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Marketing to Millennials? Make It Personal and Customized. Gen Yers are demonstrating strong new interests. Entrepreneurs would be wise to take notice.

By Debra Kaye

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The millennial generation in the United States is not only the largest population cohort it's also the most racially diverse and highly educated generation in American history. In the last U.S. Census, 18- to-32-year-olds outnumbered even baby boomers. As the buying power of millennials increases, entrepreneurs seeking their business must understand that members of this generation expect to be treated as individuals.

Plus, representatives of this tech-savvy, media-connected generation tend to be independent politically, a trait that carries over into their personal lives. Millennials are postponing marriage, and record numbers of them, compared with previous generations, say they have no religious affiliation. And although millennials tend not to be a trusting lot, they are optimistic about the future.

Here are some critical variables about millennials that can play a major role in a startup's marketing moves:

Related: Millennials Spend 18 Hours a Day Consuming Media -- And It's Mostly Content Created By Peers

1. Millennials want to know a company is paying attention to their specific needs. Establishing a social media presence across a variety of channels such as Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook (not to mention on smartphone apps), is the way to reach millennials. But a company will not keep their attention long if the communication is not two-way.

Beyond responding to tweets or "liking" a Facebook comment, a company's engaging with millennials means adding value to their experience of the brand through loyalty programs, recognition events and special access to sales and other promotional events. Even more, it means creating the impression that each consumer is special.

The clothier Primark markets to millennials through its Primania website, where shoppers can upload pictures of themselves wearing Primark apparel. Other shoppers can rate the "looks" and the site also invites users to register for prizes and chat about fashion.

By appealing to millennials' highly developed sense of self and the narcissism inherent in the "selfie" culture, Primania connects with Gen Yers by offering them, as its website says, the "opportunity to develop your own unique style profile and to share your fashion ideas and inspirations with others."

Related: Diversity Defines Our Global Economy. Do You Speak the Language?

One size does not fit all. The look and feel of a customized product is important to members of this generation who are growing up in a society far more diverse and embracing of diversity than preceding generations. This affects their taste in consumer goods and how they are marketed to.

For example, a few years ago when American Express realized the need for a financial product tailored to millennials, my company, Lucule, helped conceive a credit card that would give users customizable features, access to exclusive entertainment deals and targeted savings opportunities on products and experiences of interest to this generation.

Have you scanned a fashion magazine lately? Or browsed a fashion website? Not only will you see racial diversity, but also diverse body types, people with physical disabilities and nontraditional family groupings. In other words, millennials want assurance that they are dealing with a business whose face looks like "me and my friends."

Related: How Purpose and Social Responsibility Can Set a Startup Apart

Earn millennials' business by doing good. A recent study by Cone Communications, a public relations firm specializing in cause marketing, found that "millennials are hyperaware of, and have high expectations for, corporate social responsibility efforts to make the world a better place -- for themselves and broader society." Indeed, millennials will switch from companies that do nothing in this areana to ones that publically share their values.

Successful entrepreneurs understand this. Last year Stephanie Daniels started her gateway shopping site PopNod with millennials in mind. She explained in a recent interview that her site empowers "people to change the world by combining shopping and saving with giving." Shoppers who use PopNod can click on a store website of their choosing and receive cash back on their purchases, PopNod also donates to the shopper's charity in an amount based on the cash-back savings.

Any new business launching today should create such a socially aware site, provided that it is in support of a belief their company truly holds. Tell on the corporate website the story of why the company did something and why the entrepreneur believes in it. Empathize with customers about why the company's activism is important.

Emphasize authenticity and transparency. Millennials respond positively to these characteristics, attracting both loyal consumers and brand ambassadors. Without a company's expressing an entrepreneur's feelings and passion, even if what the firm has done is positive, millennials will see the effort as a business ploy.

This is a situation where the company is making a personal appeal to millennial consumers and establishing that the firm and the millennial consumer are part of the same community.

The 2014 Pew Research Center report "Millennials in Adulthood" is a gold mine of information about this generation and is a great read for those interested in learning more about the specific characteristics of millennials.

Related: Millennial Misconceptions: How You're Totally Wrong About This Generation

Debra Kaye

Brand Strategist and Partner at Lucule

Debra Kaye is a brand and culture strategist and partner at Lucule, a New York-based innovation consulting firm. She is author of the book, Red Thread Thinking (McGraw-Hill, 2013).

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