3 Ways Small Businesses Can Market to Millennials

3 Ways Small Businesses Can Market to Millennials

With 77.5 millennials in the U.S., it’s a pool of potential customers that small businesses can’t afford to ignore.

Millennials, people ranging in age from 17 to 34, are digitally savvy customers with unique interests and an annual buying power of $1.7 million, according to American Express.

This group is bucking normal marketing trends. Sales promotions, radio commercials and internet display ads won’t work with this group. A recent study from The McCarthy Group shows 84 percent of millennials don’t trust traditional adverting.

If traditional routes won’t work, what’s a small business to do? How can you tap into this audience? It’s all about understanding what millennials want.

To help, we’ll decode millennial buying behaviors and give you three marketing ideas – that are small business specific – that will capture this illusive crowd.

1. Market your small size

Millennials aren’t too keen on big businesses. A recent study shows millennials don’t trust them. They want to make a connection with a business, and know where their products come from. The group takes Shop Local to a new level, so be proud of your small town roots.

When you market to millennials, focus on what makes you different than big box stores. From local or homegrown products to unbeatable customer service, use these differences to show that you care about their shopping experience.

For example, Poppy Soap Company, a small business near San Luis Obispo, focuses its marketing on its eco-friendly products that are handmade by a mom who started the business out of her garage. The company’s website tells the owner’s story, shows pictures of her family and describes how the company gives back to the community. Each component can be used to market to a younger crowd.

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2. Build a supportive social audience

It’s no surprise that millennials turn to social media to interact with their peers, get the day’s headlines and research their favorite brand. This means small businesses should have a solid social media presence, but it can’t end there.

You need to build an audience of brand advocates. You want millennials commenting about your product and spreading the word about your brand. Eighty-four percent of millennials say user-generated content has inspired a purchase. What’s user-generated content? It’s where you ask your audience to contribute content, maybe in the form of a blog post, or a contest submission on social media.

So, start asking for feedback about recent purchases, or host a social media competition that asks that niche audience to explain a new use for your product or share a picture of your product in use. In other words, start collecting and showcasing content from millennials to use as marketing material.

Acuvue, for example, asked millennials to share how contacts have changed their life. The company used those stories to build a relationship with millennials and provide social proof to others in the same age bracket that are interested in contacts. Here’s an example of a submission that was uploaded to Instagram:


3. Offer a customizable product

Millennials want to standout from the crowd, so when they purchase a product they want it to be as unique as they are. Academic research shows millennials are more likely to buy customizable products. Think of ways to allow your young customers to put their own spin on a product.

For example, Reebok let’s customers design their own shoe. Innocent, a smoothie company, created a site where people can design a drink label for their loved one on Valentine’s Day. Zenni, an eyeglass company, let’s customers upload their picture to see how they look in various types of glasses. It gives millennials that added control over their purchase. Here’s how it looks on the website:


If you can, give customers the option to design a product. You might consider creating an app that let’s customers see how a t-shirt and a pair of funky leggings look together, or host a design contest that asks millennials to submit a picture of a custom t-shirt. The winner gets his or her design sold in stores for a limited time.

If customization isn’t an option, provide more selection. For example, don’t just provide books for sale, provide eBook options.

Is your business trying to court millennials? What marketing efforts are you trying? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Lisa Furgison
About the Author
Lisa Furgison

Lisa is a writer at Fivestars, a freelance journalist, and co-owner of a media company, McEwen's Media.

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