For years many advertisers have been using the terms "millennial marketing" and "youth marketing" almost interchangeably, forgetting the fact that the oldest of the millennial demographic are now nearing 40 and coming to terms with their first gray hairs.
"One out of every five RFPs we get misuses the term millennials," says Bill Carter, founding partner with Burlington, Vt.–based Fuse, a marketing company that specializes in reaching gen Z and millennials. "It will say millennials in the heading but what they're actually talking about is teenagers." In fact, the very youngest of millennials are now turning 20.
Younger millennials (born between 1991 and 1997), are either still finishing school or are just starting their careers, some while living at home or while being subsidized by their parents. Their older counterparts, while still young in the big scheme of things, were born between 1981 and 1990 and are now, in some cases, a decade or more out of college, and many are already married with homes of their own. To half of the millennial generation, the term "youth marketing" no longer applies.
"The oldest are often parents of young children and they're not at the beginning of their career; they're practically at the middle of their career and so their earning power is significantly higher," Carter says. But it's not just the disposable income in their pockets or the small child on their hip that separates older millennials from their younger peers — those in the 28 to 38 age range also rely on different platforms and consume different media than both younger millennials and the even younger generation Z.
Youth marketing research firm Ypulse, which surveys 1,000 13- to 35-year-olds every month, found that while 77 percent of those in the 30 to 34 age range watch video content on TV weekly, that number drops to 56 percent for the 18 to 20 age group. Ypulse also found that 74 percent of those 30 to 34 use Facebook daily, whereas only 45 percent of those under 21 log in to Facebook on a daily basis.
Older millennials and younger millennials may end up consuming much of the same video-driven content, but Steve Schubert, partner and co-founder of Newbridge Marketing Group, suggests the older group prefer to do this on the technologies they came of age with.
"For older millennials Facebook is by far and away the biggest [channel] and it's also where they're more willing to consume marketing messages," Schubert adds. "Younger millennials use Snapchat a lot more."
Older Millennials — Savvy but Not Digital Natives
Most older millennials may not be as tech-obsessed as current teenagers and early 20-somethings, but that doesn't mean they're abandoning the technology they have embraced — most notably Facebook, blogs, and email — as they settle down.
"I think a lot of brands have the expectation that once millennials 'grow up' they'll grow out of the non-traditional media consumption habits — what we're finding is that's not necessarily the case," says MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer at Ypulse. "They might watch a bit more TV than younger millennials, but streaming is such a huge part of their lives and that does not go away when these older millennials become parents."
Alison Metcalfe, EVP, North America at Tourism Ireland, says her organization now spends 25 percent of its media budget on older millennials, all of it focused on digital channels. "We have increased our online video content on YouTube and Facebook and activity on Instagram at the wide 'inspire' end of the marketing funnel," she explains. "We also use Facebook and Twitter to share more news-related and informational product content at the sharper 'active planning and purchase' stage."
Tourism Ireland augments this direct social media outreach with partnerships with lifestyle and media brands such as Thrillist, Matador, and the Hollywood Reporter to tell their brand story, including highlighting that entertainment franchises ranging from Game of Thrones to Star Wars were filmed, at least in part, in Ireland.
"In each case the goal has been to engage the older millennials by tapping into their interests in food, drink, music, movies, and adventure via the production of authentic and experiential native content, social video, and blogposts, using the relevant tone of voice for each platform," Metcalfe says.
Metcalfe and others note that older millennials tend to be skeptical of 'hard-sell' advertising, placing more stock in peer reviews and influencers than a well-produced ad.
But Erin Dress, head of shopper marketing at the artificial intelligence–driven influencer marketing platform Linqia, says that doesn't mean every 28- to 38-year-old influencer is going to connect with every older millennial. "You have to find that balance between demographic and a more life stage/interest style approach," she explains. "When you're buying an audience through influencers, you have to focus on passion points, rather than age. That might be 'mommy bloggers' when you're looking to reach new moms, as they face a lot of challenges."
Carter notes that older millennials seem to be more swayed by a celebrity from the entertainment or music world, or a blogger with a large following. Younger millennials, on the other hand, "seem to be far more impacted by micro-influencers who are nowhere near celebrity status," he says.
If there's a platform that really illustrates the divide between older and younger millennials, it's email. Not only are older millennials still using email for personal use as well as business, "Older millennials are much more open to email marketing, especially if it involves opting in with trusted sources," Carter says. "They appreciate free stuff and they appreciate deals."
Bliss of Ypulse agrees. "They're discount hungry, especially if they've started a family," she says. "A large number are using email specifically for discounts and branded content."
Many older millennials are also at the point when what was once an aspirational brand might now be an affordable luxury, which means engagement with this group can, in some cases, take place a bit further down the purchase funnel.
"With every group you're looking to drive engagement across every stage," says Dress of Linqia. "But if you're trying to drive purchase — and older millennials are seen as having more purchase power — your messaging needs to be a stronger call to action that sells the benefits and explains why that product is relevant to that audience."
Data and the Older Millennial
One thing older millennials do have in common with their younger peers is a willingness to share their lives on social media, which can provide brands with the data points to know exactly when and how to target this group.
"If you think about how older millennials use Facebook as a linear storytelling device — to share wedding and baby photos — it makes sense for us to use that platform to engage those consumers," says Matt Myers, head of customer acquisition for New York–based Haven Life, a tech-based life insurance agency owned by MassMutual.
Because insurance is a long-term financial commitment, Myers explains that initial social media engagement and even a prospective customer's first visit to the Haven Life website is likely to be more about research than conversion.
Haven Life uses those engagements as an opportunity to learn all it can about a prospect, including their address. Once that older millennial consumer has opted in, Haven Life then nurtures that relationship through a variety of digital and non-digital channels, ranging from mobile messaging to programmatic direct mail.
"We've found — and this is supported by recent U.S. Postal Service research — that 90 percent of all millennials find direct mail advertising reliable and actually enjoy receiving it," Myers says, adding Haven Life uses the Programmatic Direct Mail service from New York–based PebblePost to migrate consumers from consideration to purchase.
PebblePost Chief Product Officer Adam Solomon notes that using the old-school tactic of printed direct mail to reach older millennials can be an effective way to cut through the media clutter that seems to surround virtually everyone in this age group.
"One of the biggest problems in digital — especially for consumers in the 28 to 38 age group — is that their digital experiences are dominated by a constant rotation of devices and screens, each filled with a cacophony of utilitarian, editorial, and commercial content, alerts, pop-ups, messages, notifications, and summaries," he says. "By transforming consumer data and digital intent-signals into tangible media delivered into the home, brands can now engage older millennials in an environment and context that is free from concurrent distractions, noise, and pressure."
Messaging Older Millennials — Convenience, Bargains, and Cultural Sensitivity
Older millennials may be more cynical about marketing than when they were younger, but as a group they continue to value branded content that provides a clear benefit.
"Older millennials are focused on getting the most out of everything they do and that includes engaging with your brand, so make sure your content is relevant, authentic, and fulfills a need," says Metcalfe of Tourism Ireland.
Schubert of Newbridge Marketing says that means brands can't just rely on what they've read about this group and need to develop their own research and insights or risk messaging that comes across as ill-timed or inappropriate. "There's a lot more cultural sensitivity among older millennials compared to both gen X and younger millennials," he adds.
Though still short of 40, older millennials have already gone through a lot, including the global shock of 9/11. Many in this group also saw their careers directly impacted by the Great Recession, which has made them money- and value-conscious even with the economic recovery.
"It's not cool with this group to show off expensive material possessions. Instead it's now experiences that have more social cachet," explains Bliss. "They've become incredibly conscientious consumers and messaging focused on how good the product is for them — and for the earth — tend to get their attention."
While their growing purchasing clout make older millennials an ideal target for many brands, Myers of Haven Life suggests their digital savviness means not every approach to this group will work. "They likely have ad blockers and are less likely to fall for gimmicky tactics like content marketing clickbait," he says. "We've found that it is important to create authentic advertising that relates directly to the user we are targeting. Messaging is no longer one size fits all. You need to tailor your message to the value set of your audience."