How to Sell to Millennials: The New Rules of the Game

By 2017, millennials will have more buying power than any other generation. That is almost right around the corner.

This is going to make some companies uncomfortable if they’re doing things the old way, but I’ve already seen companies like MySpace, Borders, and Blockbuster go under because they refuse to adapt to the new generations approaching.

Selling to us millennials is different than selling to other generations. Sure, your business could use the same techniques and stay open for another 10 years, but if you want to last longer than that, you need to adapt. Fast.

This article is going to get a little lengthy, but if you’re serious about growing your business in the new world, you’re going to want to read and digest all these facts.

This article isn’t debating whether Facebook and Twitter are relevant or if you should look into Instagram. Those debates have already happened. If your business is still at that level, you are already dangerously behind.

Most of this is my own take on what’s happening in the world and I would bet an obscene amount of money on the fact that when 2017 comes around, I’ll be right. I mean, I already was with my predictions in 2013.

It’s going to be obscene, honest, and give you ideas on what you can do.

Let’s get started.

Dramatic price surges aside, millennials love Uber and here’s a story to illustrate why:

Back in 2010 I turned 21. As you can expect from any newly-legal adult in a thriving downtown area, I went out. A lot.

Usually, I stuck to the main streets in downtown Denver, but one night my friends and I were a little farther than usual and didn’t want to walk back.

So, I did what anyone else would do: called a cab company.

First of all, this lady couldn’t hear a damn thing I was saying. The music was loud and I trying to explain my cross streets was ridiculous. What was the address? Fuck if I had a clue. I had a Blackberry. Couldn’t they just find me?

“It’s on its way. It’ll be about 40 minutes.”

40 MINUTES?! Who has 40 minutes?! When the cab finally got there and took us back downtown, of course none of us had cash, so we used one card. We had to wait for it to print out, give a tip, and sign? Ugh. Cars honked, people yelled. Another 10 minutes added on. Total time: 50 minutes.

Fast forward to 2014. As I’m in an elevator, I open up my Uber app. I remembered that my apartment building had these free Uber ride codes I had put in my phone a few days before. I was exhausted and could see little Uber cars moving all over the screen close to where I was.

Eh, let’s give it a shot.

Here’s what happened and how Uber won me over:

  1. I didn’t have to call anyone. I selected the cheapest car and pushed a button.
  2. Uber knew where I was and showed me how far the driver was. I didn’t know the address of where I was, but that didn’t matter.
  3. It took 30 SECONDS to have him right where I was standing. 30. seconds. Keep in mind, the previous cab took 40 minutes (Not to mention the 15 minutes of screaming into the phone where I was located along with having to ask a bouncer what the hell the address was.)
  4. His car was clean and the driver was incredibly nice and he didn’t try to drive all over in order to rack up the meter.
  5. The ride took 5 minutes. 5 MINUTES.
  6. I didn’t have to deal with a tip and I got an e-mail confirmation immediately that they appreciated my business, my ride was free, and that I can share a coupon code to get more free rides. MORE free rides? Here’s my credit card, Uber, I love you.

Simple math: 50 minutes vs. 5 minutes.

Proof. 5 minutes.

This is where the new generation and old media clash.

We want speed. Efficiency. NOW.

I’ve already gone at great lengths in past posts to explain millennials, and you know what? Two years later I WAS DEAD ON about my predictions:

  • Elizabeth Warren is huge with millennials
  • Snapchat is growing in popularity, but businesses still think it’s for nude photos
  • Most companies still don’t know what to do with social media and as a result are getting kicked in the face by smaller companies with speed
  • We don’t like confrontation, we just switch companies
  • We still aren’t spending like our parents. This isn’t because we don’t know how to manage our money, it’s because you’re not selling us what we care about in a way we care about

I don’t want to see good businesses go under. I want them to understand what the new generation believes in so they can adapt.

In my mind, it’s simple, but apparently the world is still struggling because a bunch of 40-year-old writers are telling people how millennials think and operate.

Business owners: stop listening to people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

We are already telling you what we want, you’re just not listening.

The new rules of the game:

1. Sell us more time.

2. Talk to us about our interests.

Selling time. What IS working:


Uber works because it sells time. Although Uber is relatively cheap in Denver (so far), even if it did cost more I’d still use it because I value my time more than anything else. At this point, I am not even sure I want to buy a car anymore. Why would I want to care about the payments, going to get repairs, tune ups, oil changes, paying for parking, etc., when I can just push a button and have a car outside my door?

Uber is replacing owning a car.

Let me repeat that because you probably glanced over that without a second thought: forget Uber competing with taxi companies. Uber is going to single-handedly replace owning a car because owning a car is a giant headache.

Why would I want to argue with some guy named Rick who is covered in grease at a repair shop about the price of some replacement part I don’t understand when I can get somewhere with just the push of a button? I’d rather take those hundreds of dollars I would spend on a car payment and spend it on what feels like a personal chauffeur. Plus, I can get work done when I’m not paying attention to traffic.

Car companies: if you want to survive by selling to the younger generation, think about how you can get into the rental space or take away the massive headache that is owning a car. Seriously.


Tinder works because no one wants to waste time on shitty dates any longer. I don’t personally use it, but everyone I talk to loves it because it cuts right to the point: Are we attracted to each other or not? Left swipe/right swipe.

Snapchat works because messages are only 9 seconds. Knowing that a Snapchat message will only take 9 seconds of my time makes it incredibly appealing. What’s the alternative? Getting on the phone for 40 minutes? No, thanks. I have way too much work.

To be honest, most of my friendships are being dictated around the idea of quick communication. Most of my clients come through Twitter, and some of my closest friends are in the newer social media apps.

Netflix. TV and movies on MY schedule? Yes, please and thank you. No ads, no commercials, and no movie theaters with smelly seats and people who can’t shut up during a movie? HERE IS MY CREDIT CARD. Honestly, I’m kind of shocked how much of my news I now get from Medium. I love that I can log in and it tells me what my friends like, what’s popular, and what is gaining attention. WAY more news agencies and writing platforms need to do this. Don’t make me do the hard work, tell me what’s happening. Not to mention, publishing here is so easy. Oh, Medium. ❤

Food delivery. I’m not just talking about restaurants with delivery options. Remember: phone calling is quickly going out the window with the younger generation. There’s an interesting option here in Denver called Mile High Menus. I can log on, pick almost any restaurant in my area, order a meal and they pick it up and deliver it to my door step. Restaurants I couldn’t order from before now can be delivered.

Things that were not easily deliverable before will be at our doorstep within the push of a button. I already buy at least half of my groceries online.

Selling time: What is NOT working:

Advertisements. I’ve been deep into YouTube recently trying to study all the newest personalities on there. (Recently I wrote about them and why they matter to new media. If you’re in the entertainment world, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUTUBE.) One thing I’ve been seeing more of if that if a video is longer than 45 seconds, the younger generation clicks off and doesn’t even watch the video. Think about that: trading 45 seconds in return for a great video is too much of a hassle for them. You think they’re watching your TV ad? Are you out of your mind?

Not being authentic. Who are you? What does your company value? Who are your employees? It is more important than ever to have a quality business and also be transparent. Embrace social media. Millennials will show up for companies that are authentic.

Pop up ads/forced ads on websites. I was talking to a younger teen over Tumblr recently and she was talking about being on a website and a pop up box came up. She basically said: “Ugh. I have to zoom in on my screen to find the little ‘x’ to close out? I’d rather look at another site.” This teen didn’t even have three seconds to waste on closing a pop up. Just let that sink in for a bit.

Almost anything that takes more time than necessary: health insurance, traffic, renting a hotel, booking flights, doctors appointments, shopping… the list is endless.

One thing I would bet on is that every single industry is going to be wildly disrupted over the next 20 years. Technology is growing at an ever increasing rate and millennials along with the younger generation are embracing it completely.

We’re going to have refrigerators that order us food when we’re out, little blood machines so we can send samples to our doctor and skip the annual physical, watches that send reports to our personal trainers if we didn’t get enough exercise that day… The list goes on and on.

Selling based on interests

Selling to people based on their age is quickly becoming outdated.

I know, I know, the old school marketing model was highly based around the idea of demographics/age.

The new way of selling will be strictly around psychographics: personality, values, opinions, attitudes, interests, lifestyles, etc.

Here’s why:

Only 42% of millennials plan to have childrenOnly 26% are married.

No matter how low those numbers are, at least 75% of the ads I see based on my demographic alone are about wedding rings and having children. Where do I primarily see this? Facebook. Unfortunately, Facebook does not have a “remove all my friends’ pictures of their babies and weddings from my feed” option, so instead, I just spend less time there. However, most of the ads I see when I do log on are based on the fact that I am a 25-year-old female instead of a weight-lifting, drink-too-much-coffee, rock-music loving, business owner.

If companies approached me with “Hey, we see you like lifting weights” instead of “Hello. We see you have a uterus” I might be more willing to buy.

Interests are the key.

Here’s the thing about the internet: It’s not hard for companies to find out what we care about.

We “like” Facebook pages about our interests.
We Tweet about them.
We Instagram pictures and follow people who are related to what we care about.

It has never been easier to find out what someone‘s interests, yet companies are still picking shallow measurements to get our attention.

We wear our interests with a badge of honor.

This is why identifying with certain political parties or religious organizations is on the decline with our generation.

We feel stronger pulls to labels such as “coffee drinker”, “outdoor enthusiast”, or “minimalist” than old-fashioned demographics like “Catholic”, “woman”, or “American”.

If you target millennials based on their interests, you will see a much higher return on your advertising dollars.

Examples in the real world

As a millennial who has no little interest in buying a house, paying attention to rental options is huge. Recently, I tweeted at a friend of mine the exact words: “oh I love Zillow!”

That was the response I got to that Tweet. I didn’t even direct it AT Zillow, use their hashtag, or anything of the sort. They just saw it and responded. A week or so later, this was in my mailbox:

Yes, that’s right. That’s a handwritten card personally signed by staff members.

Listen to me, and listen to me good: I don’t care what Zillow is selling or what they’re doing with their business from this moment on, but I will always, always, always go to Zillow first for any of my renting or buying needs. When people ask me about apartments or houses in Denver, I’ll immediately send them to Zillow. (I also own a Denver YouTube channel with over 37,313 views.)

Will that pay off down the line for them for the small shipping fee and employee wage of their office? Of course.

Did they know I had a huge Denver network? Doubt it. Did they have to respond? Nah. Did they solidify my love for them? 100%.

They reached out to me on a social media network I love. They interacted. They sent a personalized gift. Maybe they saw my piece on advice for real estate agents. Maybe not.

I see it all the time on every single social networking site I’m on:

When companies personally reach out, they become raving fans.

Another personal example:

I sent out that Tweet. Gondolier, an Italian eatery in Boulder came across that Tweet and replied.

They didn’t say, “COME TO OUR RESTAURANT.” They said something thoughtful. In return, I was like “Wow, that was a nice Tweet. Who is that?”

For the record: with the Italian DNA I have, I immediately lost my mind with excitement at a new Italian place to go. I followed them and they are on my list for next time I’m in Boulder (which I will get to by Uber, of course).

If you business people are not catching on, this is what that means:

A Tweet that took about, oh, I don’t know, 5 seconds of someone’s time now has a guaranteed sale from me.

Sure, not everyone a company Tweets at will respond the same way, but I spend at least a few hundred dollars a year on eating out. If it is insanely delicious, they will get a huge chunk of that. They will get future date nights, client meetings, and general Italian food cravings. Plus, I’ll be telling my friends about it, Tweeting about it, and Instagramming pictures when I’m there.

This is all also called the Thank You Economy (shout out to Gary Vaynerchuk). Watch the video.

Applying this:

Listen, millennials and the younger generation are fresh into the world. Not all of us necessarily have “favorite brands” yet. If a company wants to demand that spot, they have to care. They have to put out valuable content. They have to find us based on our interests.

It’s not easy, but it’s worth it. It is the only way that companies will stay relevant and competitive in the new world.

Even in my own world, there are hundreds of items where a brand could swoop in and charm me to become my favorite. I’m young. I could have 70 more years of purchases. There are a lot of brands that have lost my respect and interest over the past few years such as Amazon, Ebay, Volkswagen, and CenturyLink, giving other companies a chance to win my loyalty.

All these big companies always say social media is ridiculous.

What’s ridiculous is spending $205,600 for a full page ad in Women’s Health magazine when you could apply that to the salary of some new social media managers. I have never met a single millennial who was swayed by a magazine ad. EVER. These traditional ad platforms are robbing you blind. Stop burning your money.

Don’t be Blockbuster. Survive the new economy.

Sometimes all it takes is a Tweet.