Marketing to Older Millennials—What Advertisers Should Know

Patrick Hanavan  | 

Call them what you will (and they have been called many, many things), but don’t call all millennials the same. That’s the take-away from e-Marketer’s most recent look into the cohort that takes aim at the myth of the millennial monolith by charting the differences—digitally speaking—between older and younger members.

Turns out—surprise, surprise—that older millennials (those born between 1980 and ’88) have lived different lives than those born between 1989 and 2000 and exhibit different behaviors online. Psychologist and generational researcher Jean Twenge attributes the ’08 financial crisis and introduction of smartphones as the pivotal reasons for older millennials’ unique characteristics, but age itself obviously wields its influence. Regardless of whether it’s the times they have lived in or simply the amount of time they’ve lived, the difference has implications to advertisers in three areas in particular.

Utility over Novelty
Older millennials range from late 20s to pushing 40 and while they may have gotten to marriage, kids and homeownership a little later than generations before them (see financial crisis above) their “adult” status has profoundly impacted how they spend their time, particularly when online. While younger millennials still go online to be entertained, or get excited about the latest technologies simply because they are the newest shiny objects, older ones embrace more utilitarian, informational purposes. As noted in eMarketer’s podcast on the results, they are logging on to educate (or scare) themselves on health issues or to learn how to fix the roof on their new house. Advertising planned accordingly will resonate powerfully with older, and more affluent, members of the cohort than the “hipsterish” campaigns that lure in younger members.

Convenience is the Great Equalizer
In addition to going online to get better informed, older millennials, like their younger brethren, also go to shop. Convenience, apparently, is the great equalizer as the appeal of ecommerce spans the age divide across the entire cohort. In fact, 84% of all millennials will be digital shoppers this year. As such they are already getting exposed to plenty of advertising so providing digital deals and discount incentives can successfully engage older millennials, who are likely looking more for incentive than trendiness. The catch is that some millennials are uneasy about sharing the information that makes personalization possible. Clear messaging about how personal data will be used can help build trust with a brand and adds to the motivation that deals offer.

Social Media for Socializing
Here as well, older millennials are embracing social media for reasons that are more practical than trend-based. They tend to shun Snapchat, but are devoted to Facebook, primarily as a means for staying in touch with friends and family. And while they are well aware of the privacy concerns and other issues surrounding Facebook, they have invested too much effort in that platform to be inclined to desert it. It’s still the social venue where marketers have the best shot at connecting with them.

TV Lives On
There’s a notion that millennials don’t watch TV anymore, but that’s simply not the case. Older millennials stream less video than younger (63% vs. 72%) but they still watch plenty of traditional TV. Marketers shouldn’t assume millennials are unreachable there.

Men resemble their times more than they resemble their fathers. That Arabic proverb underlies both eMarketer’s report and Twenge’s books and should be taken to heart by the marketing community. The stakes couldn’t be higher. Millennials are tomorrow’s trillion dollar demographic—nothing could be more important to the marketing community than understanding how to reach and engage each unique subset of the generation based on their specific interests and needs.

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