Marketing to the Millennials


Creating a recipe for success.

By Jean Darling, PT, LAT

So, what is a millennial and how did they get that name? Millennials, whom we define as those ages 18-34 in 2015, now number 75.4 million, surpassing the 74.9 million baby boomers (ages 51-69 in 2015). And Generation X (ages 35-50 in 2015) is projected to pass the boomers in population by 2028.

Credit for the naming of “millennial” goes to Neil Howe and the late William Strauss, who first used the term in the mid-1990s for a book called Generations.1 They were among the first to explore the idea that groups share qualities such as beliefs, attitudes, values, and behaviors of the time period when they grew up. A good take-home point is that the millennials are the first generation who do not know life without the internet and personal tech devices.

A recent study from Pew Research found that only 40 percent of millennials even identify with this word; in fact, many prefer not to have a title at all.2 On the contrary, nearly 80 percent of those aged 51 to 69 consider themselves part of the baby boomer generation. Lindsey Pollak, a bestselling New York Times author, believes that this generation does not identify with the term millennial because of the negative generalizations that are frequently applied in the media, like “entitled” or “lazy.” She also reports this generation to be focused on describing themselves more as individuals (hence the rise in personal branding as a career skill) and less as a massive group.3 Because most millennials don’t care for any group name at all, it’s important for marketers and recruiters to understand this when marketing their product or service to this age group. For this reason, she states that it’s probably not a good idea to market using the phrase “millennial friendly.”

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A key point from my research is that by the year 2020, millennials will spend $1.4 trillion annually, or 30 percent of all retail sales in the United States.4 This means business owners need to start thinking like millennials, or at least appealing to their likes. A few ideas to target this generation include:

  1. User-generated content. Millennials trust user-generated content, such as YouTube or Instagram, 50 percent more than any other venue.
  2. Influencer marketing. Millennials place trust in advertising on social media, with 60 percent saying they will buy or try a product that they saw on YouTube.
  3. Live streaming. It has been noted many times that millennials value authenticity over prepared content.
  4. Social good. This generation has a strong desire to make a difference in the world, and they have started turning to business to help them make a bigger impact as well as to facilitate consumers/customers getting involved in social issues.
  5. Mobile first. As most individuals have their cell phone close by at all times of the day, going mobile for businesses is no longer an afterthought. This concept should be at the forefront of the marketing strategy. As smartphones are becoming the main gateway to the internet, we need to make sure that our information is optimized for every device.5

Improving the effectiveness of your marketing to millennials is no small undertaking. To be truly successful, you need to understand the social dependence these individuals have when communicating, and the value they place on the opinion of others. Although much of millennial marketing needs to happen online, don’t lose track of traditional media like direct mail. As much as marketing has changed, traditional media can still be effective—just make sure it has a social component.


1. Strauss W., Howe, N. Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. Quill Press; 1992.

2. Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers as America’s Largest Generation.

3. Pollak, L. 2014. Becoming a Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. New York; HarperCollins; 2014.

4. Tuttle, B. Millennial Shoppers: Big on Browsing, Not Splurging. Time. 2013.

5. CEB Iconoculture report, “Inside the Millennial Mind,” Forbes. Article online at Accessed July 2016.

Jean Darling, PT, LAT, is a PPS member and co-owner of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine in Wisconsin. She can be reached at

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