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Sneakernomics: Marketing with Millennials, Part 1

Mar 7, 2017
Matt Powell, Vice President, Industry Analyst ;
Sports

Brands used to market to Boomers; successful brands today market with Millennials.

Millennials, or the generation born between 1981 and 1996, are now a larger group than the Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964. They account for one-third of all retail spending, and soon they will represent 50 percent of the workforce. In the sports industry, 90 percent of athletic footwear gains in 2016 were driven by Millennials or the proceeding generation, Gen Z. These two cohorts accounted for 70 percent of sneaker sales in 2016. 

The Millennial generation is much more diverse than previous cohorts, being 38 percent non-white compared to the Boomers, who are 22 percent non-white. In addition, with more than one-third of Millennials having a college degree, this generation is also the most educated in history.

Millennials are constantly interviewing brands, meaning that a brand has to prove itself, every day. For Boomers, there were fewer shopping choices, shopping outlets, and sources of product information. For Millennials, those elements are infinite. On top of that, these elements are always in their pockets, on their mobile devices.

Many Millennials have never known a world without the internet. Because of that, Millennials are more connected to each other than any previous generation. This means they share everything. When they want to know something or get an opinion, they consult their peer group. As a result, Millennials’ groups are much, much larger than those of the boomers. 

Boomer generation marketing was reactive. Brands ran an ad campaign and measured how many consumers responded. Millennials don’t react, but interact. They are part of the branding process, from sharing a great YouTube ad, to advising friends on purchase experiences, to giving positive and negative feedback directly to a brand. Remember, just because it’s easy to hit the “Like” or “Favorite” button, does not mean those recommendations are given out lightly (and a “Like” is just as easily reversed).

Contrary to the shopping experience Boomers are most familiar with, physical stores are no longer the place where consumers learn about products; they are the places to try out products, not research. Millennials go to physical stores to see if products fit or if the color is right. Physical stores must adapt to this fundamental shift.

Malls are no longer where young people hang out; now they hang out on their phones. Next time you are in a mall (and I’ll bet it will be a while), go to the food court. Most of the people there are retirees, nursing a cup of coffee. The top-end malls will survive, but the rest are doomed.

“Omni” or “all” channel is old-school thinking. Millennials don’t care about your businesses logistics or Chinese walls. They want what they want, whenever, wherever, and however they want it. If your brand can’t offer it to them that way, they will move on. Your brand experience must be completely transparent and seamless, with no hidden quirks. There is only one channel: all of it.

The lesson here is, engage rather than market; listen well and respond; and provide value. Find out where your customers are living—digitally—and involve them there. Seek interaction, not reaction. Market with Millennials.

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