Marketing To Millennials Is Making Us Miss The Obvious

Marketing To Millennials Is Making Us Miss The Obvious

By Greg Zakowicz, senior commerce marketing analyst at Bronto


In short:

  • Marketers are focused on millennials and Generation Z, because these groups make up almost half of the U.S. media audience.
  • Marketing expert Greg Zakowicz argues that while indeed unique, these cohorts are just like all other consumers: they want a good retail experience.
  • Instead of marketing to specific generation, Zakowicz suggests simply improving your business overall.



My fellow Gen X-ers and I are growing older with each passing day. Aging right along with us are two of the most talked-about cohorts, millennials and Generation Z. If you work in marketing, you can’t go a day without hearing about them. After all, they currently make up at least 48 percent of the U.S. media audience.

And we all know the narrative about them: In addition to wielding lots of spending power, they’re “unique” and “perplexing;” they’re “enigmas;” they’re “changing retail.” Millennials value experiences over items, and they prefer brands who engage with them on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Their constantly-plugged-in nature is changing how stores display products, too. Millennials love deals, which they can usually search for on their phones to compare with the deal you’re offering in-store.

Maybe these characteristics are real, or maybe they’re just half-truths. Either way, millennials and Gen Z are much more than marketing puzzles. Dare I say it? They’re people.

Here’s a radical theory for you.

Maybe generational differences don’t matter quite as much as we think.


As marketers, it would be foolish to ignore the unique characteristics of our consumer base. But some retailers focus so much on catering to certain generational cohorts that they ignore the common desires of all consumers, regardless of generation.

Simply put, consumers don’t want a bad experience. Doesn’t everyone want to receive their purchased products sooner rather than later? Wouldn’t everyone choose a more convenient shopping experience over an inconvenient one? Wouldn’t everyone prefer assistance from a friendly store associate rather than a rude one? Doesn’t everyone want to pay less, not more?


What today’s consumers want, regardless of generation, is what they’ve always wanted: a good experience. They want good customer service and good value, meaning a good product at a fair price. (Of course, the term “fair” is relative. It doesn’t always mean cheapest. Rather, it’s based on all aspects of the production and buying processes, like overall quality, return policies, shipping speed and customer service.)

It’s up to the retailer to understand these basic consumer needs. Sure, you can focus on sending a mobile-optimized email, have a great social media presence and provide a frictionless checkout. But if your product breaks easily or can’t be returned, and customers can only contact customer service through a web form, the overall experience is still poor. And the customer won’t come back to buy again, no matter how many products were “donated to the less fortunate thanks to that order.” Amazon didn’t wait for millennials to tell them to provide a convenient shopping experience. They simply gave it to them.

Improve all aspects of your business, regardless of generational marketing target. 


Make your email marketing as relevant, timely and mobile-optimized as possible. Streamline your website experience, have an engaged social media presence, create customer-centric shipping and return policies, and offer exceptional customer service. Without these fundamental building blocks, meeting the expectations of today’s consumers--all consumers--will be next to impossible.


Now, I’m not saying these generations don’t have their differences. Gen Z are digital natives. Sending them an email and asking them to print a copy of it to redeem a coupon in-store isn’t an effective strategy. And failing to provide friendly, convenient customer service via live chat or in-store associates isn’t going to win over your millennial customer base. 

Even though each group has unique behaviors and preferences, the underlying principle is constant, and choosing to cater to those differences instead of improving the experience for all customers is a faulty strategy for retailers.

Maybe it’s time to talk a little less about millennials and Gen Z and spend a little more time talking about people. After all, happy customers are happy people. And happy people are your best brand advocates.

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