If you were born after 1981 and are reading this, you are a Millennial – whether you like it or not. I know what you’re thinking: “Jonathan,” you think to me, “I’m not a Millennial! I don’t have anything in common with those narcissistic, Snapchat-crazed, apathetic Hulu-gins.” You say all this as you swipe right on a guy with frameless glasses and a bio that reads “I deserve it!”
I’m sorry to say it, but you’re a Millennial. Even though you don’t have anything in common with those born 15 years after you, you’re kind of in the same boat. That kid who’s just now shuffling off to college will have the same flatlining creative ambitions and will be saddled with the same Sisyphusian debt.
So, now it’s established. You’re a Millennial and you have no idea how to target your demographic with your content. That’s what I’m here for. Here are five ways to appeal to that most elusive of generations:
1. Your content should be more Pulp Fiction than Forrest Gump
In 1994, Forrest Gump won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and it made perfect sense. A simple man caught in the whirlpool of 20th century history keeps his head down, loves his mother, respects authority and comes out on the other side a multi-millionaire while drug-taking, sex-having Claire Underwood gets AIDS. U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.! The actual best film of 1994 was Pulp Fiction, a cynical, violent, subversive take on the gangster film featuring drug abuse and an ambiguously religious murderer’s desperate search for meaning. Wow, talk about a prescient vision of the Millennial generation. Politically alienated, distrustful of institutions, religiously ambiguous – that describes us perfectly. I’m not saying that your content needs be violent or even politically subversive, but that it might benefit from a little attitude. There’s a reason Millennials prefer True Detective to Two and a Half Men.
2. Value them and value the world
Over one quarter of all Millennials believe they are undervalued at their job. Most online content producers are quick to promote a hashtag and ask for user feedback, but how many have actually used that feedback to inform their content? Elite Daily found that Millennials were more likely to be loyal to a brand that gave them good customer service and contributed positively to society. They also recognise brands as content providers as well – but before you run off half-cocked, thrilled that the generation actually embraces advertising, realise that with that power comes responsibility. A February Newscred study had this to say:
Nearly two-thirds (62%) of those surveyed feel that online content drives their loyalty to a brand – yet the content they’re receiving is turning them off by not helping them navigate their everyday problems, being too long, sales-driven, and not tailoring messaging to individual cultural interests.
Translation: They’ll watch your online videos, but if you pander or blatantly self-promote, you’ll only be hurting yourself.
3. Be flexible
By that I mean, work around their schedule. Netflix is more valuable to Millennials than cable or broadcast television, because it meets their needs a lot more than anything that came before it. They don’t need to be home Thursday at 8:00 pm, they don’t need to restrict themselves to appointment viewing one episode at a time, and they don’t need to watch commercials. Plus, it’s (literally) about 15-20% the cost of having a cable subscription. There are still companies trying to get Millennials to uncut their cords. In the meantime, they’ve already torrented every episode of Better Call Saul. Meet them where they are. Millennials already demand flexibility at work and at home – they want it from their content as well.
4. Treat them like intelligent adults
…because a Millennial is more likely to actually be one than their 70-year-old counterpart. Hey, they can’t help it. Many of their parents did well, and something happened to all the factory jobs, so the Millennial generation has shaped up to be the most educated in American history. Only about 10% of the “Silent Generation” – those born between 1928 and 1945 – attained at least a Bachelor’s degree. For Millennials, that number has jumped to more than 25%. What does that mean for your content? It’s simple: Don’t patronise. Trust that they’ll get it.
5. And finally, if you aren’t one, don’t pretend you are
This isn’t the 90s, when advertisers would slap the word “Tubular!” on their package of Corn Nuts and call it a day. Millennials distrust everyone…but especially you, person over 34. Elite Daily and Forbes found that 43% of Millennials say they value authenticity over the content itself. Those on the younger side of the Millennial spectrum watch more YouTube than television, which means their primary interactions are often with performers who are directly addressing their audience, instead of performing for them. That authenticity is crucial, and is exactly the reason why this lazy garbage just won’t do.
Jonathan Harris is a writer and producer What’s Trending, an online show highlighting the best viral videos and the latest trends on YouTube. Its co-founder & CEO Shira Lazar will notably be in Cannes this April forMIPFormats, speaking on the panel “Digital: the birthplace of new formats?” What’s Trending are also media partners of MIPTV’s MIP Digital Fronts.
Top photo via Shutterstock – Anchiy