Y Direct Mail Matters: Market to the Millennial

In a 2011 60 Minutes segment, senior CNN correspondent Morley Safer interviews a young, enthusiastic Jason Dorsey about the surge of Gen Y college graduates about to overwhelm the workforce and consumer world. With skeptical nods and questions like “where does this fantasy [of the dream job] come from?,” Safer humors Dorsey’s wide-eyed idealism that claims job-hopping and refusing to settle down justifies a delayed adulthood.

But Safer isn’t buying it.

Between Safer and Dorsey, there is clearly a generational gap. One, a giant in broadcast journalism who’s used his career to cover everything from Red China to fine wine. The other can’t boast as much, though he’s cocky and confident with a self-assured glow, despite the fact that his mother picked out his suit for the interview.

Now in his thirties, Dorsey makes a living consulting with and motivating young people (particularly those of Generation Y, like himself) who have difficulty acclimating to professional settings. He’s also known as the “Gen Y Guy,” an expert in the lives of tech-savvy young adults born approximately between the early 1980s and the early 2000s .

Gen Y (commonly known as the Millennial generation) is largely classified by scores of people who grew up in a world where participants were hailed as winners, and there was no such thing as “no.” As children, they watched adults buy their way into economic crises and struggle for a middle class lifestyle — things Gen Y is unwilling to do. As a result, they’re the generation that is immune to the sales pitch, but is susceptible to gifts, pandering, and high praise.

They can be bought, but don’t want to be sold to. In marketing to the Gen Y demographic, this creates a particular challenge.

Gen Y, Millennials Need a New Distraction


Gen Y may not have created the Internet, but it is their weapon of choice, their go-to outlet for mass communication. A 2014 Pew Research analysis calls Gen Y “digital natives.” Older generations must adapt and play catch-up. Millennials don’t. Technology comes with their territory, and that constant connectivity has led Gen Y to spend an average of 17 hours per day consuming media.

In marketing to Gen Y, some may think the web is the best medium to reach that audience. Wrapped up in digital content 17 hours per day, they’re bound to catch a few ads along the way, right? Unfortunately, the average website has only mere seconds to catch the attention of a reader before they’re willingly torn away by blatant disinterest, rampant text messages, and an abundance of social media notifications.

Basically, Millennials are masters at ignoring ad content; they can sense a sales pitch coming from megabytes away. With 81 percent of Gen Y on Facebook, they’re more likely to trust a candid review by a total stranger about a product or service than they are even the best advertisements only a scroll away. There’s a lack of trust that must be rebuilt in order for Gen Y to receive the marketing message. They must be untangled from the World Wide Web by a trustworthy source.

Commerce with a Conscience … Y They Want Direct Mail

Despite their lack of initial trust in advertisements and enterprise, Gen Y is no stranger to brand loyalty. They want to do business, they just want to know they’re in business not only with the right people, but people who actually give a damn. The most direct path to that buying power lies in trust. And trust means giving Gen Y the time of day, connecting with them on a level that isn’t reached through digital media marketing alone.

From postcards to catalogs and newsletters, direct mail is one of the best ways to reach the Gen Y audience, especially when supplemented with other media campaigns. In fact, 2015 Gallup polls reveal that at least 83 percent of Americans react positively to receiving mail, especially if it’s from someone the receiver knows. Americans aged 18-29 even look forward to checking the mailbox. Gen Y is happy to receive direct mail, so give them what they want!

Additionally, a generation raised on participation ribbons wants what direct mail brings to the table: inclusion. A customized newsletter or postcard campaign from retailers, dentists, and other professionals expresses inclusive sentiments:

  • You know who they are. There’s nothing less personal than giving time and money to a businessman who can’t remember a name. Direct mail ensures no customer is forgotten. Not only that, but Gen Y buyers will know who you are, too. Direct mail helps put a face (or a visual aid) to a name beyond simple logo recognition.
  • You’re thinking about them. Corporations are not people, to Millennials especially. They’re soulless entities that have no interest in making Gen Y life any easier. A customized piece of direct mail from a local business shows support for Gen Y well-being and speaks volumes to the Millennial buyer.
  • Gen Y loyalty is rewarded. If a Millennial thinks their relationship to your business is vital to your success, they’re likely to go from one-time to return customers. Direct mail recognizes loyalty.

Millennials can be highly logical buyers of professional services. They meticulously check user reviews and online ratings before investing. They’re unafraid to shop around and not settle, as the Jason Dorseys of the world assert. But direct mail adds instant brand recognition to the research Millennials already conduct on your business and services.

Direct Mail: Where New Wave Meets Old School

When it comes to appealing to Gen Y buyers, the most damaging thing you can do to your direct mail campaign is disregard the power of your content. Direct mail only fails to connect with Gen Y when it’s dropped in mailboxes looking like a poorly disguised advertisement.

Direct mail should be adapted to meet the same visual appeal as content on the web. The more visual the campaign, the easier it is for the Gen Y audience to engage with it. And since we already know Gen Y wants to be included, take the next step and make your direct mail campaign more interactive.

Direct mail content must effortlessly compliment content on other platforms, web platforms especially. Lead Gen Y recipients back to your web content using digital stamps like your web address, hashtags, QR codes, and social media profiles. However, each connection from physical reality to virtual reality must be smart, focused on action, and less like a gimmick or trend that won’t attract paying customers.

Gen Y buyers have incredibly high expectations when it comes to marketing content. The fusion of new media and tried-and-true techniques grants instant access to the distraction-free information Gen Y not only looks for, but also wants to share. According to Valassis 2013 RedPlum Purse String Survey, 51 percent of Millennials preferred print media for deals and savings, of which direct mail was the most common print type. And of the group that preferred print over digital media, 90 percent shared the content with peers.

Mailbox Over Inbox

The Internet connected Gen Y to the rest of the world. That’s almost as literal a statement as they come. But the infinite space for communication won’t necessarily drive Gen Y through the doors of your business, because infinite space is too much, too anonymous for Gen Ys who still desire a trustworthy, direct connection. Undoubtedly, direct mail is the next generation of marketing, something old that’s been made new again.

So Morley Safer isn’t buying it.

But Morley Safer isn’t every industry’s primary buying demographic, at least not anymore.

He is but one in a vast universe of buyers, where a generation supposedly suffering from arrested development can sign, seal, and deliver the fate of the free world.

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