Two months ago, I was just beginning to conduct a private month-long research study on Millennial marketing—the late-teen and twenty-somethings of this world (myself barely included) who have grown up with computers in their homes, born between 1982 and the year 2000.

Eighty hours, fifty participants and an 18-minute video later, the study has concluded, but the findings from the study keep evolving in my brain to be usable by more than just the audience it was developed for—magazine publishers.

According to Andy McLaughlin, CEO and Founder of PaperClip Communications, who I presented with last week, the current generation of consumers (those digital natives) are the largest in volume since the baby boomers.

Millennial marketing says that where baby boomers were once the influential generation in terms of marketing, spending habits and business growth, you will soon be looking towards the kids who are entering and graduating college, even working their way towards Masters degrees and existing in the current job market.

Even now, it’s not that hard to find a Millennial who makes a hundred-thousand dollars a year developing iPhone apps, or running their own social media company. The consumer landscape has changed drastically in the last five years.

What Millennials Want From You

So what does that mean for small businesses? It only means that you need to start paying more attention to how Millennials like to interact with your business. Indeed it means launching a Facebook page, sure, but more specifically these are the current trends among Millennial marketing:

1. Millennials want to customize everything. It all started with MySpace, the first social network to allow you to customize how you view the web. Then it came with Google’s custom homepage. Millennials want a unique customer experience whether they’re choosing their phone wallpaper, or picking out a new dress at your consignment shop.

Now Millennials expect to buy a cellphone, get a case in the color they want, and be able to customize the software so that it looks exactly how they want it to look. And we allow it because we’ll be shamed publically by the masses of Millennials if we don’t comply. Plus, it’s fun for everyone, really—they just didn’t realize it until now.

Since I’m technically a Millennial, I’m allowed to say this: Millennials believe that they are entitled; To your business model, to the design of your logo, to your restaurant menu and to the products that you sell. Millennials want the ability to customize everything, including their experiences.

2. Millennials want their voices to be heard and have input on the products that they buy. This is so helpful and important to small business owners because you now have the unique opportunity to ask for feedback and actually get a response.

Just look at Houlihan’s, who launched a social network meant only for their customers, “an invite-only ‘brand community’ of 10,500 ‘Houlifans’ to serve as a virtual comment card,” according to FastCompany.

Since launching the community that traded recipes for genuine feedback, sales are up 12%.

3. Millennials want personal relationships with the businesses they interact with. If they send a tweet to you on Twitter, they expect that you’re going to respond. They hate advertising unless it’s indirect, modest and unique. Your response to a negative Yelp review that results in a positive one may be worth more than sending direct mail to the local neighborhood.

While older generations may be more forgiving and understanding of robot-like marketing strategies, Millennials expect personal customer service, which is sort of funny considering that it’s not what they grew up with. It’s almost like Millennials are channeling their grandparents and the way business was run back when the customer was “always right.”

Millennials As The New Consumer

We all know that the old “customer is always right” mantra took a back seat there for a little while as big business and impersonality became widely accepted as the norm. The grandparents of these Millennials never would have stood for that kind of progression, and neither will they.

Actually, you’ll find a lot of similarities between Millennials and their grandparents:

  • Millennials prefer organic foods to processed foods (but by choice, not by necessity like it once was).
  • Millennials buy more from independent designers and craft-makers than big designer brands.
  • Millennials are more food savvy with expanded palettes and are willing to spend more on a quality meal at a small independent restaurant with a chef who knows their name.
  • When Millennials they walk into a store, they are willing to spend more when there’s a shop owner to be behind the counter, rather than hired hands.
  • Millennials are activists, which mean they have loud voices and the self-esteem to try and make a difference. They are acutely aware of the environment, stock market, politics and big business. Millennials are not “protected” from the media, as young adults were in past generations; They’re a part of it, and they’re creating it.

Technically, these are all good things because the newest consumer generation is actually supportive of small, independent businesses. It’s why chain grocery stores have introduced organic sections and even source local produce with big fat signs that scream “local!” It’s also why chain restaurants like Chipotle will proudly tell anyone who’s listening that all of their ingredients are sourced locally.

Somehow, in the favor of small businesses everywhere, Millennials have been influenced to appreciate small, independent businesses, mom and pop shops, locally-sourced vegetables, free-range beef and organic everything. So the only thing small businesses have to worry about now is how to meet those customers on their level.

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