A Life Well Photographed

Molly Soat
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways
  • 51% of millennials have an Instagram account and 42% use Snapchat.
  • 31% of millennials post on Instagram on a daily basis, while 29% tweet every day.
  • 72% of millennials plan to travel for leisure in 2014—compared with 48% of boomers—and 59% plan to spend more on travel in 2014 than they did in 2013.

​Millennials are ‘digital natives,’ the social media generation, and the vast majority of their posts pertain to experiences, rather than to products. Here’s a look at the snap-happy behaviors of this marketing sweet spot.​


In the age of Instagram, the most sought-after purchases in the B-to-C realm often are the ones that make for the best photos. They’re fodder for social media posts intended to inspire admiration, and maybe more than a bit of envy, in the purchaser’s peer group.

These days, millennials make up the marketing sweet spot of 18- to 34-year-olds and they’re hankering less for tangible goods than for signs of a life well lived—concert tickets, reservations at hot restaurants, global adventures—experts say. And that experience-focused mindset should prompt marketers in every industry to focus on sharing their brand stories and value propositions when targeting millennial audiences, depicting how their offerings might enhance customers’ lives. 

“We’re in the generation of the ‘selfie,’ ” says Kimberly Litt, public affairs manager at New York-based American Express and a member of the brand’s consumer team. “People want to share things that they’re doing and seeing with people in their network. Pictures of yourself at the top of Mount Everest or at a concert of your favorite band: People want to share that more than material items.” 

Adds MaryLeigh Bliss, trends editor and strategic consultant at New York-based millennial market research firm Ypulse Inc.: “[Millennials] are a generation that has seen products become democratized. Anyone can buy something from a high-end designer when that high-end designer is doing capsule collections for Kmart or Target. They all own iPhones. They all have the highest tech whether they’re unemployed or pulling six figures, so there’s been a democratization of high-end. Gilt and Groupon have given them access to luxury products in a way that previous generations just didn’t have. It’s no longer about getting something that nobody else has to show how successful you are. That’s not as appealing to millennials. They would rather share an experience with their friends than have a product that makes them seem elite.” 

Fifty-one percent of millennials have an Instagram account and 42% use Snapchat, a photo-sharing app, according to a March 2014 survey by Ypulse. When it comes to daily use, photo-focused social applications are more popular than their word-focused competitors: 31% of millennials post on Instagram on a daily basis, while 29% tweet every day. 

Snapchat is the fastest-growing social network with millennials so far in 2014, and Vine and Instagram have increased their user bases this year, as well. And millennials use Instagram more than Gen Xers and baby boomers, according to eMarketer: 22 million millenials (ages 12 to 34) were on the photo-sharing site in 2013, compared with 5.5 million Gen Xers (ages 35 to 44) and 6.7 million boomers (ages 45 to 64). 

As for what millennials are featuring in those photos, clues can be found in where they’re spending their time and money: According to American Express’ January 2014 Spending & Saving Survey, 72% of millennials plan to travel for leisure in 2014—compared with 48% of boomers—and 59% plan to spend more on travel in 2014 than they did in 2013. In general, compared with their spending behaviors last year, millennials plan to spend more this year on experiences like concerts and outdoor activities, and less on home décor and personal technology. 

Financial services firms like American Express are uniquely positioned to align their brands with millennial consumers’ sought-after lifestyles, helping them find ways to fund their desired experiences, Litt says. “We are in the market of not only giving people products and services—that’s our bread and butter—but also creating a lifestyle around those products and services. We know that dining is super important to certain card members, so we create special dining experiences for them that will make them feel more engaged with us and make them feel like, ‘American Express got me access that no one else can get me.’ … It’s important to not just think about the products and the goods that you provide, but how you can build a lifestyle and persona around them.” 

For less experience-based brands, marketers can adopt an experience-focused approach by putting their brand stories front and center, Bliss suggests. “Talk more about the experience behind the brand, the story about the brand, rather than how that brand makes you look or how expensive that brand is. For example, only 13% of millennials have started saving for their retirement,” she says. “They’re thinking about their more immediate costs, but if you start to tell stories about the experiences they might miss out on if they don’t have retirement savings lined up, that will be a more appealing story.” 

In other words, to connect with snap-happy, social-media-inclined millennial consumers, think less about communicating product specs and more about the experience that your brand can deliver. 

This article was originally published in the May 2014 issue of .​

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Author Bio:

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Molly Soat
Molly Soat is a staff writer for Marketing News and Marketing News Exclusives. E-mail her at msoat@ama.org.
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