How To Sell To Millennials

photo of Guthrie WeinschenkThis blog post is by Guthrie Weinschenk, COO of The Team W, Inc.

Full disclosure. I’m a Millennial. Guilty as charged.

I know we can be a finicky bunch. Certainly we do things “differently” than previous generations. Our methods of media consumption are different, so the traditional rules of media marketing were thrown out of the window for the most part maybe 5 years ago. But this is all old hat. I’m sure most people have read a dozen different articles about “marketing to Millennials” already. I’m hoping I can give you a fresh perspective you haven’t heard before (*hint* we’re poor).

The traditional narrative goes something like this:

  • Millennials need to express their opinions, so you need to go through the social media world.
  • Millennials have attention spans the length of a goldfish so in order to get their attention you need to be outlandish even, somehow get them to pay attention.
  • Etc… Etc…

I’m not saying this traditional narrative is wrong. There really are kernels of truth here, but they are often wrapped up in misunderstandings and stereotypes of those under 35. I know that many of my fellow Millennials out there reading this are very familiar with the eye roll that accompanies articles that write off their behavior because of their temperament: “Why Millennials Don’t Fit In At The Workplace/Have No Job Loyalty, etc…” (the end implication is always that they are lazy/spoiled/self-centered). I for one am heartened at the lack of those articles over the past two years as more Millennials have entered the workplace and the narrative is getting much more nuanced (and less eye-rolly).

Truths Of The Traditional Narrative

Social Media — It IS true that social marketing has been an effective way to get the attention (notice I said attention and not business) of Millennials. But that’s because that’s where we spend all of our time. Of course actually marketing to where your audience is spending time is going to be more effective. Ninety percent of all 18-29 year-olds use social media (Pew: And if there’s anything we’ve learned from social media it’s that people of all generations love nothing more than to express their opinions online *aHem Trump*.

Attention Span — In “THE AGE OF SCREENS” people are being exposed to more things vying for their attention than ever. Eighteen to thirty-six year-olds consume 17.8 hours of social media per day.  (It’s mathematically possible because they often consume multiple sources at the same time: As a small footnote I researched if people were also exposed to more ads than in previous generations, but I couldn’t find a decent study proving that. But there is certainly more content. So yes, people in general, and especially younger people, are consuming media at a much faster pace. This does not prove, however, that Millennials are goldfish; res ipsa loquitur.

My Economic Narrative About Millennials

Raise your hand if you’ve been in this situation: You had an online marketing campaign in which people under 35 were the focus, or a significant cohort, but it did not go as well as you expected. And you were left thinking “I thought we had a good message. I thought we had a good product, but why didn’t it sell as predicted? Where were the conversions?” It may have even had great traction and views and social marketing likes.

Don’t blame yourself. It’s the economy stupid. Millennials are the poorest generation by a lot. Allow me to put this in perspective. Net worth is the amount of money you have minus all the money that you owe. The median net worth of someone under 35 is only $10,400/ ( Again, that’s the median. Many are probably negative. Just for comparison, net worth for those who are 35-44 is $46,700, 45-54 is $105,300, and those who are 65-74 is $232,100. Now it IS true that over time as you work and make more money you save more. But Millennials aren’t making money either. Check out this cool calculator to indicate what income percentile of Millennials you are in ( If your average income is $50,000 you’re in the top 15%. At $30,000 you’re still in the top half (45th percentile).

The honest to god truth is that between soaring student debt amounts, the great recession, an anemic hiring market with little wage growth, and increases in other life goods (like healthcare), Millennials are just poor. And it explains so much of our behavior. Pirating music and movies? Poor. Flocking to free apps like social media? Poor. Liking Pabst Blue Ribbon? Poor. Living with your parents? Poor.

And the living with parents trend isn’t just about parents. It’s a seismic shift in how American family structures and the “unit’ work. The percentage of young adults living in their parents’ homes is 26%. But more importantly another 48% of Millennials are “doubled up” that is to say they live with an extra adult (roommate) who is not a spouse or unmarried partner. Only about 25% of Millennials are living either alone or in a traditional “nuclear” household arrangement ( Maybe it’s because we like having friends around. Or maybe it’s because we are too poor to buy houses. Home ownership for Americans under 35 is only 36%, the lowest level on record (started in 1982– Now this isn’t to say we won’t spend money, we obviously do: on organic food, shaving clubs, or other things we feel passionate about. But we just don’t have as much of it to spend. So unless we can really be convinced it’s hard to make us hit the buy button.

So How Do I Sell To Millennials?

 animated gif of someone saying "Help me I'm poor"“Help Me I’m Poor” — My advice for success marketing to Millennials is to treat us like the poor cohort we are. It doesn’t necessarily mean we are cheap, but we are very sensitive to marketing pitches that allow us to spend less money and still live the American self-story we want to tell ourselves. And many of the successful marketing campaigns to younger adults do just this.

Dollar Shave Club (, which just sold to Unilever for $1 billion, had great success with brash videos about how their factory-direct-over-the-internet model would save you money. Companies like Netflix have had great success appealing to “cord cutters” who want entertainment but do not want to pay for expensive cable. Spotify and other music streaming services have had great success catering to users who want all the music for a much lower price point. Then there is Casper Mattresses ( for factory direct online mattresses, Uber, Lyft, or other rideshare services for cheaper taxis, and Airbnb for cheaper hotels. “Freemium” games have exploded, and I’m not just talking about apps, but also mainstream PC gaming including MOBAs (Dota 2, HoTS, LoL), and card games (Hearthstone).

More Millennials are cooking at home following the national trend. And while Millennials do eat out a lot, it’s mostly at cheap fast-casual places. Market researchers at The NPD Group found that young millennials spend an average of $1,240 a year at restaurants, while the average American spends $4,214 ( and

The point is, if you want a successful sales pitch to Millennials SAVE THEM MONEY OR INCREASE VALUE.

Millennials Value Time More — Uh oh. I’m going to do some economic stuff. Feel free to turn away if you’re scared. I bet you’ve heard the phrase the “time-value of money”. Lucky for you I don’t want to talk about it. But I do want to talk about the “money value of time”. It’s pretty simple. There are only 24 hours in the day. Each minute of free time that a person has to spend is worth a certain dollar amount. What if I told you I could give you one extra minute right now to do nothing, or anything. Whatever you wanted. How much would you pay for that? One penny? $.50? A Dollar? $10? Whatever that number is, that’s your money value of time. And sure it changes if you have more free time or if you’re poor etc.  I don’t need to go into the nuances of what changes the number. My argument is that millennials have a higher value of their time than previous generations.

It’s why we can’t stand wasting time working at work, or work inefficiencies. It’s why we will go above and beyond to save time buying anything: grocery delivery (no more wasting time picking food up), and Amazon prime for everything and anything. Even if we could actually have the product faster by simply walking down the street to Walgreens, we’ll prefer to buy online. Anything we can do on a phone in two seconds instead of three, we’ll flock to: working from home, online banking, texting rather than a phone call, shortening “be right back” to brb. Think of all the minutes saved! We enjoy squeezing every last second out (as long as it isn’t too expensive). Our marginal utility per minute appears to be insanely high.

And what do we do with all this time? Idk. Watch Netflix or play video games or something. It doesn’t matter! The point is if you want a successful sales pitch to Millennials SAVE THEM TIME.

Tell A Story — This is more a general point. Like every generation Millennials love a great story and love to be part of something. If you can make them feel part of a team, that will sell.

Millennials Grew Up Online. They Don’t Trust You — As the first internet generation (Internet Gen 1.0 I call us), we grew up online with pedophiles and viruses and spam and clickbait at every turn. We have a very high guard. But if you can prove you have actual facts, and know what you’re talking about we’ll believe you.

A McCarthy Study found that of those aged 18-34, 84% “do not like or trust” all forms of advertising. As a personal anecdote for my work at The Team W, we find that Millennials actually respond really well to information presented by someone of any age, including Boomers, but only after you gain their trust with insights and facts.

My personal advice (I don’t have research on this, sorry) is to give Millennials substance without the filler to gain their trust. The message can be short, but just make sure it’s valuable.


I bet either you’ll never read this because you stopped reading, or if you are reading this, you just skimmed down to the bottom to read the conclusion. I won’t disappoint and I’ll be quick:

Millennials are poor and value time. Give them value, save them money, save them time, and tell a story with substance for best results.

Share this with everyone you know and hire me for speaking, consulting, or interviews by emailing

Thanks, and all the best.

Guthrie Weinschenk

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #103 — Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder’s Age, Gender, And Geography

Which of these search engine home pages do you find most visually appealing?:


Picture of Google Home page



Picture of home page is the search engine for South Korea. Google is the search engine for lots of other places. Whether you found the Google design more visually appealing or whether you found the Naver design more visually appealing has a lot to do with how old you are, whether you’re a woman or a man, and where you live.

Katharina Reinecke and Krzysztof Gajos researched different visual designs around the world, with men and women of different ages. Here’s what they found:

  • People over 40 preferred more colorful designs compared to younger people. This preference was even stronger among people over 50.
  • Across all ages, women preferred websites that were more colorful than men did.
  • Men preferred websites with a gray or white background and some saturated primary colors.
  • Women preferred color schemes with fewer contrasting colors.
  • People from Finland, Russia, and Poland liked websites without a lot of colors. People from Malaysia, Chile, and Macedonia preferred websites with a lot of color.
  • People from countries near each other tended to like the same amount of colors. For example, Northern European countries didn’t like a lot of colors.
  • People in English-speaking countries preferred more color than those in Northern European countries.


  • If your target audience is primarily men, consider a white or gray background with a contrasting color.
  • If your target audience is primarily women, consider using more color, but fewer contrasting colors.
  • When you’re designing for a specific geographical area, make sure you’re familiar with the color and visual design preferences for that region.
  • Test your visual design with your target audience.
  • When you’re designing for a geographic area that you’re unfamiliar with, be sure to have someone FROM that area working with you

Here’s the reference for the research:

Reinecke, Katharina, and Gajos Krzysztof. 2014. “Quantifying Visual Preferences around the World.” Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

This post is from my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

Digital Expectations Report From Razorfish

picture of cover of Razorfish ReportIf you haven’t checked out the new report by Razorfish: DIGITAL DOPAMINE: 2015 GLOBAL DIGITAL MARKETING REPORT, you may want to check it out sooner rather than later. And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it! (The report contains a one page interview I did with one of their staff — page 29). It’s an interesting report based on a survey of 1600 millennials and gen-exers from the US, UK, Brazil, and China, as well as some in-depth interviews.

Here are some of my favorite data points:

  • “56% of U.S. Millennials say their phone is their most valuable shopping tool in-store compared to just 28% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “59% of U.S. Millennials use their device to check prices while shopping compared to 41% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “Advertising is most effective when it is part of a value exchange. Consumers are now aware of how much their attention is worth to marketers, and they expect to be rewarded for it. They look to be compensated with loyalty programs, free content or useful tools that solve problems.’
  • “Over half of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. and 69% of consumers in China say they do anything they can to avoid seeing ads. What’s more,they’re actively availing themselves of technology to do so, with a majority of TV lovers using a DVR
    to skip through ads (U.S.—65%, U.K.—73%, China—81%).” Brazil is the outlier on this one: “Fifty-seven percent of Brazilian consumers endorse TV, radio and print ads as most influential,”
  • My favorite point is this one: “Seventy-six percent of people in the U.S., 72% in the U.K. and 73% in Brazil say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.” I have heard the same comments in my behavioral science research. And the reason has to do with the anticipatory centers of the brain. I wrote about this recently in my report “Why You Should Do Behavioral Science Research At Least Once This Year”.

The Razorfish report is comprehensive.  I think it’s worthy reading if you design or produce digital products, marketing or advertising.

And don’t forget to check out page 29!

What do you think? Does any of this data surprise you?


100 Things You Should Know About People #79 — People of Different Ages Have Different Error Strategies

Young man taking a picture with a smart phone camera

Let’s say you study two people using a smartphone that has an advanced still and video camera. One is 22 years old, and the other is 47 years old. Neither of them has used this smartphone/camera before. You give them a set of tasks to do. Will there be a difference between them? Will they both be able to complete the tasks? Will they make the same mistakes? Neung Kang and Wan Yoon (2008) conducted a research study to look at the types of errors both young and older (not very old, but older) adults make when learning how to use new technologies. In their study they identified and tracked different error strategies:

Systematic exploration — When people use  systematic exploration, this means that when they make a mistake they stop and think about what procedures they are going to use to correct the error. For example, let’s say that a user is trying to figure out how to email a picture with the smartphone/camera. She tried one menu and that didn’t work, so now she sets out to see what each item in the menu system does for the camera part of the device. She starts at the first item in the first menu and works her way through all the choices in the part of the product controls having to do with the camera. She is systematically exploring.

Trial and error — In contrast to systematic exploration, trial and error means that the person is randomly trying out different actions, menus, icons and controls

Rigid exploration — If someone does the same action over and over, even though it does not solve the error, that is called a rigid exploration. For example, the person is trying to send a picture via a text message, presses a button and gets an error. She then chooses the picture again, and presses the button again. She keeps repeating this combination of actions, even though it doesn’t work.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People #79 — People of Different Ages Have Different Error Strategies”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #12 — When it comes to technology, you definitely "act your age".

millenialLet’s start with full disclosure: I’m a baby boomer. Ok, I’ve gotten that out of the way.  I do have two millenial children (now young adults), and most of the people I work with are Gen Xers.

How did people get together before cell phones? — My son (age 20) recently asked me how people ever got together when I was growing up. “There weren’t cell phones, so how did you ever arrange to get together to hang out?”, he asked. I had to stop and think about that for a while. “Well”, I answered, “We had regular phones. We were at home a lot, and we’d call each other on the phone and set up a day and time and place to meet. It was all done way ahead of time. And then we had maybe one or two places we would hang out. So if you called someone and they weren’t there (remember, no answering machines or voice mail either), then you’d go drive around (there was a lot of driving around) to the one or two (or maybe three) places that everyone tended to hang out, and eventually you’d find who you were looking for.” It kind of worked, although it meant that you spent most of your time looking for each other!

Generational definitions — I’ve done some of my own exploratory research on generational differences in the last few years. Here are the age group definitions I’m using for this blog post: millenials (born between 1982 and 2002), Gen X’ers (1961-1981) and Boomers (1943-1961). I focused in my research on differences in technology use and expectations. Here are some of my findings:

1. Dualism vs. Ubiquitous — Boomers think that technology is a separate thing. They “go on” the internet. They “make a call on the cell phone”. They look something up “on the computer”. They have a distinction between doing a task and the “tool” that they do the task with. Millennials don’t have that dualism or separation. They look something up (of course they are doing it on the computer… why would you even think to say it that way?). They make a call or text someone… the technology is implied and assumed. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #12 — When it comes to technology, you definitely "act your age".”