This article was published on May 16, 2015

Why millennials don’t want you to talk like them

Why millennials don’t want you to talk like them
Danial Jameel
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Danial Jameel

Danial Jameel, CEO and cofounder of OOHLALA Mobile. , the largest mobile community for campuses and was recently named in Forbes 2015 30unde Danial Jameel, CEO and cofounder of OOHLALA Mobile. , the largest mobile community for campuses and was recently named in Forbes 2015 30under30: Education

If you’ve ever seen watched someone try to connect with a younger audience by using language they think young people use, it can be excruciating. Politicians are among the worst offenders. But companies are guilty too.

As a member of the younger generation – a 20-something millennial – and cofounder of a mobile community for colleges and universities, seeing that level of overacting is doubly painful. It hurts because it almost never works and just isn’t necessary.

Yes, every new generation presents grand marketing opportunities and the chance to win lifelong consumer loyalty to brands and lifestyles. And the ultra-connected nature of millennials, from a marketing perspective, makes reaching them especially important. Good messages, ideas, products and beliefs can now be spread across an entire generation virtually instantly – it’s called viral for a reason.

friends millennials

Which means brands are tripping over themselves trying to break into the hearts, minds and Applepay accounts of millennials. Convening focus groups, hiring young people and doing nearly everything they can think of to try to break in.

There’s no shortage of millennial marketing advice out there, and most of it is awful. Hosting a branded twitter chat, to name one example of millennial marketing advice, isn’t a tactic. It’s an example of the old way of thinking about marketing – if I want to reach people I go where they are and say what I want.

That’s poor advice because what most millennials want above all is authenticity. Being on Twitter doesn’t make you authentic. It makes your marketing predictable and transparent – classically inauthentic.

The quest for real-ness stems, in part, from shared experiences. Nearly every American millennial grew up in a connected world. We saw and shared spectacular failures like 9/11 and the global banking crisis. We experience the slow meltdown of a college education and Greenland ice sheets. Fact-checking and reviews of politicians, brands, police and cell phones happen in real time. Today, if someone lies or cheats, you can count the time to discovery and mockery in seconds.

All of which means most millennials are hyper-sensitive to being sold, or tricked. So when brands or companies do sell to us, it often falls flat. No matter how hip or trendy a company thinks it’s being. Millennials trust their social networks, not gimmicks. The very fact that someone is trying to sell clouds their message.

Marcos Martin and Ricard Garriga Menorca Millennials

Here’s what I’d tell companies, brand managers as well as political and social leaders trying to “connect” with millennials – stop. Just stop.

Rather than trying to impress, be impressive. Don’t appear innovative, innovate. Don’t tell us about your values, do valuable things. Millennials are unlikely to take your word for it anyway. Show them, us.

But also trust me on this: if you’re doing good things, making great products and have good ideas, millennials will find out. Today, it takes just one person on Twitter or Instagram to trigger a wave of action or adaption.

Two examples of companies doing it right: State Farm and Warby Parker.

About four years ago, State Farm started sponsoring parts of the wildly popular Coachella music festival. They offered shuttle service to venues and created media buzz by having fans sing for VIP passes. Their effort translated into organic sharing like this Facebook post. That’s marketing, sure. But it’s marketing by doing and engaging in a genuine way.

Warby Parker became a fashion hit with younger consumers not because of some goofy outreach but by providing a good product and service which was connected to social sharing. The company encouraged customers to try on eyeglass frames at home and share the looks through company social media platforms such as Facebook. The results were fun.


That type of peer endorsed, authentic engagement is the gold-standard in today’s marketing culture. Which is why companies try to fake it and make it.  That’s the wrong approach. To reach today’s young consumers, brands should be earning, not buying people’s trust.

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