Marketing to Millennials

Author– Katherine M. Finley, PhD, CAE

Millennials or gen Y is the name for the generation born between 1978 and 1994 and represents over 80 million individuals. As a group, they are larger than the baby boomers and generation X. They are also more diverse and unlike previous generations, more women in this group hold college degrees. Associations have spent a lot of time and effort trying to understand how to reach this market.

As the executive director of an 8,000+ member association with over 3,000 of those members being in the organization for more than 25 years, I worry how we can build this loyalty in the future generations joining the association. As an academic association, we provide a journal that could only be obtained through a membership and we provided networking at our annual conference. Now, the with open source technology, the journal is readily available in libraries and social media has provided another form of networking. The same is true for most associations – we no longer have monopolies on knowledge and networking.

Unlike previous generations that naturally joined associations and stayed for years because they felt a loyalty to the profession even if the benefits weren’t necessarily meeting their needs, gen Y asks that they actually meet their needs, listen to them, make them feel wanted, and offer value for your products and services. Shouldn’t associations be doing this anyway? Maybe gen Y is the wake-up call that associations need to provide value for their dues and understand that not all their members necessarily want the same thing. Reaching this group and creating loyal millennial members goes back to two basic marketing principles: 1) understanding the distinctiveness of this group, recognizing their needs and wants, and then providing the services and products they want and need and; 2) working hard to build loyalty within this group so they become lifelong members.

What separates gen Y or millennials from other generational groupings? Millennials :

-Are very connected to their peers and value constant communication
-Prefer that communication occur via technology rather than phone calls or meetings
-Have a short attention span
-Have high demands
-Are optimistic and socially conscious
-Are much more diverse and value equality and social responsibility
-Value individuality but still want to be part of a group
-Are big on their values, not image
-Lead a quiet lifestyle with friends and they value convenience
-Are distrustful of the mainstream media and tend to trust word-of-mouth, peer reviews and testimonials when making a purchase
-Join organizations because they want to learn from others
-Face a lot of college debt and are worried about their futures and finding jobs

What does this mean for your association? There are many articles and books published about this generation. However, to understand the wants and needs of this generation within your association, you should conduct focus groups and attempt to learn more about the problems and concerns this group has within your profession or trade. Some ideas that can be incorporated into your products and services include:

-Establishing a career center on your website where Gen Y’ers can not only search for jobs, but can obtain real time advice from career coaches, and find information about putting together resumes and writing cover letters.
-Utilizing social media to the fullest
-Making sure your online ordering is flawless because they grew up on sites like Amazon
-Develop a mentorship program
-Involving them on committees and listen to their opinions
-Developing benefits and products that are not superficial or rushed, but ones that improve the value of membership
-Making sure you demonstrate the diversity of your association
-Building loyalty with this group and others begins early in their careers and should be a continuous effort designed to build trust, provide a sense of belonging and connectedness and offer a sense of purpose.

As noted earlier, marketing to gen Y means we need to return to the basic marketing principles and the basic association membership principle of providing value for membership to all segments of our market. It also means continuing to apply those principles to build loyalty among the millennials

Read more:

Arthur Brooks, A Generational Profile of Association Participation (Chicago: SmithBucklin, 2005).

Ryan Donegan, “5 Tips for Marketing to Millennials from a Millenial,” Huffington Post Business, Posted October 7, 2013 at

Adele Lemiek, “How to Attract Gen Y Without Losing Everyone Else,” Marketing Insights Enewsletter, May 2010.

Natalie Nahal, “5 Things You Need to Know About Marketing to Gen Y,” Webs of Influence – Psychology Today. Psted May 13, 2013 at

Joe Rominiecki, “What Millennials Want From Your Association,” Associations Now, July 2013.

Sarah Sladek, The End of Membership as We Know It (Washington, D.C.: ASAE, 2011). (loyalty expert)