Blog Insight

Marketing to Millennials Requires Storytelling with a Human Touch

I recently hopped on a jet plane to Chicago and attended the Iconosphere 2014 conference. Organized by our partners at CEB Iconoculture, the premier consumer research and insights firm, the conference sessions covered key observations and trends that all marketers must take into account when planning for the future.

Though I could “shotgun” you by providing superficial coverage of all the topics, I’d rather focus on one potent insight and how it should impact your approach to marketing. During the “Millennials: You’re Trying Too Hard” session, consumer strategist Katie Elfering tackled one of the toughest tasks marketers have had in recent memory: Marketing to millennials (roughly, the population aged 18 to 35).

A Moving Target

According to Elfering, this segment poses a daunting paradox and challenge for marketers. Given that millennials are characterized by their flexible and fluid attitudes toward their lives, environment, and key decisions, the attempt to identify generalized preference triggers or cues is, by definition, a losing proposition. If the essential features of your target audience include the willingness to experiment and change direction at any time, most attempts to find any constants on which to hang your marketing hat might be disappointing.

If this is the case, what are we to do? Well, the way to go actually involves a return to one of the fundamentals of excellent marketing and branding; compelling storytelling. When your target audience is diverse and pluralistic by nature, your attempts to make connections have to focus on specificity.

The Universal Lies in the Particular

Think about some of the best novels or short stories that you have enjoyed in your lifetime. It is highly likely that these narratives did not focus overtly on broad themes aiming to appeal to a broad base, but rather on particular, specific, and somewhat idiosyncratic details about people, places, and events. By immersing ourselves in these details, we tend to extract our own personal meaning from them. In essence, universal themes live within the particulars, and we find our own personal joy in discovering these.

Consider the following example from Spotify:

Note how the universal concern of finding the best way to communicate with someone is expressed through small details rather than through broad brushstrokes. Our challenge, then, is to generate highly creative and human-centered content that can reach our target audiences by sparking universal recognition and delight without being heavy-handed or disingenuous. Oh, and we do not think this challenge only applies when marketing to millennials.

Whether you are thinking about interactive storytelling, video storytelling, or even corporate storytelling, your message and call to action will be most effective if the resulting creative expresses those human moments that spark delight. This requires deep understanding and insights about your target audiences and naturalistic storytelling that meets their functional and emotional needs.

See how we have done this for Boy Scouts of America and for Umpqua Bank:


Photo credit: "The Color Run Costanera," taken by Javierosh, is licensed under CC BY 2.0.