August 16, 2016 / Featured, Mobile, Paid Search, Social Media

Millennials today represent the largest generation of working-age adults worldwide. Trends and technologies adopted by millennials today will be the standard for years to come. For marketers, reaching the millennial generation is a significant challenge.

How do you best target the hearts and minds of a generation accustomed to communicating in 140 characters or less and through photos designed to disappear within 10 seconds of receipt?

Though it seems not so long ago that email, search, and display advertising poised the next great threat to the longstanding dominance of print, radio, and television, the paradigm already is shifting again. Today’s youth and young adults consume and trust marketing messages much differently than the generations that preceded them.

Below are a series of observations about marketing to the millennial generation, along with takeaways on how to best target this critical demographic.

Embrace Mobile or Don’t Bother

With many viewing their phones almost as an extension of themselves, millennials consume the majority of their online content via mobile devices. A 2015 article by International Business Times reported that one in five millennials “no longer uses a desktop computer to go online, relying exclusively on smartphones and tablets to get on the Internet.”

Just as Search Engine Optimization and Pay-Per-Click advertising arose from the need to effectively target the massive proliferation of websites in the late 90’s and early 00’s, optimizing and monetizing mobile app space is a crucial factor for today’s marketers.

Ben Lee, CEO of NeonRoots, an INC Magazine 30 Under 30 Nominee, shared with me his summation of the evolution of mobile apps as an industry.

“In the 8 years since the launch of the App store, the market has grown and matured exponentially from a small collection of novelty items and time wasters. Today there are almost 4 million apps available to consumers, and iOS mobile app developers alone generate $25 billion in revenue. Apps have become an integral part of daily life and the global economy.”

A complete breakdown on “The State of the Mobile App Industry” is available on his company blog.

Some keys to consider in this migration to mobile include:

• Be absolutely certain that your website is fully responsive and suitable for consumption on mobile or tablet devices.
• Create mobile-specific ad groups for PPC campaigns using geo-targeting and custom messaging to leverage an audience that is out on the streets or in their vehicles (i.e. advertise time-sensitive, in-store promotions to mobile users within a 1-mile radius of a local store).
• Build a mobile application that uses millennial-friendly features like loyalty programs or “story-telling” content rather than traditional sales messaging.

Go Native, and Make the Headline Count

In July of 2015, a joint study by Moz and Fractl revealed that almost two-thirds of Millennials surveyed use ad-blocking software. Additionally, more than half the respondents (55%) had not clicked on any online ads within a week of being surveyed.

One metric that surprised researchers in this study was that of all ad types, “sponsored story links were the second-most clicked, at more than 18 percent.”

The millennial generation, raised on social media, responds favorably to content presented in a feed or timeline form. Sharethrough, a leading exchange for native advertising, conducted their own study in Q4 of 2015 that further validated this trend.

In a survey of 300 Millennials, 91 percent claimed to “discover content while browsing social or content feeds, as compared to just 7 percent via search and 2 percent from direct sharing such as email.”



Perhaps even more striking was the revelation that one in five of the respondents said that they only read the headlines in their feeds. That statistic is alarming, though it may explain the proliferation of misleading, click-bait headlines in sponsored stories. Advertisers are more desperate than ever to capture the fleeting attention spans of millennials.

Integrate Native Campaigns with Traditional Search Campaigns

Despite the rise of native advertising, traditional search marketing still has its place when trying to market to the millennial generation. Just as direct mail is considered to be a direct response medium (i.e. lead generation), while an approach like billboard advertising would be viewed as more of a branding play, native advertising and search market both serve different purposes.

A 2014 study by Seer Interactive evaluated the effectiveness of native advertising compared to paid search. The results showed many positives for the native approach, and promoted or sponsored content boasted:

• 62% cheaper traffic than PPC
• 1,977% more impressions than PPC
• 182% more visits than PPC
• Better social engagement than PPC

However, the type of traffic driven through native advertising was less appealing, particular for advertisers looking for a direct response kind of campaign. Promoted content had:

• The lowest conversion rate of any source/medium during any time period
• Less time on site per visit than PPC
• Less pages per visit than PPC

Ultimately, an approach like native advertising (or SEO) is useful when targeting millennials with the goal of enhancing brand awareness, educating potential consumers, and building communities.  However, approaches like paid search still appear to be more effective for targeting consumers at the point of purchase, and for generating lead inquiries.

Shift from Outbound to Inbound, and Build Inclusive Communities

Millennials, like all generations, grew up in a different world than the generations that preceded them. Years of interviewing millennials shows that they come from an “increasingly open and multicultural society, and they tend to be more inclusive than their predecessors.”

For brands, this represents an opportunity, as today’s youth and young adults are far more likely to interact with and follow a brand’s Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter account than older demographics. As a result, creating brand-based, inclusive communities and loyalty programs is a winning strategy. As Julie Ray of FutureCast writes, “Millennials that feel connected to each other in addition to the brand are more likely to develop stronger relationships with the brand itself.”

Millennials are a difficult target for marketers to line up in their crosshairs. However, through a combination of search marketing, mobile-friendly web properties, inclusive online communities, and native/in-feed advertising, marketers are learning how to best capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of this elusive demographic.

Andrew Armstrong (author)

Andrew Armstrong is the founder and CEO of KickStart Search. In April of 2015, he facilitated the sale of the majority of KickStart’s assets to Wpromote of Los Angeles. Today Andrew provides specialized search marketing and consulting for a small portfolio of clients concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter.

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