Their buying power is already reshaping the business competitive landscape. The millennial generation is eating at Chipotle and not at McDonald’s. (McDonald’s does not even rank among their top ten chain restaurants.) They are not buying cars in the volume their parents did at their age. Instead they are choosing to live in walkable urban centers with mass transit and bike paths. Rather than buying new fashion items they have made wearing used-clothing cool. Input from their digital community accessed through social media, increasing via smartphone, is their path for deciding what to buy and who to buy from.
Best practices are now emerging on how to sell to the millennial generation. Here are five keys to sales success with millennials:
#1: Embrace their beliefs
The first step to winning the millennial generation as customers is to embrace their beliefs. They believe in global warming because since they were born the world has experienced higher monthly global temperatures. They see aging beginning at 25 in part because they were born into a national obesity epidemic that they link to the Happy Meals their parents fed them. They have embraced a sharing economy where used goods are repurposed or recycled because being frugal aligns with their survival in this slow growth economy. The millennial generation believes the world has systemic problems that their parents’ behaviors have created. They look to themselves, not big corporations or government, to create the needed solutions.
#2: “Cool with a purpose”
The second key to selling millennials is to forget mass advertising. They stream pass it. To them most major brands are dead! Recent market research has found that only 9% of U.S. consumers believe a brand actually improves their lives.
Tom’s Shoes pioneered the “cool with a purpose” path for selling the millennial generation. Their business motto is “We are in business to help change lives.” Their mission statement is “With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need.” Their most popular shoe is called Earthwise. (The sales tagline for this shoe is “Be good to the earth and your feet.”) Take a look at the feet of millennial women (and their moms) if you are not familiar with Tom’s Shoes and the Earthwise styled shoe. The marketing value of being “cool with a purpose” is that it creates an authentic platform for the millennial generation to share in their social media conversations.
#3: Affordable Authenticity
The millennials came of age during the Great Recession. This experience has made them frugal. They will spend cash on things they think are really important like the latest tablet or a loft in the heart of a millennial urban center. On the rest of the things in their lives they are fiscally conservative. They will repurpose rather than buy new. They will recycle. If they buy a car then the majority would prefer to buy a hybrid to save on fuel costs and reduce emissions. They prefer to buy from businesses that use water and electricity efficiently and are certified as green.
But whatever they buy it has to also be authentic. It is not cool to buy a piece of clothing that is low in price if that low price is achieved by sourcing the garment from a foreign sweat shop. It is not cool to buy dollar value items on a regular basis because of the association this diet has earned through the Super Size Me video. Restaurants like Cancun Sabor Mexicano are cool because their food is authentically sourced and offers a seasonal diversity in taste.
#4: Enterprise-scale Authenticity
This one is a challenge for big corporations. And it is a huge opportunity for smaller and local companies. Millennials have a jaundiced stance toward big business. They came of age during a financial crisis linked to banks that were too big to fail. Their childhood diet of corporate fast food is now viewed as a reason they struggle to maintain an attractive weight.
In response they search to do business with companies that have adopted authenticity on an enterprise scale. The millennial generation’s sale challenge confronting larger companies is that the millennial generation doubts the authenticity of a company that is promoting products that are unhealthy for people and the planet while also promoting healthier products. Their template for enterprise scale authenticity are companies like Solar City and Tesla founded by Elon Musk. They also are increasingly looking local for an enterprise scale authentic business to buy from. One example is Tulsa’s Libby Auld, owner of Elote and The Vault and President of the Deco District redevelopment effort who is attempting to create a millennial-hub by repurposing vacant buildings in downtown Tulsa.
#5: Transparency. You are naked, get buff.
Millennials were also born into the Age of Transparency. They were the first to adopt Facebook and YouTube. Nothing that is important to them escapes their attention and social media postings.
The millennial generation expects the businesses that sell to them to understand that their business is naked before them. The path for winning their sales loyalty is to get buff. Spin won’t work with them. Your business might call your product a protein supplement but they will call it pink slime and make this label viral. Buff to the millennial generation means business conduct and product designs that align with their beliefs. You know you are buff when the good your business creates goes viral through their social media. For examples watch this video by Chipotle with over 7 million views or this video by Dove with almost 55 million views.
About the author
Bill Roth is an economist, the Founder of Earth 2017 and is ranked among the top five sustainability bloggers. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017