Jeremy Smith Feb 19, 2019 11:34:42 AM 30 min read

The Millennial Market Shift: What You Should Do About It (With Data)

Hey, look! It’s another article about millennials.

Blink. Bore. Click away. Bye. Not so fast.  I’m not interested in dishing out more millennial market drivel.

Instead, I want to give you cutting-edge, research-backed advice on what you should do about the millennial market shift.

Keep in mind that the millennial generation isn’t a monolith. You don’t simply aim your marketing guns at millennials, fire off a salvo, and expect to earn the spending dollars of the millennials.

That’s the drivel I was talking about.

Instead, you need to understand the under-the-hood conversion motivations that appeal to the segment of the millennial population you are targeting. (Slow down and read that sentence again if you need to.)

And now, if you want something more than drivel — something that will give you huge conversion bang — read on.

Anal editorial note that you don’t need to worry about: I’ve chosen not to capitalize millennial as a generational label.

Millennials: My Little Introduction Part

By 2020, millennials will to make up half of the working population. Five years after that, they’ll dominate the workforce and claim 75% of all jobs.

Their already impressive buying power of $200 billion a year is going to explode into a world force that has enormous implications.

And basically, we’re already at that point — the enormous implications thing.

If your marketing isn’t prepared to catch this new population’s attention, you’re ruined. Conversion optimization for this group is going to look different. As it is already, millennials are notorious for being hard to reach and aloof toward traditional marketing.

They have a new psychology of their own that stands separate from the consumer mindsets of previous generations.

The Millennial Mindset

Who are these people?

Millennials were born in the years between the 1980s and the early 2000s. They grew up with computers in the home, and are among the most connected and Internet-savvy consumers today. They live technology. They are digital natives.

digital natives

(Image source)

This technological upbringing has shaped in countless ways the way millennials think, communicate, act and even think.

For marketers, this means that old techniques — even the “effective ones” — will no longer work without some rejiggering. For millennials, the Internet is their home turf, and it’s generally pretty hard to fool them there.

You can’t simply rely on some sweet conversion tricks to game these guys into a purchase. They’re smarter than that.

How do they shop?

Time Magazine has a very informative article about the shopping habits of millennials. There are two key insights that can be taken from the studies they cite.

First, millennials love to shop. Which is cool. The Shullman Research Center found that 58% of millennials say they “love to shop.”

The second takeaway is that shopping is not the same as buying. Thus, the behaviors that characterize conventional shopping will not be mirrored in the buying habits of millennials.

As a result of this unique two-angle aspect of millennial shoppers/buyers, conversion rates are typically lowest among the millennial demographic, even for those millennials who have the money to spend.

Millennials shop around for deals and consider products on their merits and peer reviews instead of going by the worn-out marketing buzz used by a lot of companies. The marketing buzz is interpreted by millennials as mere noise, and it’s easy to tune it out.

Here’s what David Wells said in a forceful sentence that sums it up:

"Millennials are a skeptical bunch. If I feel like there is a bunch of marketing/sale jargon behind a specific product, an alarm immediately goes off.”

Okay, that’s the millennial and her conversion bent. But now, what about this huge whole other angle — their social life?

Let’s talk about it.

Millennials are masters of social media.

Social media is the source of a lot of misunderstanding between marketers and millennials.

It’s easy to read into social media activity more meaning than is warranted. For example assuming that a “like” or a “follow” is a sign of brand loyalty is completely misguided.

A like is not loyalty.

From the millennial perspective, little like clicks are just easy ways to find the best offers. You cannot equate a like with emotional attachment.

Millennials are masters of social media

(Image source)

If you want your campaign to be successful, don’t imbue social media with an importance it doesn’t have.

Get this:

  • Millennials are loyal only to a brand that wows them. Think blowing-socks-off kind of wow. (Source)
  • Millennials just aren’t as loyal to anything as their generational predecessors.
  • Loyalty, if you want to call it that, has to be earned. And you earn it by being an ethical company, not just having a nice widget. (Source)
  • Millennials have no problem switching loyalties. (Source)

If you think a Facebook "like" is a gesture of affection, loyalty or even liking, you’re fooling yourself.

Reviving Unique Selling Propositions for Millennial Audiences

The Internet is full of quick fixes for the bored and information-deprived. You have to compete with thousands of other players for the attention of a population that is always on the hunt for the next 10-second attention grab.

To stand out, you need a Unique Selling Proposition. You know that already, and I’m not trying to insult your conversion intelligence. However, it’s worth reiterating the fact.

A strong USP can make or break your business. This is especially true in a market that is as brutally competitive as the digital landscape where your audience learned to tune out your advertisements before they learned how to ride a bike.

Until you learn what your USP is and how to exploit it effectively, you’ll be static on the edges of the screen.

you're not totally useless you could be used as a bad examples

(Image source)

What is a Unique Selling Proposition?

What makes you different? Your business does things differently than others, even if it’s only by a little bit.

This is the basic idea of the USP. Many businesses have trouble identifying their USP, and the more conventional your company or product, the more difficult it can be. But there are a number of ways to find a strong USP and make it work for you.

Millennials have a knack for tuning into a USP. Why? Because they care about a business beyond the product. They care about its raison d'être. They can smell it.

But if you don’t have a USP, you’re a goner in the millennial mind.

What Does a Strong USP Look Like?

A strong USP is built on a certain clarity of character for the business. It’s a clear statement about what the business does, who it does it for, and why it wants to do that in the first place.

Don’t be afraid to push the wrong customer away, particularly if you’re targeting a millennial segment. They can see through the BS. They can nail the sleazy salesman.

Find your ideal customer and relate to them with a story they can truly and deeply identify with.

Be the brand that embodies ethicality.

A USP goes beyond mere product offering and great customer service.

Millennials value brands that do well, rather than make good stuff. Notice the MarketingCharts data on this point. Brands that are relevant to millennials are characterized by ...

  • open dialogue
  • focusing on the consumer
  • eco-friendliness
  • doing fair business
  • being active in the community
  • contributing to charitable causes.

how brands can remain relevant to millennials in the future

Be the best you can be — in more than just product. Be the best company you can be ethically, too.

Because millennials give a care.

Finding Your Ideal Customer in the Millennial Generation

Okay, now that we have a little info socked away, let’s start going after the money.

How do you actually find your sweet spot in the millennial marketplace?

Key Distinction: In the Millennial Generation, not the Millennial Generation

One of the biggest errors regarding millennial marketing goes like this.

  • You decide you want to target millennials with your marketing.
  • You target millennials.
  • End.

You’re stupid.

Why stupid? Because that’s like trying to target one third of the entire population of planet earth.

Take a look at this cute pie chart (source). According to national (United States) demographic trends, Millennials are rapidly outpacing all other generational cohorts. The image below is of the demographic composition of Hawaii, but represents national averages.

US demographic trends

The takeaway is obvious. You don’t target an age demographic and call it a day.

You target an audience that includes demographics, but is not exclusively defined by that demographic.

In other words …

  • You target West Coast male skateboarders who are millennials.
  • You target female cat-owning job hunters who are millennials.
  • You target business school graduates who own Priuses and are millennials.

You must be more specific than just "millennials."

Bonus tip: As you hone your message and marketing toward millennials, you should segment your testing to get the most relevant information possible.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve noticed the general picture of a generation that’s very good at filtering out unwanted marketing. Millennials have pretty reliable BS radar, they don’t like sales pitches, and they value a conversation.

Millennials requires a different approach to avoid being shot down by their ingrained mental ad filters. Remember that millennials are looking for a genuine conversation and a relationship, so give it to them. It’s a careful balance that needs to be struck between genuine effort and trying too hard.

Try not to try too hard

Try not to try too hard

(Image source)

Check out these examples:

Let’s take a look at some brands that are effectively catering to millennials with their conversion potential and power.

The Art of Manliness

The Art of Manliness

As a standout in the crowd of masculinity revival, the Art of Manliness is incredibly popular with millennial males for its unapologetically manly USP.

The Art of Manliness knows bold, and it has clearly defined the image it wants to present. The site is absolutely radiating with personality, equal parts humorous and serious, targeting millennial males who want to understand their place in society and tradition.

It sells an image and doesn’t care about alienating non-customers because of that image. The underlying flavor of the brand has a be-kind-give-back-be-good vibe that resonates with the millennial mindset.


ThinkGeeksGeek culture is growing at an exponential rate. Millennials in the geek community have done a lot of leg-work to bring geek culture into the mainstream, and ThinkGeek has tailored its hobby store image to that community.

The brand knows that millennials like to communicate with each other and businesses about products, and it has made that an important part of the store.

By allowing customers to add in their own action shots of products, and tailoring their new products to specific communities, ThinkGeek has integrated the millennial’s desire for genuine communication and community into its core image and USP.

ThinkGeek has integrated the millennial’s desire for genuine communication and community into its core image and USP

TOMS Shoes

TOMS shoes

Shoes are the kind of thing that a lot of people buy and forget about. But millennials are activists at heart, and they love activist consumerism.

TOMS has shoes that are quirky and inexpensive, but that isn’t enough on its own, so they targeted the love for activism in millennials by making a humanitarian mission their USP.

TOMS donates a new pair of shoes to a child in need for every shoe you buy. That is a strong image that stands out above the average cobbler.


Conversion Optimization for Millennials: Final Tips

We’ve seen a few good examples of website design, with clearly defined and executed unique selling propositions. We’ve also discussed the mindset of the millennial on the Internet and how traditional marketing methods won’t work. Now let’s bring the two together for better conversion optimization.


Embrace an image. A good one.

Once you’ve found your USP, you need to embrace it for it to work. The Art of Manliness, for example, has a website that inundates the viewer with old-timey masculinity. From images of Victorian Bartitsu practitioners to a faux-vintage background and antique fonts, the website dives head first into the atmosphere that the marketing team is trying to push.

There’s nothing overtly corporate or timid about it, and it goes after its audience with an almost exclusive single-mindedness that creates a strong impression of genuine love and interest for the subject matter and its community. Follow this mantra when you design your own website with millennials in mind.

Know the language; don’t abuse it.

The Internet has been ground zero for some very interesting developments in human language. Millennials can be more proud of some of these developments than others, but it is their slang and mark on culture. It’s hard to appropriate it effectively without sounding strained.

It’s very easy for millennials to spot an outsider’s use of this language in marketing. It’s even easier for us to ignore that business entirely, or mock that business’s feeble attempts mercilessly until the next competitor gets thrown into the circus.

Corporate ad campaigns are notorious for misusing memes. Don’t fall into that trap.

Word-of-mouth is important

It’s almost impossible to overstate the emphasis millennials place on reviews and referrals. 90% of millennials read reviews before buying a product. This infographic from HubSpot highlights just how important word-of-mouth really is.

Millennials know that ad copy is full of buzzwords, and they don’t trust it for anything but a general picture of the product.

For the real story, they turn to reviews. Reviews are going to pop up whether you like it or not, so you’re better off making them a part of your conversion strategy from the start.

Millennials love sales.

We’ve established that millennials aren’t making gestures of loyalty to you when they click that like button for your page. But this isn’t a bad thing.

What they’re really doing is keeping track of your sales and coupons. Use social media to promote your sales, and diversify. Almost every millennial is active across more than one social media platform, so you should be too.

Millennials are masters at holding out for sales, so make sure you can get the message to them when you hold them. Don’t be afraid to tell them that your prices are better.

Millennials Growing Influence as B2B Buyers

(Image source)

Millennials go for visual.

Use media to pull your millennial audience in.

Millennials have made an art form out of consuming and creating media in new and novel ways, and this innovation is a treasure trove for marketing.

According to Forrester, video is the fastest growing ad format on the web, still. Interactive video ads do better than their traditional video competitors, yielding an astonishing 1,000% increase in click-through rates. Do not ignore the love of the millennial for media over text.

Integrate social media realistically

There are a lot of articles out there right now that gossip about the next big social media platform. They often give dire news about millennials abandoning one social media site for another.

That’s not how social media works for millennials. Nobody has just a Tumblr account, or just a Facebook account, or just an Instagram. Millennials have many accounts that they’re active across simultaneously, because each of these social media platforms fills a separate niche.

77 percent of all social media users access social networks via mobile device

(Image source)

Social media is incredibly powerful for creating conversions, but don’t expect to reach all of your target audience unless you’re active across the entire social media landscape.


Millennials are difficult to convert if you don’t understand them. They’re notoriously patient and picky shoppers who like to browse through their options and communicate about them with their peers.

Millennials can spot marketing tactics from a mile away, no matter how genuine they are. But the more you customize your strategies to the millennial preferences, the less likely they are to shrug off your advertisements in favor of the competition.

By creating a USP that demonstrates immediate value and is attractive to their sensibilities, you can grab their attention. By engaging with them as equals in a genuine conversation, you can keep their attention. By tailoring your website to the expectations and online culture of millennials, you can secure their conversion.

If you do this well, they’ll go on to review your product and generate even more traffic by word-of-mouth.

Millennials are called a lot of things, but at the end of the day, they are practical people who know how to navigate the Internet for their benefit.

Become familiar with that pattern, and your conversion optimization strategy will be easy to adapt to the massive changes that are reshaping the market.



Jeremy Smith

Digital marketer with a penchant for dance; helping clients see the light through the jungle of tweets since before Twitter was cool.