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Appeal to Millennials' Minds, Not to Their Hearts Want to reach younger consumers? Market to their mindset, which is equal parts optimism -- and stark realism about the future.

By Chris Miller

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


Companies that think we millennials are interested in socially responsible products and services simply out of the goodness of our hearts are completely misreading the times. Rather, our interest in "social responsibility" stems in part from the certainty we have that we and the rest of humanity represent an endangered species facing an existential threat to our consumerist way of life.

Related: 6 Traits That Make Millennials the Best Social Entrepreneurs

Rising sea levels? Extreme weather? Clean water shortages? As a cohort confronting those issues and more every day, we're fighting back, one purchase at a time.

Brands that really want to connect with us millennial consumers, then, should stop trying to appeal to our hearts and begin marketing to our unique mindsets, which are equal parts optimism and stark realism about our shared future. The proud capitalists who currently occupy the C-suites of this world should work to find affinity with us and embrace our generation now -- before it's too late.

Four strategies for the C-suite

We all know that the next generation of entrepreneurs and consumers embraces technology, social media, a local-over-global emphasis and cause-related products and services. Our raw self-interest, in fact, is so ingrained in the culture we grew up in that it's hard to detect, but don't be fooled.

Consider the following when building your own millennial strategy:

1. Get over yourself and out of your own way.

Your personal opinions about our generation -- that we're spoiled, lazy and entitled -- should not stand in the way of your getting your fair share of our wallets. Millennials have $200 billion in annual purchasing power -- and that's not even counting the estimated transfer of $30 trillion of wealth which has begun and whose pace will pick up in the coming decades.

Make us your top priority. Spend more time discussing and learning about us millennials than any other demographic. We're worth it.

2. Treat us as the adults we are and speak to our minds, not our hearts.

The youngest millennials are now of voting age and, as a whole, we are the most educated generation in history. We're media-literate critical thinkers who consume more information than any generation has before us. And, although it may somestimes seem as though we do, we don't seek alternatives to global capitalism.

We have seen the power that markets hold to positively impact people, places and the planet. We're working to leverage markets -- not fight them. When you tailor a strategy toward us, give us facts and figures, and don't pretend that all you want to do is help. We know you want to make money, and we're cool with that.

Related: Even Social Entrepreneurs Need Profit to Meet Their Goals

3. Do not 'fake it until you make it.'

This generation of "digital natives" will Google your bulls*** immediately and never trust your brand again. So, be authentic, transparent and accountable to your claims involving corporate social responsibility, or don't make them at all. More than 90 percent of millennials surveyed have said they would consider switching to a brand involved with a cause. We'll actually pay a premium for those brands that provide authentic connections to our values.

So, by all means tell us how responsible your company is to people and the planet. But, make sure you show us, too.

4. Invest in marketing and tech that enables C2C interactions.

This goes far beyond your company merely having a presence on social media. We millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to seek out peer reviews, and we value meaningful engagements and experiences with the brands we buy. Make it painfully easy for us to interact with other people who already have bought your product.

Provide a forum on your website, and attract attention to it. Encourage authentic, open conversations on social media about how your company can improve its customer service.

It is true that millennials are driving a social revolution in global consumerism, but don't be fooled: Our own blatant self-interest just happens to feel really good and look even better on LinkedIn and FaceBook.

To be clear, though, "doom and gloom" is not the path to our hearts or our minds. Strategies based on fear will fail. Marketers need to grapple with the paradox that, despite our awareness of the monumental tasks facing us, participants in the new status quo are nothing if not optimistic about the future. Even if you believe personally that climate change is a farce, the uncertainty and fear that that gut-wrenching future seems to hold trumps the science.

Related: This Nuance I Learned From Social Entrepreneurs Is Worth Your Time

All we have to do is fall back on everything you taught us. And, as long as you get out of our way fast enough, we can guarantee that we'll help you save the world one pair of shoes and one bottle of wine at a time.

Chris Miller

Founder and CEO, the Mission Center L3C

Chris Miller is the founder and CEO of internationally renowned social entrepreneurship incubator and accelerator The Mission Center L3C. He is the co-founder of the Washington University Startup Training Lab and a senior lecturer of entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

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