Millennials can be fickle. They are a purpose-seeking, freedom-loving cohort who outnumber Baby Boomers by 11 million in the U.S. They’re also by far the most well-educated generation to date—and they aren’t afraid to let you know it.
Compared with their parents’ generation, Millennials view the world in an entirely different way. They look for flexibility and autonomy in their work and buy products and services with missions behind them. Millennials will not be sold to; they were raised with commercial-skipping technology and have no patience for what Seth Godin termed “interruption marketing.” So how can marketers better understand Millennials and cater to this demographic?
This was the question I put to multiple CMOs while I was conducting interviews for my book “Chief Marketing Officers at Work,” for which I interviewed 29 CMOs from a variety of companies large and small. Here I share the answers I received from the marketing heads of Quiznos, Comedy Central, and Zendesk.
Susan Lintonsmith, President & CEO, Quiznos
In the food and beverage world, Millennials have made their mark by raising the bar for elements such as food quality, according to Susan Lintonsmith, who was promoted in June from global CMO to president and CEO of Quiznos.
“Millennials are definitely having an effect on how we’re marketing. They not only are expecting a little bit higher quality, but the way they consume their media information has changed the way we have gone to market,” Lintonsmith said. “We’ve changed our media mix quite a bit in the last three to five years. In the past, we could reach a large audience and drive noticeable sales growth with a strong national TV buy. We spent most of our budget on TV spots and media. TV is still very high on the list in terms of driving reach, but it’s not as high-usage for Millennials.”
Lintonsmith added that Millennials are using two to three mediums at once to consume information, which has changed the allocation of marketing budgets for many agencies, and puts Millennials in control of choosing how they access marketing messages.
“They are choosing how they’re going to engage with your brand. Instead of marketers talking at the consumer, Millennials are choosing when and how they’re going to interact with marketers, whether or not they’re going to fast-forward and ignore the commercial online or on their television. ... Their media-consuming behavior has forced us to be smarter about how we utilize social, digital, and mobile. Most marketers are allocating more money to interactive. Not only is it more cost-effective, but it is a way to engage with this important audience.”
Walter Levitt, Executive VP & CMO, Comedy Central
At Comedy Central, CMO Walter Levitt thinks Millennials’ biggest differentiator is their connection to the sharing economy.
“One of our big strategies in all of our marketing is how we give Millennials stuff they can share that allows them to make a statement about their own comedic taste and, from our perspective, allows them to spread our brand to their fan base. That’s a relatively new idea in the last decade or so,” he said.
According to Levitt, the rise of the sharing economy is a tremendous driver of growth for brands of all stripes.
“In the last four or five years, the impact of sharing has been absolutely phenomenal for entertainment brands and all brands in general,” he said. “That’s driven by the Millennial sensibility,” adding that interesting things will happen when the next digitally native generation, Gen Z, grows up.
“They’ve grown up in social media. It’s always been there for them and sharing has always been part of what they do,” Levitt said. “They don’t think twice about it. It should be interesting to see how they shape the way brands communicate over the next decade.”
Matt Price, SVP Product Portfolio, Zendesk
As for Matt Price, former SVP of global marketing at Zendesk, a help-desk SaaS company, he has worked hard to study the behavior of Millennials by working among them. He shared with us that communicating with Millennials in a work environment is similar to how someone would market to them.
“First, there’s this concept of Millennials hungering for meaning, authenticity, and being able to tie things back. What we find within our environment is that the No. 1 source of employee engagement is our community relations programs and the work the business does within the community, and we invest in that,” he said.
Price noted that understanding communications channels and the trends within the social messaging space is critically important.
“Millennials are early adopters of new technology that’s now being adopted by broader groups,” he said. “For example, messaging is super-important within the Millennial group. It’s the anchor of what they want—the chat and IM—but we’re now seeing, for example, live or online chats as a massive driver in customer engagement within other segment groups.”
Indeed, “Millennials crave connection, and unless we are providing them with this connection to each other, there will be, well, a disconnect,” Price added.