The Secret to Marketing to Millenials

Sometimes it feels like there is a lot of pressure to design trade show exhibits that are all about selling. Sometimes it feels like the kids just want to play—why not let them?

Many marketers have become accustomed to selling to people from Generation X and the Baby Boom. Those prospective customers are very open to an overt selling strategy: someone speaking to them one on one, explaining a product, or delivering a canned product pitch. It’s not to say that Gen-Xers and Boomers like it, but they have come to expect it.

Millennials—the generation that ranges in age from about 18- to 31-years-old right now—have a much different sense of how they want to interact with products and bands. They tend to do a great deal of reading and research before they come in contact with physical products. Then they want to truly experience the product when they get it in their hands. The phrase “leave me alone” springs to mind when I think about how many Millennials want to be handled when they come into a trade show booth or an event.

Therein lies the pressure: marketers want to “sell” and Millennials want to “experience.” So where do the two intersect? The answer is actually similar to “leave me alone,” but I phrase it differently: “let them play.”

What’s Your Audience Really Going to Remember?

One of things that experienced designers understand is that having fun is a great way to break through a crowded marketplace of ideas. The fun can come from a prank-filled viral video or an unexpected game at a consumer event. Wherever it comes from, consumers remember the “fun” experiences, the ones that touched them emotionally by making them laugh, jump, or fill with awe.

Having just come back from one of our youth-oriented video gaming events in Brazil (pictured), I got to witness this first-hand. Thousands of Brazilian youngsters came into our Intel booth to play the latest games on the most powerful computers. The computers may have been far beyond the means of many of these kids, but that’s what made it so much more fun. They got to play until their fingers were numb and nobody was chasing them off. They also got to sit in the audience and watch the best professional gamers in the world compete live in front of them and they could stay all doing that too (many did). The crowds were astonishing. The cheers were wild. It was in many respects totally insane. But it was also darn fun.

And the fun is what these kids will remember. For their Millennial, highly experience-driven sensibilities, the experience far overshadowed the other booths around us in the trade show hall. I asked a number of young people what they liked about the show and the answer was the same each time: “the Intel booth” or just “Intel.”

Did we have tons of reps delivering product messages or handing out brochures? No. But the attendees came away with the two most important things we could wish for: brand recognition and a highly positive interaction with our brand.

As always, experiences need to be designed to meet the generational programming of the attendees. Experiences need to meet their marketing objectives too. For Millennials, I say look for the intersection between the two and “let them play.” If they have fun, it’s going to be a good show for your brand. Their smiling faces will tell you so.

Joe English is Creative Director for the Intel Developer Forums at Intel Corporation. Joe is a creative professional, marketer, photographer and writer by trade. In addition to his work on the Developer Forums worldwide, he has recently managed film launches at the Sundance Film Festival, Presidential visits to Intel and led the creative for the re-design of the Intel corporate museum in Silicon Valley.