Millennial Marketing: Gaining Trust with the Least-Trusting Generation

January 27, 2016

Ahh, the elusive and mysterious millennial generation … Pundits have a hard time deciding whether they’re the laziest generation or the most hard-working, but one thing we know for sure is that they are the least trusting when it comes to traditional advertising and marketing.

In a recent study, an astounding 84 % of millennials surveyed do not trust advertising. There are approximately 83 million millennials in America, that’s more than a quarter of the country’s population. If you’re in advertising, that’s a terrifying number when you realize 69 million Americans refuse to trust you.

As a member of this generation, it is safe to say that the days of calling up a number you see on your TV screen to order that newest gotta-have-it product are nearing extinction. Even some newer forms of advertising (AdWords, online banner ads, etc) are not as effective with this generation. So, you’re probably asking, how do we advertise to people who ignore advertising? The first step is to ask, if they don’t trust advertising, what do they trust?

What Do They Trust?

In the same study, they asked millennials what do you trust to make purchase decisions, if it is not advertising?

Most trust close friends first, followed by news reports and social media, and then after that are the company websites. It’s common nowadays to log on to Facebook and ask all your friends their suggestions about their personal experiences with purchasing a specific product. Just a few weeks ago, I was in the market for a new bed and having never bought or shopped for a mattress before, I turned to Facebook to ask the best places to buy one.

I was out browsing for mattress shops when the first person commented, and so that’s the first place I visited. Later I had a few people comment to tell me places I definitely should not go, and I never even considered those stores. To all of us it makes sense to trust actual consumers’ experiences rather than the message from the brand’s themselves.

A different study said that although this new generation is untrusting, they are also one of the most loyal. Approximately 60-70% of the millennials surveyed said that they are often or always loyal to brands that they currently purchase.

These consumers expect a relationship between themselves and the brands they purchase from, as about 65% said a social media interaction with a brand will influence their loyalty.

What Should You Do?

For the life span of advertising, it’s been a one-way communication through radio, print, television, billboards, and even most digital marketing. Social media has changed the game and made marketing an interactive two-way conversation. Millennials want to know that the brands they’re using are concerned and care about their consumers. Nowadays, when consumers want to be a part of helping to build these brands, it’s important that their brands reflect their values.

Last week, I got gas from a local Hy-Vee and with a combination of low gas prices and my Fuel Saver card I filled up my whole car for only $15. I posted a picture of it on Instagram and just a few hours later the Hy-Vee Instagram had commented on it.


Another example is a few months ago I tweeted my frustration about the Shazam app, and about how I can never catch the song because it always spends few minutes updating when it’s opened. Within 24 hours, they had tweeted back at me in order to help me solve my problem.


I am loyal to companies who make an effort to build a relationship with me. They responded directly to my personal experiences and I never had to try and contact them myself. This newer generation doesn’t want your catch-em line or hottest sale; they want your compassion and your willingness to communicate with them as humans, not as salesmen.

Achieving this can be as easy as searching for your company or products in tags and reaching out to people. Another key thing to remember is to not make everything a sales pitch. As hard as you may try to disguise it or make it subtle, people know when they’re being sold to. Create a conversation about the person and if you have a solution to one of their problems that’s great — but don’t treat them like customers, treat them like friends and you will reap the benefits.

We are a generation of sharing and if I have a great or fun experience with a company, I am absolutely going to tell my friends and family about it, thus starting the cycle of others trusting me over the brand.

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is a strategist, speaker, educator, and author of Brand Now: How to Stand Out in a Crowded, Distracted World and Get Scrappy: Smarter Digital Marketing for Businesses Big and Small. He is the Chief Brand Strategist at Brand Driven Digital, an educator at the University of Iowa, and host of the On Brand podcast. More about Nick.