The Real Reason Why Millennials' Buying Behavior Is Difficult to Influence

The Real Reason Why Millennials' Buying Behavior Is Difficult to Influence


"In January 1987, [Kevin] Eastman and [Peter] Laird visited the offices of Playmates Toys Inc, a small California toy company that wanted to expand into the action figure market.

Development was undertaken by a creative team of companies and individuals: Jerry Sachs, ad man of Sachs-Finley Agency, brought together the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson headed by Fred Wolf. Wolf and his team combined concepts and ideas with the Playmates marketing crew, headed by Karl Aaronian, VP of sales Richard Sallis and VP of Playmates Bill Carlson.

Aaronian brought on several designers, and concepteur and writer John C. Schulte and worked out the simple backstory that would live on toy packaging for the entire run of the product and show. Sachs called the high concept pitch "Green Against Brick". The sense of humor was honed with the collaboration of the MWS animation firm's writers.

Playmates and their team essentially served as associate producers and contributing writers to the miniseries that was first launched to sell-in the toy action figures.

Phrases like "Heroes in a Half Shell" and many of the comical catch phrases and battle slogans ("Turtle Power!") came from the writing and conceptualization of this creative team.” - via Wikipedia

This is how Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a story we watched before school and acted out on the playground, became a defining part of our generational DNA.

We’ve been marketed to our entire lives…even before we knew ‘marketing’ was a thing.

When I got that shiny new Hot Wheels car for my 5th birthday, and it didn’t flip the way the it did on television, when that Stretch Armstrong broke after I pulled it like they did in the commercials, or when the Skip It made me trip so bad that I skinned my knees, giving my more athletic friends a good laugh at my expense…

...these were the steps on the path toward transforming me into the “cynical” buyer marketers struggle to understand today.

The world we were promised wasn’t given to us, and transparency didn’t exist in the world we inherited.

Maybe that’s why we’re such a difficult demographic to market to.

Remember Napster, Kazaa & Limewire? We do. Their popularity soared around the time we were discovering our own musical identity. Then, it was taken away.

We weren't old enough to understand the RIAA, or legal issues, or the point Lars Ulrich from Metallica was trying to make.

What we did understand was that music was free, and Shawn Fanning was a hero for making it so we didn’t have to beg our parents to go to Best Buy. Then just like that, we had to pay. 

We came of age around the same time as practically every “game changing” technology - The internet, social media, smartphones, etc. -  that gives us control over marketing messages.

There was even a brief period where mainstream marketers didn’t “get” the internet and we were free to fully express ourselves (without ads, or interest targeting). Of course, marketers caught on we’ve been struggling with large companies to understand who is really in control  ever since.

A recent study revealed that 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional ads nor do they like them.


Marketing & entertainment have been hardwired into our media consumption as far back as we can remember.

That’s why those weird Old Spice campaigns work so well.

And hey, we even present a challenge to brands who’re attempting to adopt new technologies. McDonald's created different social media marketing campaigns and ads to attract millennial consumers but failed to receive a positive response.

All the feels and all the fries. Get your summer <3 on with our $2.50 Double Combo before time runs out!

Posted by McDonald's on Thursday, August 6, 2015

Several comments on their Facebook page show that consumers are cynical about nutrition while McDonald's has a bad press to shake off.

Basically, when companies don’t “get it” it looks like this and we’re not afraid to let you know it.


Why Millennials Think & Act in a Particular Way

Marketing to millennials requires a fresh perspective of what shapes their mindset.

According to a special report on the millennial mindset, Gen Y has physically different brains. The immediacy of information wires the millennial mind with the sense of entitlement to filtering irrelevant information and responding instantly.

The following infographic by CEB iconoculture Consumer Insights provides a glimpse of the millennial mindset:

Image via CEB

If you observe, you’ll see that millennials are explicitly demonstrating the reasons behind their behavior consistently. And if you listen, you’ll better understand why it’s difficult to influence our identities and values.

The following characteristics play a critical role in a millennial’s buying behavior:

Why Social Reliance is Such a Big Deal For Millennials 

Research shows that there are many buying decisions millennials won’t make without input from others.

While we’re less engaged in face-to-face conversations and rely more on new technologies for research and comparison, we’ll seek opinions of people who matters to us the most, as well as experienced and like minded consumers.

Why are we so socially reliant?

Another study found that the prefrontal cortex or PFC (the CEO of the brain) doesn’t mature until the mid-20s. As a millennial, we’ve seen music be free and taken away, told if we work hard and go to school our dreams will come true, and have become the most overeducated and underemployed generation yet. All the meanwhile, the media that shaped our cultural identity in our formative years turned out to be “content marketing” before we had a clever term for it.    

Why do millennials rely on each other for validation? Deep down, we don’t trust what we’re told. Nearly two-thirds of us won’t make a major purchase decision without doing peer crowdsourcing.

Our behavior stems from the need to acquire accurate, authoritative portrayal of a buying experience we hope to enjoy.

Here’s an example from Eurail’s Facebook page.


Dramatic mountain scenery, picturesque coastline and sparkling lakes: hop on one of Europe's scenic trains and you'll be in for a treat!

Posted by Eurail on Friday, August 7, 2015


The comments make it evident that people considering travel rely on experiences and advice of their peers. Most of the questions are posted by millennial travelers.

The user-generated content will influence buying behavior of other travelers considering Eurail significantly, more than any other form of marketing done by the company.

The Reason Collaboration & Communications Are Important to Millennial Buyers

Accenture’s research on millennial shoppers revealed that brands or marketers need to routinely communicate and collaborate with consumers over product information, special offers, and updates.

One millennial in their shopping behavior survey noted that they would have to be moved ‘emotionally’ to just like a retailer for no reason. Remember we’re the generation that grew up watching Rugrats, Barney & Friends and Hey Arnold!

The communicative trait of millennials is apparent in the tools we use: video conferencing, social media messages, text messages, voice notes, etc. The digital revolution has given us massive influence, points out a study.

Another consequence of growing up in the digital age is that we love the possibility to collaborate with brands and marketers.

We want to be a part of the marketing process. 64 percent of us want companies to give us more ways to share our feedback according to bazaarvoice.

Just look at the adoption of AMC’s “Dead Yourself” app used to promote The Walking Dead, and you’ll see one tiny example of Millennials participating happily with a brand.

Image via Dead Yourself

American Express is another example, appealing to a more professional subset of our generation. The company launched Open Forum with the idea of giving advice to small business owners.

The web page is frequently updated with new content, but the ‘Idea Hub’ is the main attraction. It’s a forum that enables members to share ideas and collaborate with industry experts.

Millennial Marketing’s Jeff Fromm stated that millennials want to be active participants in the consumer journey. They’ll calculate purchases based on this formula:

Image via Millennial Marketing

Participatory benefits play a critical role in determining brand value.

We want to co-create the consumer journey and the marketing and the actual product/service, just make it cool and worth our time. We’ve contributed to the success of the sharing economy as research noted.

Millennials Love Remembering the Good Old Days

According to several psychological studies, nostalgia can help to counteract anxiety, loneliness and boredom, which explains why during times of instability millennials may turn to the symbols and images of the older days, even if the memories are not our own.

The remembrance is connected to the cortical regions in the brain, with the parietal and prefrontal cortical areas responsible for memory retrieval and the left prefrontal cortex responsible for memory formation.

Dr. Clay Routledge, a social psychologist at North Dakota State University, pointed out that when people remembered good memories from their past, those memories inspired positive feelings of belonging, meaningfulness and joy in life. Nostalgia helps them cope with negative mental states and enhances their perception of social connectedness.

Routledge stated:

We see nostalgia as a psychological resource that people can dip into to conjure up the evidence that they need to assure themselves that they’re valued.

See, we grew up in an age of economic turmoil and rapid acceleration of technology. Social media week has referred to many of us as “The Oregon Trail Generation”, the last group of people to have an analog childhood, and the first to have a digital adolescence.

It’s no wonder we display a stronger affinity to nostalgia than other generations. Studies depict us as romanticizing simpler times and feeling more fashionable in the process. Due to all these factors, we’re willing to pay more money.

Intel’s Internet Explorer ‘child of the 90’s’ video is an example of nostalgia marketing.

It received 28 million views in just 3 months. However, nostalgia alone may not be enough to influence our buying behavior; the previous factors (social reliance, communication and collaboration) will need to complement such efforts. Despite the success of this ad, Internet Explorer is still lagging behind Chrome and Firefox.

Millennials Are on a Voracious Quest for Instant Gratification

The consequence of growing up around instant messaging and live streaming is an inherent need for instant gratification.

According to Deloitte Digital, consumer desires revolve around purpose-built items and straightforward products.

The technology consultancy group cited the example of the app ‘Yo’. It has only one function – sending a ‘Yo!’ notification to friends. It is valued at $10 million and has 2 million downloads.

Image via Yo

While “Yo” might be this concept taken to the extreme, we expect this kind of simplicity and convenience applied to every aspect of our purchase decisions.

BCG’s (The Boston Consulting Group) survey backs up the notion. They surveyed 4,000 millennials to try understanding what makes them behave in a certain way as consumers. The results revealed that our generation wants instant gratification – because the devices and tools they use are ubiquitous, their connectedness is constant. As a result, marketing campaigns need to fill the group’s demand for ease, speed, and efficiency.

Businessman Hasan Syed, frustrated with the way British Airways dealt with the issue of his father’s lost luggage, decided to use Twitter’s promoted tweet service to show his dissatisfaction:

It took 8 hours for British Airways to respond, giving it plenty of time to leave a negative impact on other consumers. Syed wanted an instant response to his tweet.  

In contrast, take a look at this comment at Zappo’s Facebook page.


Building your back-to-school haul? Check out these trends and styles from our 'Bright Futures' fashion show and pop-up shop.

Posted by on Thursday, August 6, 2015


24/7 customer service is the key here. No wonder Zappos is constantly labelled as a hit amongst the millennials.

3 Companies That Hit the Sweet Spot With Marketing to Millennials

While marketing to millennials is a challenging endeavor, some companies have managed to break down the silos and influence their buying behavior.

Case studies

1. Estée Lauder

The company’s skin care brand ‘Origins’ was promoted through a new campaign called Quarter Life Skincare.

It was geared towards millennials and the goal was to let them create conversations by sharing their solutions and insights about quarter life crisis. An Instagram designer named Bee Stanton was approached to create illustrations for its product called Original Skin Renewal Serum.

Image via Fast Company

The company let the millennials invent and promote the product.

It’s no wonder why millennials are driving the brand’s growth. A recent report revealed that online sales showed excellent performance in the quarter. The company attracts 325 million global visitors annually, which generates about 60 percent of global online sales while retailer sites generate the rest 40 percent. It leads to 25 percent growth each year.

2. ThinkGeek

ThinkGeek has done a great job at tailoring its brand image to this demographic.

The company knows that millennials love to communicate with businesses and each other about products, and it has integrated their desire for genuine communication and collaboration into its value proposition and core image.

The brand enables customers to add their own taglines and action shots of products.

They also host Trivia nights where millennials get to prove their geek cred and have fun.


There are only 7 tickets left for Geek Trivia Night THIS THURSDAY! Prove your geek cred, have fun, and win stuff!

Posted by ThinkGeek on Monday, August 10, 2015


Plenty of ThinkGeek’s products also have nostalgia integrated. Overall, the brand is a hit among millennial consumers.

3. BarkBox

Aimed at animal lovers, the company embraces ‘everyone is part of the team’ mentality when it comes to the core product and marketing.

Subscribers receive a box with four or more items and presents for their dog, from bones, toys and natural treats to innovative new gadgets.

Image via

The box brings in the concept of the sharing economy by enabling millennials to access a multitude of items for their pet and keep the ones their pet likes best.

The subscription box includes customized products which aligns with the values and traits of millennials: the need for convenience and instant gratification. One of the co-founder shared how they grew with a customer-centric approach.

Why B2B Enterprise Marketing Needs to Evolve

The majority of brands that found marketing success with millennials are B2C. B2B enterprise brands have had a one-way push marketing strategy for the longest time.

Stats from Google revealed that nearly half of the B2B researchers are millennial, so B2B enterprise marketing needs to account for millennials’ preferences and how this influences their buying behavior.

Here are the sources millennials turn to when researching B2B products and services:

Image via POPAI

Sometimes enterprise brands miss the mark with their marketing approach. An example is when a company uses a brand-centric approach as a marketing strategy.

NEC is doing the right thing by incorporating social into its marketing strategy, but the self-promotional tweets doesn’t encourage two-way communication.

It can be viable to start a dialogue with customers as B2C examples indicate.


Ultimately, we present a unique challenge to marketers and our preferences continue to evolve. That said, we’ll readily support companies that actively work to get us involved and permeate our social and cultural bubble.

The bottom line? Marketing to millennials must be proactive, innovative and valuable.

What techniques have you adopted to win millennial consumers? I’d love to hear in the comments.

About The Author

Dan Virgillito is a storytelling specialist, blogger and writer who helps digital startups get more engagement and business through online content.