Marketing to millennials: Win over the next generation of affluent consumers
When you plan your marketing do you consider generational differences in consumers and how to appeal to people from different age groups? For years, the primary driver of revenue in professional photography has been Generation X and the baby boomers, people born between 1965 and 1980 and between 1946 and 1964, respectively. These generations have been looked to as the established, mature consumers who hold America’s purse strings for family purchases as well as business expenses.
But it’s time to also consider millennials, who are coming into their own as consumers. Defined as those who came of age around the turn of the 21st century, millennials are those born between 1981 and 1996, putting them at 22 to 37 years old today.
Myths about millennials have caused businesses to discount them. Stereotypes in popular culture portray millennials as broke, unemployed, lazy, living with their parents, and surrounded by participation trophies. The reality is that millennials are a much larger economic force than many people realize. And they’re much more driven. And much more family oriented. And much more prosperous. In fact, the fastest-growing group of people making $250,000 or more in the top five urban markets in the United States is millennials.
“There is an emerging affluent class, and they can afford to act on the things they want to act on,” says Jeff Fromm, president of the consumer trends consultancy FutureCast and an Imaging USA 2019 speaker. Fromm boasts 25 years of experience studying complex cultural trends, consumer behavior patterns, and the influence of emerging technology. He’s authored several books, including “Marketing to Millennials,” “Marketing to Gen Z,” and “Millennials with Kids,” and is a regular contributor to Forbes.
Fromm believes that all businesses should be working to win over millennials. After exhaustive consumer research, he developed a series of recommendations for marketing to millennials and building a pipeline of future customers that can sustain a business for years to come.
What millennials are really like
For decades, family and business structures have largely been hierarchical. The parent or boss made a decision, and tasks were passed down the line. Today, both families and businesses have become more decentralized. “Millennials expect to have a voice. Whether they have a vote or not, they expect to have a voice,” Fromm says. This applies to their interactions with employers as well as their interactions with the businesses they patronize.
The millennial life path tends to be less linear than that of previous generations. Traditionally in America over the past 50 years at least, people went to school, landed a job, got married, bought a home, and started a family—pretty much in that order. Millennials don’t feel they have to make their life journey in that sequence. They’re more likely to mix it up, start and stop, and veer off the traditional path. What does that mean for businesses like photography studios? It’s harder to predict when millennials will need certain things in their lives, so it’s more difficult to strategize marketing around life stages. The traditional customer flow from wedding client to maternity client to family portrait client may not be as relevant to this group. So think about how to appeal to millennials in a broader sense and then adjust your offerings to match what these consumers need.
Why price competition doesn’t work
Studies have shown that around 75 percent of a company’s financial performance is based on key industry norms. For example, a food company such as Kraft will derive 75 percent of its business based on the taste and price of its products. The other 25 percent comes from more amorphous perceptions and mindsets. This is where businesses have an opportunity to set themselves apart through factors like branding, innovation, and client relations.
Here’s a key takeaway for photographers: If you compete based on differentiation from your competitors, that 25 percent tends to go up. If you compete based primarily on price, it goes down. In other words, if you’re working to creatively differentiate yourself from the competition, you have more control over your business development. If your main method of gaining clients is undercutting competitors’ prices, then you have less control over your business development because you’re treating your business as a commodity rather than a unique service.
Fromm breaks out six mindsets, which he lists in order of priority, that are important to millennial-focused marketing:
- Social circle. Social referrals are the No. 1 driver of profit for businesses dealing with millennials. Millennial consumers value a recommendation from within their social circle much more than any advertising messages. Photographers can widen their social circle by being more conversational and participative with their target audience.
- Self. The self mindset describes the emotional connection consumers have with a business. As a photographer, when you can create a strong emotional connection with your clientele, you can charge a premium while capturing a bigger share of the market.
- Innovative. Brands that innovate are brands that win. Millennials in particular want the businesses they patronize to reinvent old processes in new and better ways. If you can do this, millennials are more likely to work with you and be willing to pay a premium. Businesses that innovate also find it easier to attract and retain good employees.
- Trusted. Millennials, like most generations, want to work with businesses they trust. Businesses gain trust through consistency. “Remarkable consistency is the hallmark of trust,” says Fromm. That means putting the customer first, always, and providing an experience that is predictably positive every time.
- Purpose. Does your business support a charity or affiliate with certain causes? If you want to appeal to millennials, then consider adding a higher purpose to your business. A business with a social purpose can be a key differentiator.
- Accessible. Accessibility is about making things hyperconvenient for consumers. Ask yourself if you are succeeding at simplifying clients’ lives. If you want to appeal to the millennial market, you need to make it easy for them to do business with you.
Strategies to drive growth
With the six mindsets understood, Fromm offers five strategies to drive growth in your business.
- Win over employees first. Employees are your greatest asset, and they become the face of your business. It’s important to align them with your brand values so their client interactions are consistent and on point.
- Embrace story living. Remember the adage, “Show, don’t tell.” That applies to your business as well. If you have a message or theme, you need to live it. Millennials want to see proof. They want to see you living your story and following up on your brand promise.
- See the client experience through consumers’ eyes. “It’s really important that you start to think, What is the expectation in terms of an experience?” says Fromm. Consider things from your client’s perspective, and build out the experience from there.
- Embrace a culture of content. Millennials crave information. The more relevant info you can give them, the better. Good content leads to better relationships, which leads to client loyalty.
- Create a culture of innovation. Upgrade the golden rule to the platinum rule: Treat people the way they want to be treated. Innovate ways to offer a superior client experience. Consider how to disrupt the status quo. Get way out in front of your competition and lead the field with new practices that change the standard model—for the better.
Jeff Kent is the editor-at-large of Professional Photographer.