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Here Is What's Wrong with Millennial Marketing

Not another millennial article. At least that's my attitude when I scan marketing blogs and financial publications these days. So many articles and so many experts tell bankers why they should prospect the all-important Generation Y. But that doesn't mean all bank marketers should join the millennial gold rush without considering the age group's other lifestyle factors.

Various surveys, drawing from 400 or so consumers, state what millennials "really want" from a bank: high savings account interest rates, low loan interest rates, no hidden fees, transparency, privacy and safety and easy account management. Now tell me, which customer doesn't want that?

Then, the articles typically recite a series of statistics to show that millennials are digitally proficient, carry huge student loan debts and have minimal retirement savings. They also show the age group is putting off homeownership but covets financial advice.

Besides filling out a story, what purpose do these characteristics have? Where are the insights? Every age group is diverse and millennials are no different. The best bank prospects do not revolve around generalizing about customer classes. For all generations – millennials, Gen Xers, baby boomers and older groups – there are specific individuals within each of these groups that make the most promising customers. In other words, millennial marketing – the process of reaching out to a specific age group – is a fallacy. Experienced marketers know that age is usually a poor method for identifying prospects.

Millennials don't suddenly become attractive when they turn 22, and then suddenly become unattractive when they turn 34. All millennials are not digitally savvy. Yes, maybe they grew up with the Internet but that doesn't transform them into tech mavens. It's merely what they are familiar with. They are driven by convenience just like the rest of us.

Painting millennials with the same brush is foolish. Some are baristas, others are lawyers, some are teachers and others are artists. They don't have the same profit potential or interest in the same financial products. Looking at them as a group is not helpful. Nor is it cost efficient.

Sure, marketing to younger people can be a valid strategy. Perhaps you want to combat attrition, cultivate prospects or rebalance the customer base. There are legitimate reasons for targeting them, but millennial marketing is not one of them. Millennial marketing is not a strategy. It is just a step along with marketing to other groups and individuals to implement a broader marketing program.

If you are seeking younger customers, my recommendation is to segment them by lifestyle. Use Nielsen or Raddon or another lifestyle segmentation system. Then, reach out to millennials who show the highest propensity for your products. In so doing, you will get a few individuals on either side of the millennial age bracket. And that's a good thing.

When reading those millennial articles, remember that millennial marketing is often the lure to catch you, the bank marketer. The ones benefiting most from millennial marketing are the vendors: researchers selling reports, consultants selling services.

It's all about selling and you're the target.

Kevin Tynan is senior vice president of marketing at Liberty Bank in Chicago. He can be reached @kevintyn.

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Kevin, the profile characteristics you cite for Millennials are more indicative of lifestage rather than generational behaviors. Because marketing is a numbers and percentages based discipline, segmenting based on behaviors and consumer attributes is a valuable element in the strategic planning process. You are right, all of the hoopla about Millennials is just that. They have and will have the same needs as every other person as they progress through life. Media usage and product delivery expectations are where the real change is happening, and that is taking place across the spectrum at varying rates. I have Millennial children who are less tech savvy when it comes to banking than my 80 year-old mother. Perhaps what we are learning most is segmenting by age or lifestage as far as products go still works but in terms of how we reach our audience, well that requires a more precise approach based on another set of behaviors. Putting an ad in the paper just won't cut it any more.
Posted by dougknuth | Tuesday, February 02 2016 at 6:31AM ET
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