The millennial generation is one of the most sought after -- and most misunderstood. Will Pearson, president and co-founder of mental_floss, a trivia-based magazine that he started in his college dorm room in 2001, has managed to hit the right note with this young audience in print, online, books, board games and T-shirts.
Pearson shared his insights for communicating with 20- and 30-somethings at this week's World Innovation Forum in New York City. Here are his top five tips.
1. Don't dumb down your message.
Millennials are goal setters, Pearson says. To understand their ambition, just look at their pop-culture heroes: overachievers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. While the stereotype might be that this generation is irresponsible, he says, "Millennials start saving for retirement four years before Gen X did, and 10 years before baby boomers."
To reach this ambitious generation, Pearson says that you should recognize their intelligence. Present information in a fast-paced way through social media and in a way that helps them feel like they are making progress towards their goals.
2. Include a bit of playfulness in your content.
Unlike the anti-establishment boomers or the slacker Gen Xers, millennials aren't rebellious, Pearson says. They get along with their parents. The media they love is a combination of goofy, earnest and confident. Think Buzzfeed, Youtube and the recent explosion of kitten and puppy memes.
Tailor your messages with "quirk in an authentic voice," he says. In other words, don't be afraid of adding a little whimsy to your messaging, but be genuine about it. For example, mental_floss noticed the popularity of dog and bacon memes with their readers and started a successful reader-submitted short trivia section called Puppies Wearing Hats Eating Bacon Sharing Facts.
3. Create flexible content.
Pearson says that millennials switch their attention between electronic devices up to 27 times an hour, so you have to create content that can capture that fleeting attention in every medium, around the clock.
Successful content might include a tweet that can be consumed in seconds while waiting for coffee, a top-10 list that can be read in 10 minutes on the train, or a longer video or blog post that can be enjoyed in 20 minutes at home.
Related: 4 Tips for Marketing to Millennials
4. Give them an opportunity to engage with your brand.
Millennials are used to interacting with brands on social media, and they are more likely to share their opinions of things they strongly like and dislike, as well as drive conversations on topics that they care about, Pearson says. To get the conversation going, ask questions and give them something that they want to share.
Engaging with millennials on social media isn't about driving traffic to your site or making quick sales, he says. Your social media content shouldn't always include a link. For example, mental_floss creates trivia e-postcards that fans share on Facebook. The postcards include the brand's name but not a link or sales pitch. "Most of our posts are focused on giving them meaningful content that they want to share," Pearson says, which builds their trust and loyalty.
5. Establish and uphold the value of your product.
Millennials are used to streaming music and videos and reading news for free online. But Pearson insists that if they want something, they will find a way to pay for it. He says that mental_floss shies away from offering discounts. Instead, they set a normal magazine cover price that is currently $5.99. They established early on that their product had a certain value, and their customers so far have been willing to pay for it.