Selling to millennials: how small businesses successfully market to generation y

6 MINS Team

Despite the challenges they’ve faced, Millennials (the demographic born between 1981 and 1996, less commonly known as Gen Y) have come into their power financially over the last few years. They’ve overcome the rising cost of living and student loan impediments to buy houses and raise children. Now, they make up the largest consumer group in the country. 

If you own or run a local business, it’s critical to attract and retain these valuable customers. But it’s important to note that they respond to marketing and the customer experience a bit differently than Boomers or Gen Xers. 

Here are three essential things every local service business needs to know about Millennials and their values:

1. Millennials Check Customer Reviews and Feedback

A lot. Recent research shows that 50% of Millennials  “always” read reviews. 54% of them read reviews every day

This suggests that your business must have an online presence. For starters, you should have:

BrightLocal Graph

The free resources listed above are some of the best marketing tools you can find for a small business. If it makes sense for your business, also consider listings on industry-specific review sites like Angie’s List and Home Advisor. To kick things up a notch, it’s also recommended to invest in a website and email marketing.

For a small business, it’s easy to manage reviews for yourself. Get in the habit of checking your Yelp, Google My Business, and Facebook pages at least weekly. Encourage happy customers to leave reviews to boost your rating and calmly respond to negative reviews to clear up any misunderstandings. Millennials expect a business to have 51 reviews before they believe its star rating and 53% of them won’t do business with a company that has less than a 4-star average review.

2. Millennials Are “Mobile-First” 

If you already have a business website, congratulations — you’re ahead of the game! Studies have found that only 64% of small businesses have a website, so that alone puts you ahead of the competition. A good website will help you with younger demographics who tend to check websites and do most of their research online. 

But just having a website isn’t quite enough. Millennials are “mobile-first,” which means they tend to use their phones to research products and services. More than half of Millennials report they’d use either their phone or tablet to research a product or service. 

That means your website must be mobile-friendly and it needs to load quickly. According to research from Google, 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. 

Even if you’ve passed the first three hurdles (having a site, having a mobile-friendly site and having a site that loads quickly), you still have one last challenge if you want to impress Millennials: Your site must look professional and trustworthy

Millennials are digital natives, and part of that means they’re used to interacting with beautiful, intuitive (at least to them) interfaces. Your site doesn’t have to be as modern as Facebook or Apple, but it needs to look like it was designed in the last few years. This is especially true if you want them to submit any personal information. In the Clever Pollfish survey cited above, 85.7% of Millennials said the appearance of a website or app affected whether or not they submit personal information. 

3. Millennials Care About How You Run Your Business 

Millennials tend to support companies that align with their values. A Deloitte study found that Millennials will start or lessen their relationship with a business based on its practices, values, or even its politics. A whopping 38% said they would stop or lessen their relationship with a business if it “has products/services that negatively impact the environment/society.”

The chart below can give you more insight into how well (or not) businesses are meeting Millennial value expectations. Note the big dropoff between what Millennials expect businesses to do to enhance the livelihood of their employees and what they expect businesses to do to improve society and to protect the environment

Here’s how to apply these insights to your business:

Treat your employees well

There’s no way to circumvent this. If you’re providing a bad working environment, aren’t paying a living wage, or if you short-cut your employees in almost any way, word will eventually get out. 

It’s not difficult to foster a positive work environment for your employees. You can also consider giving employees a raise, a few key days off to spend with their families and career advancement opportunities like training programs or educational funding support.

Support a local charity

Local business partnerships can drive a lot of business. If there’s a local charity that would complement your business, consider supporting them. For example, any dog-related business has a natural partner in the local Humane Society or other rescue groups. A contractor or home service business could support Habitat for Humanity. 

But your business doesn’t have to be directly related to a charity you want to support. Find a creative way to get involved, like a local arborist who gives free estimates in exchange for a bag of food he delivers to the local food bank.

Improve and protect the environment

From reducing your paper consumption to offering work from home opportunities for employees, small changes can have a meaningful impact. For example, restaurants should avoid using styrofoam for takeout meals. Or if you’re a painter, use the most environmentally-friendly materials you can find. Supporting local nature preserves or environmental charities can help, too. Share your choices with customers, but be authentic in your efforts and don’t overly promote your initiatives. Millennials value authenticity and will reward you for it.

Closing Thoughts

Millennials have grown up in a world of rapid technological advancements, and that insight holds clues for how to connect with them. For example, the Great Recession and student loans have forced them to be careful with money, so they carefully choose which businesses to support. They’ve also seen (and often experienced themselves) what happens when businesses put profits before people. 

Millennials care about their communities and the larger world. They see business as a force for change. The biggest takeaway is that  Millennials’ high expectations of small local businesses is just the thing we all need to think outside of the marketing box. 

Image Credits

Feature Image: Unsplash / Brooke Cagle
Images 1-2: via BrightLocal
Images 3-4, 7: via Clever
Images 5-6: via Deloitte

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