What was not-so-long-ago considered a business truism — that millennials aren’t yet decision makers — has been identified as a business myth. Today, millennials, that generation born roughly 1981-1996, are playing an increasingly large role in their companies’ purchase decision-making.
A 2019 study from Forrester Research notes that millennials account for 33% of B2B buyers, a percentage expected to increase to 44% by 2025.
Millennials command attention as an increasingly important demographic of buyers, and companies that hope to win them over must cater to their preferences, which are often different than those of the generations before them.
Millennials were the first generation who came of age in the internet era. They are, as many an observer has put it, “digital natives.” They’re more comfortable with technology than any generation before them, and they inherently rely on tools that didn’t even exist 10 or 20 years ago.
Reaching millennials — and convincing them to buy your products — involves marketing strategies that take this reality into account. Here we look at four innovative B2B marketing tools that can help companies connect with this growing generation of buyers.
#1: Recommendations and reviews
According to a study of B2B millennial buyers, conducted by Demand Gen Report and The Mx Group, first-hand accounts were a preferred content format by 61% of millennial buyers. Likewise, the 2019 Forrester study notes that 80% or more of millennials want content that provides information on a seller’s products from their peers, colleagues and the seller’s customers.
Millennial buyers are looking for anecdotal evidence and data that back up suppliers’ claims about their products or services. Invest in solid, compelling case studies; elevate testimonials; solicit reviews and other feedback.
One growing avenue for boosting credibility by tapping into “real” voices is through influencer marketing. No longer just the haven of Instagram fashion models and YouTube makeup tutorials, influencer marketing is increasingly being deployed in the B2B world, where smart, innovative marketing initiatives (like this one from Adobe) turn subject matter experts into trusted sources of information.
#2: “Google it”
Businesses have grown increasingly aware in recent years that their customers are doing a chunk of their pre-purchase research and decision-making — up to two-thirds or more, according to various studies — before ever making contact with the company or a sales person.
This trend is amplified among millennials, for whom Internet search is the No. 1 resource for research. Merit’s B2B Millennial Report shows 25% of respondents listed search engine as the most important resource when researching a product or service, followed by the vendor’s website and peer or colleague. Sales person came in fourth.
“What we thought was kind of the traditional purchasing methodology through relationships is actually happening online,” said Renee Richardson, global marketing services manager for Caterpillar, which launched a video marketing program aimed at a younger, more online generation of buyers.
“The point of contact with sales comes a lot later, so we have to be well prepared to present our value story to our customers or potential customers much earlier and articulate it in a much simpler manner.”
Getting buyers’ attention through search means investing in a solid search engine optimization (SEO) program that aims to provide relevant, customized content for these potential customers.
Millennials in particular crave content that speaks to their specific needs: 80% or more of millennials say they want a “curated content experience” that addresses their business, industry or market conditions. So be sure your content speaks to a range of audiences at various stages in the buying process.
Focus on providing content that is relevant and educational rather than content that mostly promotes products or services.
The first words that come to mind when you think of social media probably aren’t “sales tool,” but millennial buyers are forcing companies to reconsider that.
Merit’s study revealed that 85% of millennial B2B buyers use social media to research products and services for their company, and 29% reported that social media was a top resource in researching a purchase decision, according to the Demand Gen Report/Mx Group’s “B2B Millennial Buyer Survey Report.”
If your social media presence isn’t serving as an effective and compelling front door to your business, try experimenting with new kinds of content (there are tools that can help) or looking for ways to engage your followers and industry influencers more actively. The fast-paced nature of social media means you can track performance practically in real-time to see if your messages are resonating with desired audiences.
In addition to viewing information about your company and its products on social media, millennial buyers increasingly are using social media as an avenue for direct communication.
Nearly 70% of millennial buyers look for direct outreach on social media from sales reps at solution providers, according to the Demand Gen Report/Mx Group study. That’s a higher preference than for all other contact methods, including via email, phone, text or in-person.
When a sales rep does reach out via social media, be sure to adhere to the advice in No. 2 above — be relevant and helpful, not salesy. (Not sure how to get started? Here are some great ways to use LinkedIn as a B2B sales tool.)
#4: Video marketing
The recent growth of video marketing should take no one by surprise. The vast majority of B2B buyers and researchers — 70% or more according to most sources — use video at some point during their purchase decision.
This preference for video is driven in no small part by millennials, nearly 30% of whom list video as the most important content format in researching a new product or service, according to the Merit research report.
And businesses are seeing the benefits: 73% of B2B marketers say video positively impacts marketing ROI.
Video marketing can include product guides or demos, explainers and how-tos (“how-to” searches on YouTube increase by 70% every year), customer testimonials or case studies (see No. 1 above), educational content on industry or product trends and more.
It wasn’t long ago that vertical videos were the object of scorn and ridicule, but times are changing thanks to mobile phones. Observation and your own daily usage will serve as confirmation of the data that users hold their phones vertically 94% of the time.
And more and more people aren’t interested in turning our phones the “wrong way” for the sake of video watching. According to survey data, 70% of millennials don’t turn their phone horizontally to watch video.
Social media platforms, led largely by Snapchat, have begun embracing vertical video, and Apple has even recently launched an ad series promoting the iPhone’s vertical video capabilities.
If you’re looking to grow your video marketing library, particularly to appeal to the growing number of millennial buyers, consider experimenting with vertical video for social media.
As millennials continue to assume positions of purchase authority across the B2B world, it’s critically important for marketers to explore innovative marketing strategies to reach them.