Market insight, millennial-style
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Market insight, millennial-style

Expert Ryan McEnaney shares how businesses can harness the millennial perspective to better serve and capture the attention of this coveted demographic.

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July 16, 2020

Millennials are one of the largest age groups in the United States. But who are they, and how can you cater to them? Ryan McEnaney, a fifth-generation member of Bailey Nurseries who serves as the company’s public relations and communications specialist, shared insight with attendees at Cultivate’20 Virtual during his presentation, “Selling to & Understanding Your Customer Series: Understanding Millennials from the Millennial Perspective.” His session provided personal (he is a millennial himself) and research-driven data for retailers to tap into this market. Here are his main takeaways, and learn about these concepts in-depth below:

  • Don’t fight it
    Millennials have great spending power, loyalty and a long-term focus on relationships.
  • Understand context
    Millennials entered adulthood saddled with debt in the Great Recession. Plus, technology advancements shaped how this generation communicates and engages with the community.
  • Meet them where they are
    Market to millennials in mediums they’re already using (social media, native content, text).
  • Create experiences
    Give millennials a reason to participate with your brand and deliver an experience that is worthy of sharing with friends and repeating themselves.

Don’t fight it

McEnaney shared that while the industry is finally getting a handle on the Generation Z demographic, it provides rich context to the millennial generation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (from 2000 to July 2020), millennials make up about a quarter of the population at 82.22 million, and Gen Z makes up 86.40 million.

Millennials have been called “the connected generation” because they grew up with technology. From Nokia “bricks,” the invention of Facebook to now having the ability to game with friends across the country via Nintendo Switch, he says these new advancements brought direct interaction to the generation. Millennials are also the most diverse and educated generation of adults in U.S. history, according to data from Brookings Institution. Forty-four percent of millennials are a minority — since 1980, the white non-Hispanic group has shrunk from 78% to 56% in the 15-34-year-old age group.

It’s crucial to focus on the generational cultural gap between post-millennials and pre-millennial generations. America is changing, and it’s important for businesses to communicate with this age group to understand the future of consumer shopping, cultural practices, politics and more. The next five to 10 years will be crucial for marketers and strategic planners, he said. 

While the millennial economic impact doesn’t have an immediate effect on the market, focus on the long-term benefits of this demographic.

“For right now, how we communicate and how we engage with millennials is going to have a dramatic impact on our businesses in the next five to 10 years and their influence, again, on Gen Z is so important,” McEnaney said.

He suggested audience members check out the book “Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution Is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell, and Live” by John Gerzema. According to Gerzema, U.S. millennials have over $1 trillion in consumer spending. However, that doesn’t mean businesses should abandon their current baby boomer and Gen X customers. Instead, they must take the opportunity to use a blended marketing approach. According to Snapchat for Business data research, U.S. millennials are projected to control the largest share of disposable income in 2029, and millennials are spending money on different things than their predecessors.

Understand context

Millennials grew up in a challenging and unique time because they were shaped by historic events such as 9/11 and the Great Recession. Millennials faced the recession with the most student debt of all time, and jobs were slim or didn’t pay enough. This impacted their spending habits. However, this is an opportunity for businesses to jump, as millennials want to spend money on something that will have a lasting impact.

“At the core of it, at our spending level, we are quite frugal. We just spend our money in different ways,” McEnaney said. “We have the opportunity, if we communicate it in the right way, to capitalize on that and bring those people to our industry and earn their money.”

Also, millennials don’t view money as the standard of success, and this shift is a great recruitment tool to get them in the door. Millennials have a core connection to their communities, and money isn’t necessarily a driving factor — something McEnaney said HR practices should consider.

“Find ways to share what your company is doing, and if they come to your company, show how they can contribute and share growth opportunities too,” McEnaney said.

The reality of this generation is that many millennials strive to be the best, and that’s where the “me, me, me” thinking comes into play. According to a National Institutes of Health study, narcissistic personality disorder is three times as high for millennials compared to those that are 65 and over, he shared.

“Forty percent of millennials believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance,” McEnaney said.

While technology and the creation of participation award trophies might be to blame, there’s context for this behavior, he noted. McEnaney delved into his own experience as a celebrity publicist in Los Angeles and believes celebrities influences this kind of thinking. Three times as many middle school girls want to grow up to be a celebrity assistant rather than work as a senator, and four times as many want to be a celebrity assistant than to be the CEO of a major corporation, he shared.

It might seem silly, but businesses need to keep this in mind when they engage with millennials and realize this part of their life — their reality — matters, he said.

Meet them where they are

Generational attitudes have changed over time. Every generation has focused on itself, but with different priorities. He noted that millennials are blamed for the technology that exists now, but the drive to share has always been there — it’s just that society has immediate access to it.

“Technology has allowed to us to be idealistic, connected, entrepreneurial and open the world up. It has allowed us to challenge convention and see new things. It’s so, so great. And with that, millennials are not just selfish and entitled. We’re curious and optimistic. We crave experience. So, I think that’s the way we sort of have to shift our perspective a little bit,” McEnaney said.

As such, the industry must meet millennials where they exist in a way that’s relatable to them — through their phones, tablets or computers. Whether that’s through text campaigns, native content or digital ads, businesses must place information where the consumer is already looking. He suggested offering videos as a prime way to help them find success in gardening. At Bailey, he hosts a video series, along with a Q&A session to keep customers informed. Keep track of social media and see what customers are asking about. Address the basics, and then offer fun backyard gardening ideas for something more advanced.

“Millennial gardeners don’t like to be called ‘gardeners’ because they don’t feel like they are. It’s our job to help and provide them with tips to be successful in their landscape. If they’re not, they’re not going to come back again,” McEnaney said.

Address millennials' lack of garden expertise and empower them with quick bites of knowledge through technology to help them find success.

Create experience

As millennials navigate through the post-COVID-19 world, the generation will adapt its goals and continue to connect through technology. He shared data from a 2010 Futurecast survey that predicted the millennial-dominated economy will be smaller, greener and less impulsive — not because they are anti-consumerism, but because they’re likelier to save than spend.

He shared Google Analytics data that focused on the term “gardening” and ever since the coronavirus hit, the term has been trending up.

“We have the opportunity this year to bring so many people into our industry, and so many millennials,” McEnaney said. “They’re looking for ways to improve and they have the time to do it, which means there’s a lot of gardening opportunities”

Brands must undergo a radical transformation to reach this customer. Meet the millennial on their technologic turf and embrace their sustainable, adaptive mindset to build a long-term customer. Take a holistic approach when it comes to your business models and focus on overall wellness to draw in new customers. It’s important to build partnerships with local businesses, breweries or CSAs to reach the millennial in a new setting as well as strengthen your own community bonds, he concluded.