Marketing to Millennials: 3 Key Lessons from Lilly Pulitzers Branding

An estimated 80 to 90 million Millennials are in the United States, and they wield more purchasing power than you likely know. At approximately $1.3 trillion in annual buying power, it's clear Millennials aren't just avid consumers but avid influencers as well. Couple this power with their diverse viewpoints and lifestyles – and their frequent usage of evolving social media platforms – it's easy to see why many marketers spend a large amount of time figuring out how to best speak to this generation. 

So what do Millennials want? 

1. Personalization 

Whether it's videos on YouTube, sponsored Facebook content, or the “deals-of-the-day” promoted on Twitter, it's clear many marketing strategies catered to Millennials are heavily focused on social media.

When Lilly Pulitzer, the world famous women's boutique, set out to design a highly personalized marketing strategy for the Millennial generation, they started by analyzing the influence of the wide range of marketing projects that already existed. In an article in Harvard Business Review, Omar Artun explains,

“Data analytics helped us identify critical points in the customer life cycle and develop relevant marketing programs that best engage the Lilly girl in each situation. The team married insights from this platform with observations of stores and larger marketplace research.” 

While it's clear Millennials are interacting and engaging with one another on social media, simply placing content on those platforms without the usage of analytics won't get you far. As Lilly Pulitzer learned, it was far more effective to tailor unique messages to individuals based upon their purchase history than it was to create an archetypal model of the Millennial shopper. As always, figuring out which analytics provide meaningful returns is key to effectively personalizing your campaign.

2. Online Interaction

Millennials live on their phones and laptops. Everything marketing – inquiring, searching, interacting and, most important, purchasing — is all done on their devices. However, this digitization of life shouldn't make us think Millennials want a dehumanized experience. Instead, this online and digital life should be seen as a form of self-expression and personality. In essence, Millennials online to interact with and express themselves to a wider audience. 

Effective marketing campaigns understand this need for personalization and self-expression. A survey completed in 2014 by The McCarthy Group, revealed that 84 percent of Millennials no longer exhibit trust in traditional forms of marketing. Radio spots, television ads and in-your-face pop-out messages achieve very little, as these types of marketing seem generic and company-focused—the opposite of the genuine, content-driven ads this generation longs to interact with. Meaghan Moraes, a marketing specialist and writer, explains in an article for HubSpot:

“Millennials know what they want and know how to find it online. If they decide they want to go for their master’s degree, odds are that an in-your-face pop-up ad wasn’t the deciding factor.”

Understanding that purchases are seen as a form of self-expression can help determine your messaging. Take Lilly Pulitzer for example. According to Artun in the above Harvard Business Review article, 

“We also found that our Millennial consumers showed a willingness to spend more on brands that focus on quality and authenticity—they valued the fact that the company hand paints all prints in-house and hides special surprises in the patterns, just as Lilly herself did in in the late 1950s.”

3. Shareable Self-Expression

If being a brand participant is a part of many Millennials' identities, then it's important for brands to allow them easy ways to share that information. Going beyond simple social media sharing buttons, this means creating sharable content, unique hashtags, and easily accessible brand stories. Marketing to Millennials should be seen as starting a growing conversation, not a one-way dictation.

For the Lilly Pulitzer brand, this meant creating a unique Snapchat filter. This method got them unique results:

“Engaging with this audience on their platform of choice gave us the opportunity to build an emotional connection and to tell our brand story in a visual way (ideal given that color and print are the hallmarks of the Lilly brand). Lilly was the first fashion brand to work with Snapchat to offer branded Snapchat filters for users that visited Lilly stores. During our first two-week summer campaign, the Snapchat filters delivered 97 percent more engagements than on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter combined.”

Bridging the Gap

So what do Millennials want? Personalized, shareable, digital experiences. This sounds relatively simple, but in the real world, it's rarely executed effectively. I look forward to see how other brands successfully (and unsuccessfully) reach out to this generation that wields so much social influence. And once their day in the sun is over, I'll also look forward to watching Millennials crack the puzzle of marketing to their successors. 

Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation. 

(image source: https://georgetownmetropolitan.com)

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