Marketing to Millennials

Insights for Companies from a Millennial in the Marketing Industry

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Explaining Millennials' Obsession with Convenience

We all know that millennials love convenience. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey confirmed this when 70% of respondents said millennials care most about convenience when it comes to making purchase decisions. I can’t remember the last time my friends waited by the TV for their favourite show to come on, when they knew they could just as easily watch it online on their own time, without any commercials. How about the last time a millennial went to the local record shop to buy a CD instead of simply downloading it online? Forget waiting for business hours when you can get the same thing at 2 A.M. online. And then there’s food. Take a stroll through a campus cafĂ© to see for yourself how popular those pre-made sandwiches are. I myself was making my wallet suffer through this daily habit up until this year, and it has taken extreme discipline to get myself out of that hole. My friends and I often discuss how we are victims of the on-campus eateries: even though the sandwiches and other food are pretty gross and by no means satisfying, we still manage to shell out seven bucks a sandwich on a daily or even twice daily basis. What could be making us behave this way?

Some may argue that we have less time than other generations; however, I would hypothesize that this is not in fact the case. The amount of time we should sleep hasn’t increased – we still have to get 8 hours per night, though most of us don’t. We still have roughly the same amount of school and study work…perhaps even less than other generations. Plus, I’d be hard-pressed to find a friend who has done every single one of their assigned readings this school year (sorry for any professors reading this).

How about economic factors? Are millennials spending their extra time in part-time jobs to make more cash, thus leading to a need for convenience goods? Doubtful. In my experience, very few of my peers have held jobs during high school, college or university. Although it’s true that many of us have money issues, there are other, more popular ways to deal with this than to take on part-time jobs.
Could it be possible that there is a new physiological need for my generation and the ones after it? We need air, water, food, sleep and sex…but we also need screen time. Buying non-convenience products requires that we spend time away from our screens. While some might argue that screen time is a psychological need, based on watching how my generation interacts with technology, I can strongly confirm that it has turned physiological. Thumbs twitch when they can’t reach a Blackberry in class. Hands punch when the internet is down. What is the first thing millennials do when they get up in the morning, and the last thing they do before they go to bed? You guessed it – check their screens. Millennials can’t go more than a few hours without checking if they have any new texts, emails, Facebook messages, or tweets. Or else they get antsy.

I would like to argue that it is millennials’ psychological need to keep up with one another that is fuelling their need for convenience products. Why spend time cooking dinner when you know your neighbour is hard at work on that essay you haven’t started working on yet? Similarly, are you really going to toil away at making a three-course meal when all your friends are out partying? To solve both these problems, you can turn to convenience products. Millennials want to keep up to speed with their peers, both academically and socially. This encompasses engaging with another social aspect of today’s world: social networking. I would argue that social media is what is single-handedly driving convenience products into the hands of millennials. Every time I hear a classmate saying how busy they are or how little time they have these days, I can’t help but wonder how much time they’ve spent on Facebook recently. But they shouldn’t be faulted for this…social networking is undoubtedly a necessary evil for millennials. If you’re not on Facebook, you don’t exist. This may sound harsh, but not if you’ve witnessed as many people saying it as I have. Social networking is the most pervasive form of communication between millennials, far outweighing email.

So how did we get this way? Well, we’ve had the world at our fingertips since we were born. Thanks to the advent of new technology, we can get answers, shop, and get responses from our friends instantaneously. Taking a page from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers book, we’ve spent our 10,000 hours online and now we’re experts…on instant gratification. We get our news, music, video, entertainment and books online. We text message, use social networking sites, instant message, play video games, and surf the web. We want things when we want them, and can’t stand to wait. The lesson for marketers? Make your products and services available all the time, or someone else will. Make them fast, make them available in locations close to us, and make them online.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Millennial Frugality

For most millennials, the effects of the recession go directly against what they want and believe in. Yet the economic downturn has the potential to continue to shape the values and attitudes of millennials past the end of the recession, more than it will for any other generation. "While there is a stereotype that it is aging boomers who are most likely to make shopping lists, clip coupons and generally practice the most draconian money-saving strategies, it is actually Millennials, shoppers under the age of 30, that represent the most frugal consumer segment," says IRI Shopper Marketing & Innovation President Thom Blischok. "Additionally, our research indicates that Millennials' frugal ways will persist long after the recession ends." (Press Release Point)

Since the recession is occurring directly in the midst of their formative years when most attitudes are set, there is a strong potential that millennials will suffer a similar fate to their grandparents, who developed a long-lasting penchant for frugality after growing up in the Depression of the 1930s. The overly optimistic are starting to turn cynical. Although “Historians note that the economy became more dependent on consumption after the Depression and World War II”, this is “something most experts say isn't likely for the Millennials” (USA Today). Instead, it is predicted that millennials will devote less care to money, possessions and materialism. They will focus on autonomy and freedom over economic success and achievement when determining their life happiness. Many of my friends and I personally have started to adopt ‘new age’ viewpoints along these lines. Millennials may even move into what calls in their 2010 Trend Report the “Unconsumption Sphere”, an area where the mere act of consuming less is becoming a status symbol. With the cropping up of Facebook events such as “Buy Nothing Day”, I wouldn’t be surprised.

One of the few surveys on the effects of the recession on American Millennials was performed by the New York City-based marketing and advertising agency JWT (formerly J. Walter Thompson). It found that 60% of millennials “feel their generation is being dealt an unfair blow because of the recession” (USA Today) Another survey conducted by an integrated communications agency network called Lumin Collaborative attempted to unveil the changing mindset and workplace expectations of millennials. Its results demonstrate that the generation’s distaste for the recession is not surprising, since “Over half (55 percent) of Millennials have experienced a layoff or loss of work in their family within the past year, and nearly three-fourths (72 percent) feel threatened by a possible layoff or loss of work in the coming months…Sixty-six percent of Millennials say they have lowered their expectations of being promoted versus 51 percent of other workers.” (Earth Times). Indeed, the general consensus regarding hiring and firing among my fellow almost-graduates is negative at best. If you have a job, any job, you better hold onto it. The recruiting statistics are like never before – many students have graduated jobless and gone on to do graduate school programs that they may not have any desire to do as an alternative.

Although for the most part millennials have a negative view towards the recession, some are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. On the entrepreneurial side, “25% say that if they have trouble finding a job, they'll just start their own business.” (USA Today) I have seen a couple of friends who have graduated start their own businesses, but for the most part everyone seems to want a job. Decreased expectations about job security don’t mean all millennials will be moving into their parents’ basements anytime soon: “44% say they might be able to afford a house now that home prices have plummeted.” (USA Today) They also don’t mean millennials are putting their wallets away – in fact, they are “saving and investing less money and increasing their credit card debt more than any other adult generation.” (Earth Times) This agrees with psychologist Tim Kasser’s findings: “Most people, when they go through economic recession, may become more frugal, but they respond to moments of psychological insecurity by becoming more materialistic." A professor of consumer culture named James Burroughs says, “It wasn't necessarily that they weren't going to consume, but they were giving a lot more thought to consumption." (USA Today) Studies show that characteristics typical of millennials include shopping without a budget, making quick purchasing decisions, and refraining from stocking up on items. Millennials are time-strapped and always ‘on’, so they prioritize getting things done over getting the best deal. Important factors when choosing a store to shop at include location, user-friendly layout and value proposition. Checkout counters, coupons and loyalty shopping cards are not so important. Perhaps the profound implications of the recession have yet to set in on millennials – perhaps they are still able to spend as they wish, with the aid of credit cards, debt and parents. It seems as if millennials will continue to supplement their insecurities with spending until they can no longer do so.

Yet evidence exists that millennials are indeed already starting to penny pinch. For example, Generation Y female acceptance of private label is much higher than that of Generation X: 70% percent of Millennials perceive store brands to be of “excellent quality”. They have “cut back on indulgent food categories like frozen poultry, chewing gum, salty snacks and frozen pizza,” according to a report called “Winning With Millennial Women Shoppers” by Information Resources. (Brand Week) Many of my friends frequently discuss how they don't have enough money for this or that. It seems that millennials are indeed on the road to decreased spending in the face of the recession.

So what is a marketing executive to do to deal with the impending millennial frugality?

1. Provide appropriate in-store messaging and packaging sizes so millennials can make quick, easy value comparisons at the shelf. Emphasize quality as a reason why your brand should be selected over private label brands.

2. Use non-traditional means to reach millennials. Traditional advertising media (e.g. TV, print) is no longer as effective. Think outside the box because “The same old, same old is probably not going to create a lot of success” with Millennials given that their spending and shopping habits are different. (Brand Week)

3. Use internet or email coupons. There was an 80% increase in usage of coupons printed from the internet from 2007 to 2008, and 44 percent of shoppers indicate they are looking online to find coupons. “Among those who receive permission-based e-mail from a CPG company, an enormous 91 percent have downloaded or printed a coupon based on that e-mail. (Press Release Point) With millennials’ high usage of email and social networking, chances are they would be more receptive to coupons received through these mediums than any others (e.g. newspaper, flyers).

4.  Use mobile phone coupons. Retailers now have the ability to scan barcodes from cell phone screens, and we all know how much millennials love their cell phones.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Millennials and Cause Marketing

            One of the major trends listed in’s 2010 Trend Report is a focus on generosity among consumers, fueled by the recession, consumers looking for companies that care, and generosity becoming a status symbol. The recession is creating a lack of trust in companies: “the Edelman Trust Barometer found that 62% of adults in 20 countries trusted corporations less in December 2008 than they had a year earlier.” (’s 2010 Trend Report) Furthermore, “Edelman's third annual Goodpurpose study found 61% of consumers worldwide have purchased a brand that supports a good cause even if it wasn't the cheapest brand.” (PR Week US) Now is the perfect time to achieve success through cause marketing.
Does this trend apply to millennials? You bet it does…even more than it applies to other generations. One needs only to look at the widespread success of sweatshop-free and socially responsible clothing companies such as American Apparel to confirm this. The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study (Cause Marketing Forum) used an online survey to capture the opinions, perceptions and beliefs of 1800 respondents in the USA. It was the first in-depth study of its kind, and has brought about some hard-hitting implications for cause marketing to millennials.
Some of the findings from the study that I find most interesting and relevant are summarized here:
·      “78% of Millennials believes it is their responsibility to make the world a better place, and companies have a responsibility to join them in this effort.
·      83% will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible.
·      74% are more likely to pay attention to a company’s message when they see that the company has a deep commitment to a cause.
·      89% are likely or very likely to switch from one brand to another (price and quality being equal) if the second brand is associated with a good cause.
·      69% consider a company’s social/environmental commitment when deciding where to shop.
·      66% will consider a company’s social/environmental commitment when deciding whether to recommend its products and services.
·      Millennials say they are prepared to reward or punish a company based on its commitment to social causes.”
            What are implications of these statistics on how to successfully market to millennials? Position your company as socially and environmentally responsible to gain trust from Millennials. This isn’t optional so much as a fundamental requirement if you want to stay current in today’s society, according to’s 2010 Trend Report. Involve commitment to a cause in your advertising to get them to pay more attention to your messaging. Associate your brand with a good cause to make 89% of Millennials (huge!) likely to switch to your brand. Finally, sell your products at retailers that are committed to social and environmental issues.
Another interesting finding is that “Millennials who actively volunteer are even more responsive to Cause Branding than their less engaged counterparts….87% of Millennials who volunteer weekly have purchased a product that supports a cause in the past year; that number drops to 48% for non-volunteers. 20% of Millennials volunteer weekly and are a company’s most loyal brand ambassadors.” Thus, it may be most effective to target Millennials that volunteer as consumers, as they will likely recommend the product to others if it supports a cause they care about, and could make great employees for the company.
            The Cone Millennial Cause Study also asked Millennials about their expectations of employers. The findings have implications on what sort of marketing to use to attract millennials to come work for your organization, and as we know, having millennials in your organization to contribute to the execution of marketing campaigns aimed at millennials is critical for success. Here are some of the findings from the 28% of respondents that described themselves as full-time employees.
·      “79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts and contributes to society.
·      69 % are aware of their employer’s commitment to social/environmental causes.
·      64% say their company’s social/environmental activities make them feel loyal to that company.
·      56% would refuse to work for an irresponsible corporation.
·      Survey findings indicate that volunteerism unleashes a more engaged citizen, consumer and employee”
It is obvious that in order to attract and retain millennial employees, companies must engage in corporate social responsibility. Some companies are already using the generosity trend to attract millennials to work for their companies: “Millennial-friendly benefits Loblaw provides include a cheque for $500 to a charity to which an employee devotes more than 40 hours of service a year.” (Vancouver Sun)
How about some recommendations for how to execute cause marketing most effectively to target millennials?
1. Be long-lasting. Don’t just choose a new charity to support each month, as it will become evident that you are simply using cause marketing as a ploy. To really create trust and loyalty among consumers, choose a cause that is related to your product or service and has meaning to your customers. Then stick with it.
2. For goodness sake, don’t be fake. The only thing worse than no CSR is fake CSR. If you’re touting your product as ‘green’ when really it has a host of other detrimental effects to the environment, the loss of trust after being found out will be way greater than any trust or incremental sales you may have gained in the process.
3. Focus your advertising efforts outside the store. While until as late as 2007, 60 percent of shoppers made their decisions at home and 40 percent in the store…in July of this year, 83 percent of shoppers stated that they are making their purchase decisions at home, an astounding 23 point increase. In addition, 64 percent of shoppers now make a list prior to visiting a store.” (Reuters)
4. A few tips from Mrs. Cone from the Cone Millennial Cause Study “To be truly effective, corporations should use cause branding as a loyalty strategy,” noted Ms. Cone. “They need to align their brand with a cause that is relevant, authentic, sustainable and engaging, as well as one that is true to the core brand identity. Most importantly, companies cannot be afraid to communicate their cause commitments with honesty and sincerity. Millennials want to know how their support of a specific brand or product is actually making a difference.” Taking this apart piece by piece, make sure that the cause you choose is the right one, be up front about your commitment to the cause, and show what contribution your company or the donation promotion is actually making to the cause you have chosen.
Try it at home:
-Create a campaign that involves something along the lines of “with every product purchased, $___ will go to . The incremental lift in sales you will see from this promotion will surely outweigh the expenditure required to keep this commitment.
-Take a hint from Target and use your Facebook Fan page to find out which cause your customers would most like your organization to support. Target created a fan page and asked fans to vote which charities Target’s weekly donations should go to. The result was 97K new ‘fans’ of the page, a 3000% increase in wall post activity, and a 4800% increase in daily page views. See this page for more information.
-Encourage more people to join your Facebook Fan page through offering to donate $___ to a certain cause for every new fan that joins. I’ve seen many examples of companies doing this with great success…don’t forget to specify a limit on the amount you will donate, because you are sure to get a lot of fans by doing this!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Best Way to Target Millennials? Ask One.

So far this blog has talked a lot about different marketing strategies that could be successfully used to target millennials. Now many of you may be wondering, who is the best person to recommend how to market to millennials? Furthermore, who in your organization is going to be in charge of this and other marketing initiatives aimed at millennials? Read on…

A recent Chronicle article entitled “The Millennial Muddle: How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions” (Chronicle) states that “most renderings of Millennials are done by older people, looking through the windows of their own experiences. So in any discussion of generations, it's only fair to give a Millennial the last word.” I would like to take this opportunity to give my ‘last word’ on the stances taken by the various ‘millennial experts’ mentioned in the article (who by the way, criticize each other heavily).

Neil Howe, an author of Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, looks at rhythms in history to determine the traits of each industry. He and co-author William Strauss identified seven core traits prevalent among millennials: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. The ‘special’ trait has been given the most attention, though I would like to argue, who doesn’t think they’re special in today’s world? The traits arose through examining a group of upper-class high school students in Virginia and the historical events (such as the terrorist attacks of 9-11) that have taken place in our time, which he believes “shape people of a given generation in specific ways”. Although I agree with historical events impacting our mindsets, I think it is preposterous to generalize the findings from a small group of high-income families to an entire population.

Jean M. Twenge, the author of Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before, claims that millennials "have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves." Instead of calling millennials ‘special’ as Howe and Strauss did, Twenge calls it narcissism due to high self-esteem, which she believes to be resultant of being raised a culture of constant praise. In return, Howe and Strauss were quick to criticize her findings. I would like to echo them in questioning her intentions, and wonder myself if there might be a twinge of bitterness in her work.

Mark Bauerlein focuses on the deterioration of intellect among millennials in his book, The Dumbest Generation. He cites studies that “affirmed that today's students were reading less and absorbing fewer facts than their predecessors had”. While this may be the case, is it such a bad thing? Perhaps having grown up with search engines and instant messaging may actually better prepare us for the realities of the workplace. Bauerlein sees less interest in culture among millennials, and considers students behaviour akin to that of ‘fussy consumers’. Both he and Twenge agree that the Internet is a “venue for self-absorption that their parents never imagined”, and “Facebook and other social media have fed a bonfire of vanity among young people.”

These ‘experts’ are profiting from their books, company talks that “explain how to make young workers happy and retain them”, and more. Yet each of these theorists is operating under “two large assumptions. That tens of millions of people, born over about 20 years, are fundamentally different from people of other age groups—and that those tens of millions of people are similar to each other in meaningful ways.” This fact has caused some people to stop thinking in generational terms. What about people from the upper and lower ages of a ‘generation’? Are they the same as those in the middle? It is hard to imagine that values and traits change drastically with the one year in age difference between one generation and another.

One thing is left to consider: are we a product of what these millennial experts have been saying? According to the Chronicle, article, Howe’s “recommendations have influenced the mailings admissions offices send, the extracurricular activities colleges offer, the way professors teach, and even the food students eat.” This leads me to wonder whether millennials (and other generations for that matter) are the way they are as a result of the widespread influences the so-called generation experts have had.

I disagree with the Chronicle article’s view that giving millennials the last word in discussions about their generation “is tricky exercise…After all, it's easy to find one who agrees—or disagrees—with the idea that students are team-oriented, or narcissistic, or anything. And many have given generational labels no more consideration than the ingredients of their breakfast cereal.” I, for one, am taking an interest in the generational labels applied to our age group, and I think I could find others who would be interested in doing the same. Secondly, there’s nothing wrong with a little healthy self-criticism. I can admit that many people my age have high self-esteem and prefer Google to encyclopedias. What is the problem? Maybe if a group of millennials were assigned to the task of figuring out how to market to our generation, at least we wouldn’t all disagree and criticize each other’s findings. After all, we’d be analyzing ourselves.

Companies in the business world seem to agree. When asked “Which of your groups is best equipped to help you with your social media efforts today?” 65.6% of the 114 CMOs in the CMO Club responded “In House” (Business Week), over choices including interactive agency, PR firm, social media agency and creative/ad agency. One CMO responded, “With all the chatter in the industry on social media and all the agencies scrambling to stay relevant through social media, the combination of our internal marketing expertise and hiring millennials in our group that understand social networks, is working well.” So if you want to find out how best to market to millennials…ask one!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mobile Marketing to Millennials

Let’s face it – mobile phones have become an extension of our bodies. This is especially true for millennials. It is difficult to find a millennial without a mobile phone attached somewhere to their clothing, if it’s not in their hand or to their face at the moment. The 2010 Trendwatching Trend Report confirms that “Globally, mobile data traffic will double every year through 2013, increasing 66-fold between 2008 and 2013.” Millennials are no exception to this; in fact, the statistics are likely to be even higher for this group.

Why is mobility important? It can be used successfully in a number of different ways to promote our brands to young consumers who are almost always switched “on”.

The first and most obvious way of reaching consumers via mobile is text messaging, a promotion strategy that I alluded to in my previous blog post. According to the Canadian Marketing Association, “Text based (SMS) mobile advertisements and promotions in the U.S. have proven effective with response rates of up to 12% (M Metrics, Inc. September 2007)”… Results like these are not unlike the heady days of email response and banner ad click-throughs.” As anyone who comes into contact with millennials regularly knows, they like their texting. A recent study conducted by Ipsos-Reid found that 18-34 year old Canadians send and receive an average of 78.7 text messages per week – for Americans, that number rises to 129.6 (Ispos).

Let’s see if text messaging can really get results. In the case of Barack Obama’s text message campaign (sign-up found here), yes it can. Barack allowed people to subscribe to his campaign updates in order to be the first to know whom his pick for VP was. This has been quoted as the “smartest marketing campaign ever” (GigaOm), and as we all know, it worked. By Obama showing that he was able to connect with young consumers, he was able to achieve 66% of the votes from the 18-29 year old age category (MSNBC). A key component of his ability to obtain 10 million text message subscribers was the provision of useful, relevant information to consumers that signed up, which is a key component of any marketing campaign that centers on mobile phones. If you’re going to reach a consumer in what is considered a private aspect of their lives, it better be with important information. In this case, the campaign allowed members to be the first to know what was happening and have the ability to share it with their friends. The campaign contained an additional call-to-action – to vote. Consumers had something to do with the information they received – another important characteristic of a successful mobile marketing campaign.

So how can companies use mobile phones to reach millennial consumers?
1. Keep them in the know, to satisfy their desire to track and check (see my previous blog post). This works especially well for event notifications, contests and sales – have your consumers sign up for text messages so they are the first to know when these things are happening, creating an air of exclusivity. I watched Malibu do this successfully two summers ago, when they held a surprise free Bedouin Soundclash concert available only to those who had received a text message invite, which had to be shown at the door. All of a sudden they had a concert full of millennials, who were being served Malibu drinks and merchandise.

2. Simplify their lives. There are a number of ways you can do this in a way that predisposes people to purchase your product. For example, let’s say your product is not widely distributed. Many phones have GPS these days, and retailers are using that to their advantage with applications that allow consumers to find the nearest outlet of their favourite stores with the click of a button. The same thing can be done with products – allow your consumers to use an app or even text a number to find out where the nearest location is that sells your product. Secondly, if your business sells tickets of any kind, provide the option of texting a code or picture code to your customers in lieu of a printed ticket. Movies, airlines and any other companies who offer similar services can gain competitive advantage through saving consumers the step of printing off tickets and keeping track of them.

3. Provide superior customer service. Since text messaging is so widely used and accepted by millennials, why not use it for providing customer service? A friend of mine was surprised to hear that instead of waiting on the line until a representative from Telus found the answer to her question, they would text her the answer. Providing consumers with convenience like this will no doubt make them more likely to choose you over other competitors.

4. Provide free Wifi at your retail locations. According to Trendwatching’s 2010 Trend Report, “In a recent survey conducted by American Airlines and HP, some 47% of business travelers responded that wifi was the "most important airport amenity, outscoring basic travels needs such as food by nearly 30 percentage points."” As a retailer, provide free Wifi to get more people in your store and probably have many of them buy something while they are there. As a manufacturer, try to distribute your products at places that have Wifi in order to take advantage of this too.

A few ideas for the future…

1. Free or discounted cell phone service in exchange for periodic advertisements, e.g. when starting up the phone, before making a call or sending a text, etc. In a similar way, many consumers have moved to watching TV online for free in exchange for advertisements.

2. Text message coupon codes redeemable at checkouts – imagine the first mover advantage a retailer could score on this one!

3. A text messaging service that skips the “go home and Google it” step of the purchasing process: text in the product barcode and receive user reviews and an overall rating of the product you are considering buying, while still at the store.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taking Advantage of Infolust

A new technological trend identified in’s 2010 Trend Report is infolust – "Experienced consumers are lusting after detailed information on anything and anyone. Which is why millions of sites, services, devices and apps that facilitate instant checking, tracking, alerting, visualizing, analyzing, mapping and so on are hotter than ever.”
From a psychological perspective, Trendwatching speculates that the drive behind the desire to constantly be in touch is “a basic human need: the need for power and empowerment, or at least the illusion thereof.”

Why is this trend important? If companies are able to bring their products and services to the top of consumers minds using checking and tracking methods, they will be much more successful. Taking advantage of this method of advertising is relatively cheap, efficient, and provides the ability to do narrow targeting.

Are millennials in on this trend? Of course they are. Let’s take a look at what technologies Millennials are using most. The group of 80 million millennials is comprised of those born from 1980-1995 – in 2009, this age range represents 14-29 year olds. ComScore reports that the smallest user groups of Twitter are actually 12-24 year olds (Search Engine Watch). This is likely due to this group being used to using Facebook’s ‘status update’ function and not seeing a need to duplicate efforts when most of their peers aren’t on Twitter yet. However, the 25-34 year olds are the second-largest user group of Twitter. Companies looking to target the older portion of the millennial generation could see success using Twitter to do so. Millennials seem to dominate Facebook much more than Twitter: “The largest block of Facebook users is still ages 18 to 25, followed by 26-to-34-year-olds. Taken together, those groups made up 51% of the user population.”   (eMarketer) This is the opposite usage pattern of Twitter for the two age groups. Taking the Twitter and Facebook statistics together, one could hypothesize that where 25-34 year olds are not using Facebook, they are using Twitter instead. This is likely related to the timing of the rise in popularity of Facebook occurring while the younger 12-24 year olds were still in school, which the network was originally intended for. One fact remains – the desire to remain connected amongst millennial users. Twitter stands to increase millennial membership, with Nielsen reporting annual growth rates of 1,382 percent for Twitter versus 200 percent for Facebook (Mashable). So Twitter should be considered ‘one to watch’ while Facebook should be the primary avenue for companies targeting millennials. Cell phone usage, especially smartphones, is also on the rise. The Smartphone growth rate in 2009 is expected to be 18.7% (Nasdaq), while eMarketer predicts that the penetration rate for mobile users will increase to 100% by 2013 (eMarketer). It is no surprise that many of these new users will be millennials.

Why is it important for millennials to be constantly updated with seemingly useless information such as when their friend from high school brushed their hair? For one thing, it allows them to constantly stay updated with what their friends in their extended networks are up to. An example of this occurred recently when I ran into an acquaintance that I hadn’t seen for about seven years. Although we hadn’t spoken in all that time, we both were completely up to date with what the other person had been up to during all that time – thanks to Facebook. Imagine if companies could keep consumers this updated with their new promotions and products.

A second reason that millennials are actively engaged in checking and tracking is so that they can keep up with what is hot and happening among their peers, whether this consists of events, products, websites, etc. This is what companies can use to their advantage. The spread of popular Youtube videos and new websites such as FML is largely attributed to Facebook. And the same can be done for products. What’s the first thing most millennials do when they make a big purchase? Post about it on Facebook. Other millennials see this, and want the products too. Due to the nature of Facebook friend lists and activity transparency, it is fairly easy to identify key influencers on the social networking site.

What are some actionable ways that companies use the millennial obsession with checking and tracking to their advantage?

1. Provide useful and relevant information that can be ‘checked and tracked’ via Facebook fan pages that are created for your company and/or brands. For example, a millennial wants to know when something is going on sale, how much it will cost, and what other special deals they can have access to. Don’t just make a Facebook fan page for the sake of having one – give millennials a reason to join it.

2. Identify key influencers on Facebook and harness them to help your cause (but keep it ethical). An example could include noticing someone on your Facebook fan page that is doing a lot of activity, and then asking them to help publicize a charity event you are having in exchange for coupons.

3. Facebook advertising: if you’re not doing this yet, get on it. In a Business Week article from last year, a CEO says "there's no better marketing tool." (Business Week) With the combination of the ability to segment extremely narrowly using the interests and demographics entered by users on their profiles, and the possibility of doing it extremely cheaply with Cost Per Click plans, it seems that this statement may just be true. With Facebook advertising, you can be in touch with your consumers while they are checking and tracking what their friends are up to – something that millennials seem to spend much more time doing than engaging with traditional advertising mediums such as TV, newspaper or radio.

4. Go mobile. With the advent of Blackberry and iPhone ‘apps’, companies can join in by providing applications that encourage users to check for useful information regarding sales, promotions, events, etc. Companies can even find out if non-Smartphone users might be receptive to receiving texts every so often with this information.