Marketing to the Millennial Generation

“Email, like many forms of communication, is dying out.” So state 41% of teens and college students who submitted essays for the AWeber Email Marketing Scholarship.

The percentage of Millennials who believe email is on the decline cite social networks like Facebook and Twitter as the new, cool way to communicate. In their own words:

  • “With the use of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr… our need for email is continually decreasing.”
  • “While email has served to connect people electronically, I think that newer technology and social networking sites are the way of the future.”
  • “My peers and I use Facebook a whole lot more than email.”

What does this mean for your marketing efforts? Is email dead to Generation Y? Will social media murder your campaign?

Not really, and you’re probably asking the wrong questions. As No Man Is An Island puts it, it’s not a question of email surviving social networks. It’s about how your campaign will adapt to new ways of communicating preferred by younger generations.

Email is Serious Business

“Email is for serious business. Texting, Twitter and Facebook are for socializing.”

The common theme among our essay submitters? Email is for businesses and grown-ups. Social networks are fun and cool; email is featureless and for official communication only.

When Generation Y wants to catch up with friends and build relationships, they do it on Facebook. Email is a “necessary evil” (as one candidate worded it) that only grown ups, teachers and businesses use.

Consequently, teens check their email accounts less frequently than their Facebook walls. “I tend to check my phone for text messages or look on Facebook to see if I have any notifications before checking my email,” writes a finalist.

Other students admitted to checking social networks several times a day while neglecting their email accounts for days or weeks unless they were expecting important messages from a teacher, college or employer.

The good news to take away is that even though teens are checking their email accounts less frequently, they expect to hear from your brand through their inbox.

  • “I only use email if I have to send my teachers an assignment or check for coupons.”
  • “I only receive emails from my school or stores sending me coupons.”
  • “I have multiple email accounts for different purposes. These include signing up for cards at stores that send me offers for cheaper products.”

Millennials may reserve email for business, but that means they’re still interested in inviting businesses into their inboxes to take advantage of promotions.

Social Networks are Fun Communication

“New mediums of communication are just so much easier and entertaining to use.”

The search for entertainment drives much of Gen Y’s online activities. Teens are more likely to play games, blog and use social networking sites than any other generation online, according to Pew Internet’s research.

Sites like Facebook combine communication with entertainment, capturing the attention of most young consumers online. Playing games is the top online activity, followed closely by email. Facebook and other social networking sites wrap fun and function in one convenient package for the Millennial generation.

  • “A person has so much to do on Facebook that they could easily spend hours and hours playing on it.”
  • “Facebook is just so much more fun than emails because you can see the other person’s pictures, videos and status updates all while talking to them.”
  • “Communicating networks such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter provide entertainment as well as accessibility.”

Since email is “grown-up” communication, teens turn to social networking sites to communicate with their peers and they check these sites often. Email takes a back seat in their daily online routine.

If you want your brand seen and seen often, social networks are the best platform for visibility. But don’t get too heavy-handed. Teens don’t want to mix their social experience with your brand experience. (That’s what email is for, remember? They expect you to show up there.)

Communicating with friends is their first priority on social networks. Clogging up their friend feed with your promotions won’t win them over.

Take a Cross-Channel Approach

“There is a reason that advertisers use more than one medium to promote their products. They know that different messages are best communicated in different ways to different audiences. It is the combined effect of those media that has the greatest impact.”

If Generation Y finds less use for email and more use for social networks, where does that leave your email marketing efforts?

Remember what we said earlier about adapting? Most Millennials engage with brands across multiple channels. 95% of teens “fan” companies on Facebook and also subscribe to their emails. Only 2% interact with brands on social networks alone.

Marketing to Gen Y is not an either/or, social vs. email scenario. It’s a matter of divide and conquer, spreading content across social and email outlets and placing the right content in the right channel.

  • Checking email accounts isn’t always a top priority for Millennial consumers, so your time-sensitive promotions may have a better shelf life on Facebook.
  • Facebook can also be a good platform for relationship building that engages your target audience and draws them to your email campaign.
  • Teens already expect brands to push promotional content to their email inboxes – they even create accounts for that purpose. (“My email is checked if I am looking at advertisements from the stores I have subscribed to.” “I only use email if I have to send my teachers an assignment or check for coupons.” “I only receive emails from my school or stores sending me coupons.”) Keep emailing; they’re expecting you to.
  • Supplement your email campaign with social media content that keeps you on your younger subscribers’ radars.
  • And don’t limit your email content to promotions and sales pitches. Engage them with entertainment – videos, contests, short articles that relate to their interests. They’ll visit the inbox more often if you’re delivering something fun on a regular basis.

Millennials aren’t migrating from email, they just have more channels to communicate through. Marketing to them effectively means being present in all these channels – including email – and using their strengths to your advantage. Who knows? Your campaign might be the one that brings email back from the 90s and makes it cool again.