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What You Need to Know About Marketing to Millennials

Tommy O'Shaughnessy

young people sitting at table with laptops

A survey by Clever Real Estate analyzes the demographic’s shifting online preferences, social media use and brand trust.

Millennials seem to be the hardest demographic to understand. Their online media consumption and sentiment toward online advertising is ever-changing—indeed, they could aptly be referred to as “the motion generation.”

To learn more about millennials’ online content engagement, Clever Real Estate conducted a survey of more than 1,100 Americans to discover what catches their eye.

One of their first findings: In an age where social media feeds are oversaturated with well-designed, high-quality, eye-catching static content, video advertising is the last remaining medium that can truly grab a millennial’s attention and hold it long enough to procure an engagement.

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Shifting Preferences

Although it may not be immediately obvious, millennials do in fact engage with online advertising content—they’re 25% more likely to do so than older generations. Millennials said they were most likely to engage with online video over any other ad medium.

bar graph displaying ad engagement preferences among millennials

In many ways, YouTube has assumed the functional role of television for millennials. According to an eMarketer study, millennials watch more digital video than traditional video content, making YouTube an incredibly important tool for marketers.

While Facebook is still the dominant social media platform and reaches the widest audience, the preferences of younger millennials have begun shifting toward YouTube and Instagram, where video content is more readily available and more fundamental to the experience. However, despite the recent millennial migration away from Facebook, ads run on the social networking megalith are still more likely to lead to a purchase than ads run on any other platform.

The 18-24 demographic’s egress away from Facebook may be due in part to the security breaches and Cambridge Analytica scandal that have made their way around the news circuit the past year. In our survey, 77% of millennials stated that they are concerned about how Facebook is using their personal data, and it appears these anxieties are affecting the group’s spending habits. Young adults are 34% less likely than baby boomers and Generation Xers to make a purchase after viewing a Facebook ad.

Facebook may be king of the hill, but Instagram and YouTube are becoming increasingly popular among younger adults. It’s time for brands to build on these platforms if they want to remain relevant.

Building a Personal Connection

As privacy scandals make younger audiences more suspicious of large, faceless organizations, they simultaneously push them to reposition users’ trust into brands with whom they feel they can foster a more personal connection: namely, influencers. Millennials are 54% more likely than older generations to buy a product that was suggested or recommended by social media celebrities.

The inconspicuousness of product placements in influencer promotions may be partly responsible for this trend. When it comes to social media marketing, the best advertisements are often those that appear just like normal posts. No better way exists to achieve this effect than by working with influencers. Ads are normally demarcated as sponsored content, but influencers promote products by less obtrusively slipping them into their feeds, easing the audience’s transition from leisure to promotional experience. This allows a trusted third-party buffer to temper the feeling that one is being advertised to.

Even when brands forego influencer marketing, they’re often most successful when making their sponsored posts blend into the user’s feed. Starbucks recently ran a successful Instagram ad campaign in which it slyly featured one of its products in a picture of a mural. The ad could easily have been a post from a personal account, and the use of emojis in the caption gave a personal, non-corporate feeling to the promotion.

Millennials have made it clear that aesthetics are very important when evaluating the trustworthiness of a brand and their likelihood of engaging with it: 92% of millennial respondents stated that an app or website’s appearance is an important factor when deciding whether or not to submit personal information. With millennials’ increasing need to feel that they are dealing with organizations they can trust, looks are essential in conveying that sense of security.

While the mode of expression of a marketing campaign drastically affects conversion rates, the type of content is also of great importance. During a partnership with Google, HP found that it only had a six-second window to capture its audience’s attention with YouTube ads.

So, how can a brand pique a millennial’s interest?

The Power of Funny and Informative Content

Millennials want to laugh and learn, ideally at the same time. Marketing campaigns that provide value to their audience through funny and informative video content stand the best chance of engaging their viewers. Humorous content is the most likely to strike a chord with millennials (44%), while informative content comes in second (30%).

Both amusing and informative advertisements elicit good responses from millennials and baby boomers, with the latter demonstrating a slight preference for informative ads. However, marketers need to exercise caution when trying to grab their audience’s attention with a shocking ad, as these performed abysmally across both generations—only 4% of millennials and 3% of baby boomers stated that unsettling ads resonate with them.

Although this generation has its idiosyncrasies, millennial marketing is not such a hard nut to crack. Millennials crave content that feels valuable, honest, personal and sticks out from the rest of their feeds. The best way to accomplish this is to create video marketing campaigns that utilize influencers and provide funny, informative content to a brand’s audience.

Tommy O’Shaughnessy is the head of research at Clever Real Estate, a company that connects home buyers and sellers with top-rated agents.