Rapaport Magazine

Conversing With Millennials

Where do you find Millennials and how do you sell to them once you find them?

By Lara Ewen

Millennial is a buzzword that both excites and terrifies retailers. Current estimates place the Millennial population at approximately 83.1 million. Furthermore, in 2015, Millennials surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, according to a report released by Forrester Research, Inc. in February 2016, entitled “May The Force Of The Millennials Be With You!”
   With such a large swath of potential consumers available, it’s no wonder stores are grappling with strategies designed to find and sell to this generation. Yet analysts repeatedly insist that this digitally native group is not responsive to traditional marketing ideas. Moreover, as the Millennials’ influence over their parents and grandparents grows, old-school marketing methods are becoming less useful even for non-Millennial customers.
   A sea change is afoot, both in terms of sourcing new customers and retaining their loyalties. But as the rules of engagement evolve, so must retailers. Thankfully, even as the game is changing, there are still a few guidelines to make the new frontier somewhat easier to navigate.

How Do You Find Millennial Customers?
   In order to sell to Millennials, the first step is to find where they live. Increasingly, they are citizens of an omnichannel world that doesn’t differentiate between online and offline interactions. “Millennials are the first demographic segment that’s found everywhere and nowhere,” says Ray Hartjen, director of content marketing and public relations for RetailNext, a business analytics group. “They’ve grown up not knowing any other way than being able to browse across multiple channels.” That’s not to say that they’re not reachable, though. In fact, in some ways, they’re more reachable than practically any previous generation, because they’re constantly connected. “They’re tech savvy and digital natives,” Hartjen says. “So you don’t approach them like you’d approach their grandparents.”
   According to Andy Wong, partner at Kurt Salmon Digital, which focuses on digital engagement, the key to making a connection with this generation is to get personal. Wong says that companies with successful Millennial outreach treat each individual interaction as an opportunity to learn and connect. “I was talking to a company called My Lokai,” says Wong. “They only sell this bracelet, and they have no brick-and-mortar stores. If you look at their Instagram account, though, they have 1.4 million followers.” Wong contrasts that to more established luxury brands, such as David Yurman, which has 164,000 followers. According to Wong, the reason My Lokai has so many more Instagram followers, despite its miniscule product offerings and its relatively newcomer status, is that this young brand understands social engagement.
   “When we were talking to the My Lokai folks, we asked, ‘What’s your special sauce?’” says Wong. “And it’s not that special. There’s no secret algorithm. All their followers are actually authentic. Their social media department is small, but it does a lot of outreach. They seek out posts to like, and they see what their followers say, and they connect with them.”
   Making a one-on-one connection with each individual customer may sound exhaustive, but it’s nothing new. In some ways, in fact, working effectively on social media can be likened to the endearingly old-fashioned paradigm of a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesperson. It’s about going up to someone and saying hello. Only this time around, the interaction happens online. “When we think of social media and social commerce, it’s not about putting products out there and slapping on a buy button,” says Wong. “It’s not just about letting me sell you something. It’s about having an interaction with a customer.”
   Hartjen agrees. “Millennials crave more than just the exchange of money for goods,” he says. “They want experiences. Millennials go to stores looking for experiences, and they think of all their channels as one channel. So where are the experiences created? A lot of times they’re created in person.” Millennials, Hartjen explains, can create a Pinterest experience at home sitting on their couch, but they create an Instagram experience in person. Through their use of Pinterest and Instagram, “they connect to a group of people with similar interests, and these people are appealing to them. With Millennials, there’s a very strong idea of peers and community.”

Millennials and Technology
   If it seems like a lot of the discussion surrounding Millennials involves social media and technology, well, that’s exactly right. That’s because they’ve been raised on this technology. It’s a core part of how they interact with their environment. “Millennials are connected to their devices all the time,” notes Hartjen, who says they use these devices to understand, shape and connect with their world. “They want to know more about their favorite brands, and they want to feel a sense of community. And they want to help shape that brand. As they feel connected, they will begin to feel that they’re a trusted stakeholder. And then you have to market to them in a way that’s personalized. You cannot break that trust by marketing to them in a way that isn’t personalized.”
   One important way Millennials connect is through social media. “Social media has clear ties to a few of the top and differentiated values for Millennials,” says Traci Croft, senior consumer strategist at CEB in Arlington, Virginia, which provides culturally informed consumer research. “This demographic is looking for happiness, discovery, creativity, individuality, learning and curiosity. For them, it’s about sharing, learning and connecting. The journey’s never over and discovery doesn’t happen alone.”
   Croft also insists that social media tools help Millennials get their opinion across to brands they care about. “In addition to personal use of social media, Millennials use it to be heard by brands,” says Croft. “Strong customer service and responsiveness is important to them in this space.”
   In addition, Croft believes that connectivity presents a nearly omnipresent opportunity to shop. “Think of Millennials as savvy channel-agnostics,” she says. “For them, shopping is anytime, anywhere and everywhere. There is no time when they are not on the path to purchase. And digital shopping enhances, not replaces, their in-store experience.”
   This has, of course, created challenges for retailers who are unprepared to make an authentic multichannel connection. “I don’t think a lot of our jewelry clients have a plan to address Millennials,” says Wong. “Is it price point? I don’t think so. Is it product? I don’t think you can just repackage a gold bracelet. And jewelry isn’t the same as a new iPhone. I’m not just going to buy the latest one. But it’s still a marketing problem. It’s about the brand connection. That’s what My Lokai, and brands such as Alex and Ani, are doing well. They’re creating a connection. Their products are meaningful.”
   Hartjen agrees. “In the past, value was outward facing,” says Hartjen. “It was about impressing others. But for Millennials, value is inward facing. It’s part of their identity.”

moving The Conversation
   So how does a store, or a brand, reach a customer who wants to be reached out to, personally, on multiple levels? There’s no single answer, but a good place to start is by engaging with them as early in their lives as possible. “I don’t know if there’s one silver bullet to reach Millennials, but you can reposition your brand,” says Wong, who recently worked with Zales-owned retailer Piercing Pagoda. He says that part of the process of reaching Millennials is early on, before they grow into the bridal segment. “So when Zales acquired Piercing Pagoda, they thought it was the right demographic. They thought they could reach a younger Piercing Pagoda customer, and engage that demographic, and later upsell them into Zales engagement jewelry.”
   It’s also helpful to dispel the myth that Millennials don’t want to make big purchases. They just approach the process differently than previous generations. “While some of them are entering new life stages — 53 percent are married or partnered and 44 percent are parents — they aren’t necessarily following the same decision-making path as previous generations when it comes to growing up,” says Croft. “They are very pragmatic when it comes to consumption.” She says that they’re used to making trade-offs in order to get what they want, which has led to a myth that they don’t care about large purchases, such as jewelry. “We would argue that Millennials do care about these purchases, and that often times they are aspirational purchases,” Croft says. “Smart brands recognize that even Millennials who aren’t buying their brands now can be influential to others, and, that in order to attract Millennials now, they need to take a different way in. The value of an engagement ring is not in the price paid, it is very much focused on the values of happiness, creativity and individuality. We could also add in responsibility, not only in terms of Millennials’ budgets, but also in the form of the authenticity and ethics of the brands with which they want to engage.”
   Croft says that ultimately, understanding Millennial values is the key to capturing their attention. She says lifestyle choices, personal style and collaboration are among the key factors that lead to a purchase. “And engagement,” stresses Croft. “Not the kind that leads to marriage, but the kind that helps Millennials to be better informed and have a greater sense of satisfaction from the experience. What can you help them learn? Strategies that win with Millennials hone in on their core values, as well as their shopping preferences.”

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2016. To subscribe click here.

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Tags: Lara Ewen