designs.
  • Getting attention without bragging.
  • Engaging with millions, and being authentic with each.

Exciting times ahead for product marketers!


* Well, assuming you’re passed 35;-)

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