Mobile, Millennials And Marketing: An Insider’s View

With Millennials quickly becoming the biggest and most sought-after demographic, columnist Aaron Strout has some insights into how marketers can resonate with this increasingly influential audience.

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Last week, I had the luxury of sitting in on a panel hosted by the Advertising Research Foundation titled, “Millennials Unplugged: What Are We Learning From Millennials?” The panel was moderated by my colleague, Bob Pearson, and featured panelists Natalie Malaszenko, SVP of Marketing at, and Maureen Craig, founder of MoStrategy. The focus, as you can imagine, was on what we can (and should) learn from what is now the largest demographic in the United States: the Millennials.

The panel was not only informative, but reminded me of an ongoing blog series that Pearson works on with his daughter, Brittany, titled, “Millennials Unplugged.” The series focuses on Pearson and Brittany (along with other guest W2O Group employee contributors) picking topics relevant to companies, like culture and social media, and then providing a “Millennial” viewpoint.

In my mind, this is something that can’t be discussed enough, as I still believe that most companies are inclined to hang onto the common stereotypes about this often-maligned generation.

Millennials And A Mobile Future

In my July article titled, “What Does it Mean to be Mobile First? And Why Should Marketers Care?,” I explored the importance of digging deeper into the Millennial psyche to truly understand this demographic’s mindset. The article also touched on the importance of taking time to digest the formative events that have shaped this misunderstood generation.

The point of this exploration was to help marketers better understand why mobile devices play such a critical role in how Millennials engage with brands, as well as each other. While mobile isn’t the only way they interact, it’s becoming the primary channel for more and more consumers.

Some of the recent statistics released by Facebook reinforced the importance of a mobile-first experience. Facebook stated that it has 1.39 billion mobile users (out of its total base of 1.55 billion).

And more telling, it derives 78 percent of its revenue from mobile ads. This is up from 66 percent in the third quarter of 2014. And remember, those numbers include Instagram users — one-third of whom are Millennials.

With this backdrop, I took a page out of Pearson’s book and decided to validate what I already suspected to be true with my 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, and several of her friends. And while these insights are far from statistically significant, they highlight a key trend in how Millennials are digesting content — and more importantly, what they expect of brands in their interactions through social channels.

As part of the experiment, I asked Olivia (and her friends) the following: If a company like Doritos wanted them to try a new flavor, in which social channel would they be most willing to hear from the brand, and which approach would they be most likely to respond to?

I didn’t limit the channels but suggested Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s worth noting that Instagram and Snapchat are exclusively mobile, and, like Facebook, 80 percent of Twitter’s active 320 million users are mobile.

Olivia said that both she and her friends would be most receptive to hearing from a brand like Doritos on Instagram via sponsored posts or in a Twitter ad. Facebook doesn’t factor in because they rarely use it (“Less young people on Facebook” was the explanation given).

And the feeling with Snapchat was that while it allows for “3V ads,” not many of the nearly 100 million Snapchatters really engage with this content. (Snapchat ad stats would refute this claim, but I sense the truth lies somewhere in between.)

What was more interesting to me was the “how.” Olivia and her friends suggested that they would be most likely to engage if Doritos were to ask them to comment on their favorite flavor — or on Twitter, to take a poll and perhaps send in a picture eating one of the new flavors of Doritos with an opportunity to be entered into a contest.

I didn’t expect that my daughter and her friends were looking for coupons but was a little surprised that they were willing to actively engage with the brand and even enter into a traditional sweepstakes (albeit via sharing a picture).

Tips For Marketing To Millennials

While these insights were anecdotal, they reinforce a few key trends that should be heeded by marketers interested in engaging this increasingly important audience:

  • Because mobile devices are so personal (they go to the bedroom, the bathroom and the boardroom with most of us), people — particularly Millennials — don’t want to be bombarded with sales messages. If your company takes this approach, they will shut you off or find ways to work around interacting with you at all costs.
  • When engaging, think storytelling instead of selling. Brands that use social channels, particularly in the mobile environment, will do a better job at building relationships with their customers or prospective customers that way. It’s okay if this content is paid or sponsored, but it must engage versus “talk at.”
  • Remember that if you are presenting a video, you have about a three-second “audition” before the user swipes by you with their thumb. Start off strong, and make sure what you are presenting is interesting.
  • While marketing to the 1.55 billion Facebook users can be very effective, it’s not likely to be the place to hit the lower end of the Millennial generation. Again, this is one more reason it was key for Facebook to buy Instagram back in 2012 (something they were laughed at for considering the now modest $1 billion price tag).
  • Sponsored opportunities on Snapchat will continue to improve on the four-year-old Millennial darling. Remember, the brand has only been accepting paid activity for a little over a year. As numbers grow on the nearly 100-million-person-strong channel, the company will be forced to find more effective ways of generating revenue.

With Millennials becoming the largest demographic in the US — and also the first generation to truly be “mobile first” — why wouldn’t you want to market to them on their terms?

They aren’t the segment with the biggest purse strings… yet. But they will be before you know it. They’re also the largest pool we’ll hire from over the next 20 years. It’s probably worth it to get used to thinking with a mobile-first lens.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Aaron Strout
Aaron Strout is Chief Marketing Officer at integrated marketing and communications firm, W2O Group. During his tenure with the company, he has served as President of WCG and head of W2O's technology practice. Aaron has 20 plus years of social media, mobile, online marketing and advertising experience, with a strong background in integrated marketing. Prior to joining W2O, Aaron spent time as the CMO of Powered Inc. (now part of Dachis Group), VP of social media at online community provider, Mzinga, and as director of digital marketing at Fidelity Investments. Aaron is the co-author of Location Based Marketing for Dummies (Wiley) and writes a monthly mobile/location-based marketing column on He also recently launched the What 2 Know podcast (iTunes) which features industry leaders talking about innovation and best practices.

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