There are 80 million of them. They’re sometimes stereotypically categorized as lazy, glued to a device of some kind, with little determination to reach their goals while simultaneously bearing a high expectation to succeed. Not only are they the largest generation in the U.S., they also have the most money collectively to spend on your products or services. Yep, you guessed it. Millennials.

Millennials are categorized as anything from a 16-year-old schoolgirl still living with her parents to a home-owning family man in his mid-30’s. That’s a pretty broad spectrum if you ask me. We find ourselves asking, how in the world am I going to reach teenage Susie who only cares about her selfie filter and Steve whose primary focus is balancing work, his 3-year-old and wife and his Big Green Egg hobby at the same time. Seems impossible! But not quite. If you think too granularly, yes it deems itself unlikely. However, if we scale back and look at it from a 30,000-foot view, we can assess the overarching themes and how to apply them.

Throughout my years at Cross Point, I watched as many pastors and leaders visited the church and looked around in amazement at our average age. They’d often send an email a few days later asking, “What in the world are you guys doing to reach so many millennials?” While their heart was often good, I think they wrongly assumed that there might be some silver bullet to reaching that sought after generation. I can honestly say in my experience that there is no trendy graphic, cool pair of jeans, or hip feature at the beginning of a church service that will ever effectively reach and sustain this millennial crowd. However, I have found they tend to crave two things.

The first thing they look for is authenticity. Are you real? Are you relating to your target audience in a way that is true to who you are and not who you think you should be? Believe me, they can sniff out “fake” faster than they can scroll past your boring Instagram picture. Trust with a brand comes few and far between these days, and authenticity is the only real way to engage this characteristic. Research shows that 43 percent of millennials rank the value of authenticity higher than the actual content. I always knew that when I was preparing a message, writing a book or proofing copy for an ad that one of the first filters millennials would put the content through was “authenticity”. If they didn’t feel like I was being real with them, it didn’t matter what I said or wrote from that moment forward.

The second element they look for in a brand or organization is the heart. Do they care about me? Do they care about bettering our world? This is obvious in the success of brands like TOMS Shoes and Disney. Millennials love the concept of doing good collectively, playing a part in something bigger than they are, and “togetherness”. Interestingly enough, research can trace the origin of this methodology all the way back to the television shows that were popular when they were children. Think about it: Blue’s Clues, Bob the Builder, and Barney. All of which encompassed a theme of “together”. Resolving problems, finding answers, and celebrating as one. No wonder it’s so ingrained in this generation!

So how do we cater to these needs?

When I write or communicate with millennials in mind I know there are two questions they’re asking before they’re vulnerable enough to even listen to my message.

  1. Is this guy real? (That’s the question of authenticity.)
  2. Does he care? (That’s the question of heart.)

If you can find a way to help them answer “yes” to those two questions, then you’ve got their attention on your ad, website, blog, or sermon. Guaranteed.

Now, I’m not writing all of this to tell you that other marketing and branding techniques aren’t effective and ultimately useless to reach this #generation (see what I did there)—they are still crucial elements. However, what I am communicating is that we must utilize all of the proven marketing techniques as tools to expose what they are desperately looking for in a company or non profit. Do millennials respond better to digital content? Sure. Do they place a lot more value on online referrals from friends/online personalities? Yes. So, with that knowledge in mind, we must use those outlets to build trust instead of empty marketing facades.

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