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Marketing to Millennials | In their own words

Marketing to Millennials | In their own words

There are over 80 million Millennials in the US alone. Spending $600 billion per year. They’re tech-savvy. They’re opinionated. They crave authentic content. Talk at them, and they’ll ignore you. If you want your brand to be heard by Generation Y, you need to speak the same language. Marketing to Millennials, in their own words... 

Download my free Millennial glossary!

Respeck for Dan’s Top 49 Millennial Words Glossary. Determined using Quick Search and sentiment analysis, he looks at twerking, spilling the tea, flossing, and more...

Millennials are killing everything… cereal, soap bars, diamonds (no longer forever), fabric softener, corks, beer, mayonnaise, paper napkins, in-store shopping, the English language…

I’m not joking. There’s a whole gang of writers out there, churning this nonsense out. Getting their rocks off, writing clickbait headlines, blaming Millennials for everything that’s wrong in the world.

It’s nothing new, previous generations suffered the same blame game.


What does intrigue me is the claim that these bloodthirsty killers have - allegedly - broken the English language.

I’m going to take a look at the apparent damage they’ve done to language, plus the difference in their purchasing habits, compared to previous generations. A difference born from their affinity with digital channels. I'm going to show you all you need to know for marketing to Millennials.

The Millennial generation makes up 25% of the US population. Spending $600 billion every year. Believe it or not, it’s predicted that by 2020, that figure will have risen to $1.4 trillion and represent 30% of total retail sales.

So. Freaking. Lit!

As a brand, if you don’t understand the Millennial generation, it can mean the difference between your business growing, or its slow and painful death.

If you want your business to stand out and take a share of the big bucks that Millennials are prepared to spend, your marketing campaigns and strategies have to speak to their specific characteristics and target their needs.

I’d like to debunk some of the myths that are regularly spewed about this generation, while highlighting successful ways to reach Millennials.

First up, let’s agree the generation breakdown. If you check online, the exact dates are a bit fluffy.

Please, don’t get all salty on me if I’ve put you in the wrong gang...

  • Lost Generation - 1883 - 1900

  • Greatest Generation, GI Gen, WWII Gen - 1901 - 1927

  • Silent Generation - 1928 - 1945

  • Baby Boomers - 1946 - 1964

  • Generation X - 1965 - 1980

  • Xennials - 1977 - 1985 - microgeneration of people born on cusp of Gen X and Gen Y
    BuzzFeed - " cynical as Gen X, as bubbly as Gen Y. Use social media, but remember life without... "

  • Millennials, Gen Y, Boomerang Gen - 1980 - 1995

  • Generation Z, iGen, Centennials - 1996 - ????

Each generation has its likes and dislikes. Its own characteristics. Shared experiences have created kindred ideals. They each have a generation of attitudes, motivations, and have experienced life-changing historic events - not all inclusive and in no particular order...

World War I & II, The Recession, Korean War, Vietnam War, TV, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Moon Landing, Civil Rights Movement, Nuclear Power, Feminist Movement, AIDS, Fall of The Berlin Wall, Twin Towers, Contraceptive Pill, Collapse of The Soviet Union, Growth of the LGBT+ Community, Solar Energy, Ending of The Cold War, The Internet, Computers, eCommerce, Smartphones, Social Media, ...

Millennials struggle to remember life without mobile phones. As kids, they were glued to Game Boys, PlayStations, or Sega Mega Drives. The Internet helped with their school work. Social media was and is their chat room. They want to make a difference in the world, and they're not afraid to say so.

They’ve created a new language. It includes acronyms, abbreviations, punctuation lapses, and a new type of shorthand. If you don’t speak it, your brand won’t have a voice. Without a voice, your brand will be ignored.

My Marketing to Millennials Guide gives you everything you need to understand and learn the language of Millennials. a.k.a. text talk or Millennial lingo. A language influenced by social media, technology, trends. A language you have to speak, if you want to be heard.

Ready to rock?

Table of contents

Why brands should target Millennials

I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again...

Huge generation of roughly 80 million in the US alone, spending close to $600 billion every year.

Reason enough?

The problem with Millennials

With the birth of each new generation - the problem with the youth of today - is a bellyache regurgitated by previous generations.

Millennials are called lazy, entitled, idealistic, self-absorbed, snowflakes… blah, blah, blah.

Please don’t misunderstand. That’s not me speaking. I think you could apply those characteristics to a lot of people, regardless of which generation they’ve sprung from. But, if you’re to believe the press…

So, let’s agree. There isn’t a problem with Millennials. They’re doing what each generation has done before... carving their place in an ever-evolving world. Making it work for them, and making it work for future generations.

Same story. Different generation.

Definition of Millennials a.k.a. Generation Y

Generation Y - Millennials - 18 to 38 year olds. A generation with impressive buying power, responsible for the majority of purchases today. From food to fashion. Tech to travel.

It’s a generation that includes college leavers, people in an established career, homeowners, marrieds with kids.

How do Millennials differ from previous generations?

Born wearing a Fitbit and clutching a smartphone, Millennials have embraced technology. Social media is where they work, rest, and play. Using social media as a way to communicate differently, but meaningfully with each other.

Consequently, they’ve created a new language.

Heavy on visuals. It conveys tone, volume, nuance, humor, body language, and anger. It makes written English as expressive as spoken English.

Often using multilingual apps, Millennials break language and culture barriers with heavy emoji usage.

Would you agree that we’ve gone full circle? Emoji are the 21st Century’s hieroglyphics, cave paintings? Symbols that communicate universally in nonverbal chat. On cave walls, papyrus, tombs... on social media. With the flick of a brush or the swipe of a thumb, it’s a cinch to convey euphemisms, sarcasm, emotions.

Millennial characteristics

“Millennials are 44% more likely to trust experts - who happen to be strangers - than advertisements, and 247% more likely to be influenced by blogs or social networking sites.” Hubspot

Let’s look at Millennials' behavior towards marketing...

Savvy researchers

84 percent of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising.

Seriously, who does?

They listen to fam, family, influencers. They read reviews. They use comparison sites. They read blogs. They value information they consider authentic.

Hard-sell, won’t sell.

Provide them with content that they can learn from. Be entertained by. Speaking the Millennial lingo is essential. If you don’t sound like their peers, they ain’t gonna listen to you.

Millennials don’t do impulse buying.

Marketing to Millennials successfully, boils down to understanding their mindset. Know that Millennials have no patience with traditional advertising. They don’t trust brand-speak. They won’t listen to hard-sell. They want honest, authentic, self-aware, transparent content.

#Lit brand - MoonPie

If any of you’ve been living under a rock, a MoonPie is two cookies sandwiching a layer of marshmallow, dipped in a flavored coating.

For any Brits reading this, we're talking Wagon Wheel.

The cake? Cookie? Sandwich? Whatevs… has been given a bizarre human persona. Weird online friend. Social media therapist. Lifestyle guru.

Your weird online friend.

Rather than try to convince consumers that MoonPie is the best, the brand has taken the unusual route of portraying itself as a ‘human’ pining for someone called Linda.

Unconventional marketing.

Millennial consumers are relating to a brand portraying itself as uncool.
Why? Cos it smacks of authenticity.

There has been much speculation around the short attention span of Millennials. More hot air. They’re selective. They read content to better themselves.


Technology sophisticated

A world without the Internet, is beyond a Millennial’s comprehension.

There was never a time without smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc. Their lines of communication? Email, SMS, social media. Millennials spend 5.2 hours per day reading online content.

Meaning? If you want to be seen by this generation, you have to be in their space.

Socially conscious

Millennials are gonna change the world.

TBH, every generation has changed the world. It’s called progress. It’s inevitable. Having said that, Millennials will be favorable towards a brand that has a purpose that matches their own.

#Lit brand - LOLA

LOLA is a feminine-care brand offering a subscription-based service delivering 100% organic cotton tampons in the exact assortment you need. Playing to Millennials’ social conscious, the brand encourages engagement in their social accounts.

View this post on Instagram

Take action at #taxfreeperiod

A post shared by LOLA (@lola) on

Millennials support genuine brand purpose.


Work life balance

Millennials are lazy and unambitious.


They value their family - parents, kids, siblings, fam. They value flexible hours and quality of life, over big salaries.


If you have Millennials in your team, expect to be questioned. Authority doesn’t phase them. They want to learn. They value self-education. They want to better themselves. Do something valuable. Become their mentor and you’ll earn their respect.

Team players

They recognize the value of a team pulling together. Bouncing ideas off each other. There are no individual wins, only team wins.


Constantly looking for stimulation, they’ll be listening to a podcast while uploading images to Instagram, and scrolling through Twitter. Refresh your content regularly and you’ll hold their attention. Include a heap of images, and they’re yours forever.

The language of Millennials

The Millennial generation has designed a nonverbal language for those times when they can’t express through body language or tone of voice, i.e., on social media.

Yes, the grammar and punctuation is a bit… ouch.

It isn’t that they can’t spell, or that they’re lazy. It’s that they want to show their emotions in their online communication. And they’ve done it.

They’ve created a written language that’s as expressive as a spoken one.

That's sick!

It’s not the first generation to have modified the English language, and it won’t be the last. Otherwise, when we arrive at work we’d greet each other and say...

“Valorous morn everyone. Did doth thee hath't a excit'ment weekend?”

It’s also the case that each generation wants to buck the trend. Distinguish itself. Use words that older generations don’t get.

So, are we talking evolution?

The language of Millennials is filled with misspelled words, bad grammar, acronyms, and emoji. They’ve splintered the rules of written English.

  • Millennial-speak is pared down to the minimum - dont, wont, couldnt, lol, btw, omg, bc, tf - saving time and apostrophes. Written English that’s expressive, emotive, and packed with attitude.

  • Capital letters for names and brands, have been put to better use. Caps ARE used to Make A Point!

  • Using shrthnd saves time. Who needs vowels?

  • And to add even more emphasis? I. Will. Use. One. Word. Sentences.
    Yikes, I started punching the keys extra hard - I’m converted

  • Who’d have thought that using/not using a full stop would give away my mood.
    No full stop - neutral. Full stop = I’m done talking, or I’m huffy.

  • No punctuation means Im so so so excited that Im not pausing for breath

How to market to Millennials

The challenge?

How to advertise to Millennials. A generation that’s technology-led, doesn’t trust brand-speak, and is influenced heavily by the media? How do you talk to a generation that’s created a new language?

Get to know your audience.

Let me introduce you…

Keeping it honest

Honest and authentic marketing gives users control over how they interact with a brand. If your brand says it’s the best, number one, or becomes the face of a social cause. You better make sure it’s true.

Because if it’s not, it won’t just be Millennials that see through your scam.

#Lit brand - Taco Bell

Millennial Word of the Week is the Taco Bell initiative geared towards teaching its team Millennial lingo. Why? Because the brand recognizes that the Millennials generation - Gen Y - is its biggest fan base.

Taco Bell is a brand happy to laugh at itself. A tactic that resonates with its Millennial customers. Avoiding social causes, the brand jumps on Millennial trends and has a giggle. There’s no hard-sell marketing, so it’s not seen as a brand. It’s the class clown. It’s fun.

Taco Bell doesn’t play favorites. It’s all over social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. It’s even made its mark on Reddit, where the brand takes a back seat and lets the community lead the chats.

Snapchat - Millennial fave - and Twitter, where followers can use AR and become… a taco.

Invite participation

This generation has an opinion, and they love to share it. Invite Millennials to participate, and you’re onto a winner.

Remember #ShareACoke?

Give them a hashtag and something Instagrammable, and you’ve won yourself a fanbase. Make them stars by using their images in your brand feed, and you'll have yourself some brand advocates.

#WhiteCupContest winner!

During the #WhiteCupContest, over a three week period, nearly 4000 people submitted entries!

Marketing to Millennials - Starbucks white cup challenge

Talkwalker's Quick Search - Starbuck’s user-generated content campaign,

still going strong five years later.

This desire to participate is why social media has become THE marketplace where brands should target Millennials. Meet them in their territory. Engage with them. Build up a dialogue.

Millennials want to participate. Your brand has to invite them to do that. If you’re sensitive to this generation’s behavior, ask questions and listen. Act on comments - positive, neutral, negative.

45% of Millennials expect a more engaging experience with brands than with retailers. They expect brands to listen and engage. To build a relationship. To invite them to participate in the innovation process.

#Lit brand - Chipotle

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a US chain of restaurants, specializing in tacos and burritos. “Sourcing the very best ingredients… ” with “pork from pigs allowed to freely root and roam… ”. “Working to cultivate a better world.” This kind of brand purpose appeals to Millennials.

After a cow explodes from eating petroleum based pellets...

In 2013/4 Chipotle launched an unconventional social media marketing campaign. Fictional web series - Farmed and Dangerous - starred a sustainable farmer who happened to be a Millennial. Chip, the farmer, was in dispute with a corrupt food manufacturer. Prior to being broadcast, Chipotle launched an iPhone game, and a video called The Scarecrow which highlighted issues associated with heavily processed food.

Millennials participate. Millennials share.

Millennials love exclusivity

Millennials want to be treated as individuals. They expect products or services, specific to their needs and lifestyle.

#Lit brand - Starbucks

Heard of the Orange Sleeve Society?

It’s an exclusive club created by Starbucks, for fans of its Pumpkin Spice Latte. Members receive an orange-knit coffee cosy with “Team PSL” embroidered on it. Starbucks even created @TheRealPSL, a Twitter account dedicated to PSL fans. Sadly, it looks as though the account has been abandoned.

The lesson to be learned? Millennials love exclusivity.

Starbucks offering Millennials exclusivity.

Personalize it

Don’t you just love it when you find a product that has your name on it? Pens, badges, t-shirts, mugs, etc. Millennials are no different.

So if you give them a product that’s personalized with their name, what are they gonna do?

It’s share-worthy content - take a pic and bang it on social. Obvs!

#Lit brand - Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola rocked personalization when it swapped it’s brand name on bottles, with 250 popular names among teenagers and Millennials. The #ShareACoke campaign launched in Australia in 2011, with Millennial consumers encouraged to share a photo of their personalized bottles on social media, using the #ShareACoke hashtag.


Consumption increased by 7%. The campaign was introduced to the US, UK, and other regions around the world. In the US, a 10 year decline in sales was decreased, and the brand earned 25 million Facebook followers. More than 500,000 photos were shared.

Marketing to Millennials - Quick Search data from Share a Coke campaign

Quick Search - Coca-Cola’s personalization campaign keeps bringing results.

Impressive sentiment!

Data reveals the top occupation is social media. Fitting, don’t you think? Remember the target audience? Looking at this and the age breakdown, it’s a campaign that’s hit its target.

The brand, recognizing the potential of such a campaign, has continued to develop new ideas, with bottles now sporting removable sticky name labels.

Involve them in product development

Like I said, they have an opinion and they love to share it. They want to be part of a conversation, not merely a bystander.

Listen to them. Invite their comments. Talk to them. Let them be hands-on.

Use their input to inform your decisions. By the time you launch, you’ll have empowered them and they’ll be out there promoting your product for you.

#Lit brand - Frito-Lay

In 2012, potato chips brand Frito-Lay was already enjoying awesome brand awareness. Setting a new goal, the brand looked to generate a buzz to increase sales by 3%. It set its sights on the Millennial generation.

Launching the #DoUsAFlavor contest in the US - previous ‘create-a-chip’ campaigns had run outside the US - the brand created a Facebook app inviting participants to submit new flavor suggestions. The chip brand also pushed hard on its other social media channels.

Marketing to Millennials - Lay's potato chips

Lay’s user-participation contest struck a chord with Millennials.

On submission, they’d receive an image of a Lay’s bag that had been customized to show their new flavor. The idea being that they would then share on their social media channels.

Three flavors were chosen, with the winner receiving $1 million.

Yep, you read right… ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!!

The brand, targeting 1.2M submissions, received 3.8M flavor suggestions. Running for 10 months, Lay’s Facebook page had 22.5 million visits per week.

The 3% sales increase the brand was looking for? 12%. Yep, sales grow by 12%.

So successful, the brand continues to invite consumers to hunt down the perfect flavor.

Make Millennials’ lives easier

Millennials don’t get too excited about a great deal, unlike previous generations. What does float their boat, is the value the product brings to their lives.

Need a cab? Uber it.

If you as a brand can solve a Millennial’s problem. You’ve won a new customer.

#Lit brand - Dollar Shave Club

With a limited budget and a cussing CEO, the Dollar Shave Club knocked it out of the park with its YouTube ad. The concept? Create a stir and sit back and wait for people to spread the word.

And they did...

“Our blades are f***ing great.”

The personal grooming brand’s bold content marketing concept? Pay a small monthly fee and Dollar Shave Club will deliver razors and other grooming products to your house.

A funny video. An F-bomb dropping tagline. A growing community. Millennials love it!

Referral marketing

Who do you trust?

A paid ad? Your bestie?

What do you do when you’re scrolling through social media, and you’re hit with a deluge of ads and promotional content? Your answer could determine which generation you come from...

  • What’s social media?
  • I don’t use social media
  • I can’t resist clicking ads
  • I scroll past...

Scroll past... Unless...

It. Is. Shared. By. A. Friend.

91% of Millennials make purchases based on recommendations from family, friends, social media connections. Combine that with FOMO - fear of missing out - a clever marketer can engineer a winning referral strategy.

Suspicious of traditional advertising, Millennials use ad blockers to disappear banners and pop-ups. Choosing to listen to the opinions of their peers on social media. How can a brand target Millennials with a referral marketing strategy?

  • Less hard-sell, more sharing - your brand pitches will be ignored, so share real value

  • Make it pretty - your content has to make an impact to stand out to media swamped Millennials

  • Be in their space - have an active presence on social media

  • Be mobile responsive - smartphones, smartphones, smartphones - mobile-optimize your ads

Find your brand advocates. Customers who have used your product, love it, and are happy to share their positive experience.

Think Uber. Think Airbnb. Brands that have grown hugely due to referral programs that reward customers and those they introduce.

#Lit brand - Airbnb

Airbnb in 2008 was a small startup in San Francisco. In just over a decade, Airbnb is now recognized as a trusted community marketplace. A place where consumers can list, review, discover, and book accommodation around the world.

The hospitality brand currently offers over 6 million unique places to stay in 100,000+ cities, and 191 countries and regions.

When you consider the nature of Airbnb - having to trust strangers - it’s a wonder the business has done so well.

Marketing to Millennials - Airbnb referral program

Current customers become trusted brand advocates.

Its referral program - refer a friend - entices consumers to invite friends, with travel credits for the sender and the recipients. Working on the brand’s website, Android and iOS, users can import contacts and friends from Gmail and send customized invitations. The invites include a photo of the sender, so it looks more like a personal referral than a promotion.

Influencer marketing

Millennials are tuning out unwanted traditional advertising. If they want to find out about a product or brand, they’ll research. This is where as a brand, you can jump in.

Find influencers that Millennials trust, and work with them - bloggers, vloggers, podcasters, YouTube influencers, Instagrammers.

Because of this distrust of hard-sell - brand-speak - Millennials are known to check with their fam, their families, their peers, and with influencers that they trust. Generation Y listens to their peers and the people they follow on social media channels. Tap into that, and you’re onto a winner.

Make ‘em laugh

#Lit brands - Chipotle, MoonPie, Wendy’s - rocking social media.

Eating. Tweeting. Repeating.

MoonPie not taking anything seriously.

MoonPie and Wendy’s - love’s young dream.

When Twitter increased its character count to 280, MoonPie was invited to test. The brand declined…

The irony of this tweet, was lost on some people.

Fake it and you'll break it

Brands that have struck gold, are targeting Millennials in an authentic way. They don't sound fake or forced. They aren't patronizing. They aren't insulting.

But, there are brands that tried a little too hard, and lucked out.

#AreYouForReal - Chase Bank

Dad trying to get down with the kids. Cringeworthy!

Don't get me wrong, posting a fake dialogue tweet can work. This one doesn't. The bank realized and - after a negative backlash...

Deleted the tweet and posted a 'sort of' apology...

Sorry not Sorry.

Glossary of Millennial terms

The Millennial language is still evolving, with words and phrases going in and out of fashion.

Take a look at Dan’s gucci Glossary of Top 49 Millennial Words of 2019. Millennial buzzwords that your brand has to understand, if it wants to engage with Gen Y. Using Quick Search, Dan reveals the deets of Millennial slang…

  • Most mentioned
  • Most engagement
  • Most popular
  • Most positive
  • Most negative

That’s a helluva lot of most...

Here’s a taster...

Adulting - You’re such a grown up, you paid the electricity bill.

I can’t even - Speechless, impatient, annoyed - 15 bucks for unicorn frappuccino. I can’t even...

Emote - Emo of the Millennials. Emo - person who’s more emotional than others.

Fam - Your bestie. BBF - bestest best friend. Short for family, but not blood relations. Chosen family, only.

Feels - Feelings, but more so. How your favorite movie makes you feel.
Talkwalker’s video analytics gives me all the feels!
Yikes... maybe not.

FOMO - Why do we spend so much time on social media? Cos, it’s 24/7/365 and WE DON’T WANT TO MISS ANYTHING - Fear Of Missing Out.
I’d be gutted to miss my BFF sharing a pic of the avocado toast they had for lunch.

Alternatively, JOMO - Joy Of Missing Out - JOMO my bestie sharing yet another pic of the avocado toast they had for lunch.
How I love sarcasm.

Ghosting - I thought you loved me!!! Where is my heart emoji? Ouch! You’ve been ghosted.

Gucci - Not the brown, overly-badged hand luggage. Gucci means something is awesome. This skinny soya latte is gucci.

GOAT - Greatest Of All Time - Talkwalker is GOAT
I now have an image in my head of the Yeti riding a goat - on fleek.

Hangry - Huuuuungry. So hungry, I’m aaaaangry.

K - Okay - OK - why use multiple letters when one will do?

Lolz - Contradicting my previous statement, this is LOL - laugh out loud - with an extra letter. To make it… longer?

Owned - You got owned! Defeated in your argument.

Phubbing - Yikes, done this loads of time. Ignoring others by staring into your phone. Phone /snubbing. I’m such a phubb!!!

Receipts - Not what you get when you pay for your groceries. These are digital receipts. Screenshots of online stuff, that acts as proof or evidence.

Slay - To win at something. Similar to killing it. V popular on the 'gram when users share a pic of their outfit of the day - another day, another slay.

Sorry not sorry - Just cos I said sorry, doesn’t mean I am.

Thirsty - Desperate for approval/likes.
Hey girlfriend, fourth time you posted that selfie this week… thirsty!!!

Throwing shade - Putting someone down in a sneaky way. Passive aggressive at its worst.
Me: Hey guys, who didn’t wash their yak milk with chia bamboo cup?
Everyone looks at Dan...
Dan: Hey, you throwing me some shade?

V - Very - saving on letters again.

Woke - Someone who’s switched on. A champion of social justice.


Targeting Millennials will help you increase your revenue, because Gen Y is:

Whatever language you speak, your goal has to be to reach consumers with marketing messages that are relevant to them. Relevant to their generation.

Download the Top 49 Millennial Words and give your brand a new voice. A voice that will be listened to...

Marketing to Millennials - Download glossary