Marketing to Millennials: Welcome to The Participation Economy

Marketing to Millennials: Welcome to The Participation Economy

By: Guest
June 14, 2013

marketing to millennialsMarketing to Millennials, understanding how they use the web and reaching them in ways that compel action is a challenge that brands everywhere face. And it’s something I call “the Participation Economy.”

Who Are Millennials, Anyway?

Millennials are individuals born between 1977 to 2000, though the definition will likely change depending  on who you ask. In the U.S. alone, the Millennial  generation is some 80 million strong. They make up a whopping 21 percent of consumer discretionary spending — and that percentage is poised to increase as the group matures and fully enters the workforce.

Without question, Millennials are redefining brand marketing. For example, Millennials don’t just want to buy your brand, they want to be a part of it. They want to be active participants. And that’s where the term “The Participation Economy” comes in. In order to be successful selling goods and services to Millennials, marketers need to embrace The Participation Economy, which requires a new definition of brand value.

The New Definition of Brand Value

new definition of brand value

Copyright 2013 by Barkley. All rights reserved.

Marketers used to be able to focus solely on functional and emotional benefits when marketing products and services but, especially with Millennails, that old definition of brand value is no longer valid. Functional and emotional benefits alone won’t get the job done anymore.

The formula for success has changed. In The Participation Economy, the new formula for successfully marketing a brand’s products or services is: (Emotional Benefits + Function Benefits + Participative Benefits)/Price = Brand Value.

And as you’ll notice, it’s imperative that brands now include participative benefits in the equation. This is absolutely vital in order to tap into Millennial passion and compel them to action.

Let’s Deconstruct Participation

So what is “Participation,” anyway? It’s driven by advancements in digital and mobile technology, which not only allows Millennials to be a part of the equation, it’s something they expect and likely demand. The type of participation Millennials want to engage in breaks into three types:

  • Millennials want to co-create the products and services that you sell,
  • Millennials want to co-create the customer journey or the customer experience, and
  • Millennials want to co-create the marketing, which goes well beyond social media.

Deconstructing Shareworthy

“Shareworthiness” is a common term in today’s noisy marketplace, dominated by the Web and social networks. Shareworthiness is a key component of success when marketing to Millennials and is rooted in Millennials’ strong desire for peer affirmation. According to research from “American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation,” 70 percent of Millennials say they are more excited about decisions they’ve made when their friends agree with them.

Common roads to shareworthiness include purpose and disruption. Is your idea causing people to stop what they’re doing, pay attention and engage with your brand? Some good examples of brands doing this well today include Tom’s, Warby Parker, Dollar Shave Club and most recently, Taco Bell and what’s been dubbed the “Beefy Crunch Movement,” with fans banding together to rally the brand to bring back a favorite menu item (and the brand acquiescing).

deconstruction shareworthy

Copyright 2013 by Barkley. All rights reserved.

Marketing to Millennials

If marketing to Millennials is something that’s of interest to you, I explore these concepts and more, including examples from brands that are getting it right, in my new book, Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever. Co-authored with Christie Garton, the book will be available in bookstores in a few weeks and can be ordered on Amazon now.

jeff frommJeff Fromm is an EVP at Barkley, the largest 100% employee-owned advertising agency in the U.S., and co-author of Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever.  Jeff is the founder of Share.Like.Buy, a Millennial Insights & Marketing Conference and the lead editor of Millennial Marketing, a blog focused solely on the topic of Millennials.




Image: fontplaydotcom via Compfight cc

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  • Jay Ehret

    Hey Jeff, thanks for adding participation to the brand discussion. I agree with your first two points on co-creation of the product and the experience. However, I think it’s important for brands to keep co-creation on a personal level. Tom doesn’t want Sam to create his own personal experience. It’s a delicate process to create a product or experience that can be personalized / co-created for each individual customer.

    Jay Ehret

  • jeff fromm

    Thanks Jay. I’m flattered. The opportunity to co-create from product to experience design to marketing varies from brand to brand. Clearly you are correct that brands must balance the complexity of customization against the need to scale their efforts. That could be a length future post. Again, thanks!

  • Jacqueline O’Donnell

    Hi Jeff, I totally agree with your inclusion of participation in branding (although i’d say marketing because as per your points it includes co-creation of products, promotion and customer experience which all fall under the broad umbrella of marketing as does branding). What I would really challenge though is the targeting of millenials.

    I believe all age groups want more customised products and services from the businesses they deal with. Other age groups may use different language to describe it (I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone older than Gen X say co-create!) and they will definitely participate in different ways (in particular how and through which channels they seek out others opinions changes significantly) and their motivation may be different. But the biggest gap I see is that often older demographics are 1) not aware that co-creation / participation is available and 2) many businesses are only actively offering this to younger demographics.

    But would a participation and co-creation strategy work in older demographics? Yes! I think the novelty of mass-produced products designed to generally satisfy the masses is very much wearing off and many people are looking for stronger connections with the items in their life.

  • jeff fromm

    My two cents.

    “Millennial Mindset” is an operative concept. Some older generation folks clearly have adopted the Mindset and some Millennials don’t have one. Part of the Mindset is the rapid adoption of new social, mobile and digital tools which enhance the brand experience. Basically, “useful is the new cool” in many cases.

    I do agree that all age groups are seeking more custom experiences but Millennials are setting the standards and driving the trends….That’s the short version.


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