Study: Millennials want brand managers out of their ears—and feeds

Leave the nagging to mom and dad. Younger consumers say they dislike aggressive ad targeting on social media. Here’s how one study suggests reaching Gen Z and millennial consumers online.

“If you build it, he will come.”—”Field of Dreams”

Many social media managers probably don’t approach consumers with a “Field of Dreams” mentality.

Despite that, almost 75 percent of millennials (ages 20–39) and Gen Z (ages 16–19) say they’re disinterested in brands that advertise too aggressively on social media.

Data show that millennial and Generation Z consumers now make up more than half the population, and brand managers who seek their trust should prioritize meeting their expectations.

Where can you start?

A Harris Poll study (commissioned by Lithium Technologies) found that although your organization should have a strong presence on various digital and social media channels, it’s probably best to let these consumers come to you.

Here’s more from the study:

Today’s younger consumers—raised almost entirely in the digital era—are much more likely to trust information they seek out themselves, whether that be from blogs, websites or online communities. Results reveal that direct targeting on social [media] via ads can actually lose you customers, and that a far more effective method of reaching today’s digital generations is to be present on the channels they frequent, and let them seek you out.

Although younger consumers have a greater need for fast interaction from brand managers, they want to be the first to initiate contact. Data from 2,000 consumers—from Gen Z to Baby Boomers—show that when millennials reach out online, nearly 80 percent of them expect a response back within the same day, compared with 73 percent for Gen X and 71 percent for Baby Boomers.

“Brands who are not actively responding, monitoring and engaging with their customers online stand to lose them and jeopardize brand loyalty.” the study states. RELATED: Produce content that boosts lead gen, brand awareness and reputation.

Building trust

Eddie McGraw, Lithium’s director of communications, says that if brands want to attract these digital natives as customers, they should find ways to engage with them authentically—in a dialogue—instead of just filling their news feeds with ads.

“Consumers (especially young ones) are sick of brands talking at them,” he says. “Today’s consumer wants to engage with a brand, not just receive information passively, and they’re comfortable seeking out information on their own without it being pushed to them.”

In terms of trust, Lithium’s chart shows various generations of consumers prefer online sources:


Younger generations ( Gen Z and millennials)

Older generations (Gen X and baby boomers)

Online sites with Product Reviews (e.g., Amazon, Yelp)



Company/Manufacturer websites



Communities of like-minded individuals (e.g., chat rooms, forums, user groups)



People they follow online



Social networks (e.g., Facebook, Twitter)



Celebrity endorsements



How to influence

Although younger consumers frequently rely on Internet sources before making a purchasing decision, they don’t want to be told—especially by brand managers—where to look.

Study results suggest that these consumers know that brands are accessible, but to establish trust, brand managers shouldn’t bombard users’ feeds with aggressive ad campaigns. Instead, it’s best to play it cool.

Based on the study, here’s how McGraw says brand managers can break bad habits:

Taking the time to learn about your customers so you can engage with them authentically on social channels, owned communities and blogs isn’t easy. It requires an ability to capture the right data, then process that data into actionable insights that inform what your customer wants and how you should connect with them. I can see how it’d be appealing to just run a paid ad campaign. However, those businesses that take the time to truly understand and engage their customers will stand apart from the competition and drive more loyalty, advocacy and revenue.

What about you, PR Daily readers, what social media strategies have you implemented to reach younger consumers?

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