Marketing & Communications

Reaching Millennials (Gen Y) with Mobile

By Association Adviser staff • March 10, 2014

Two millennials weigh in on the latest research findings

As two members of the millennial generation, we pay special attention to articles that claim to state the best ways to market to us. Sometimes we agree that marketers know us well; other times, we slightly disagree and wish we could give the author(s) a hint.




  • A mobile site is an essential companion to your organization’s full website, but expect people to use it mainly for finding quick information—addresses or contact information—not for deep dive research.
  • Ninety percent of millennials send and receive messages from their phones, so a text message campaign can be very effective for reaching this group. However, ensure that your texts are continually relevant and novel.
  • Mobile apps often serve the same quick fact-finding purpose as mobile websites. A successful app is one that is useful, entertaining, AND convenient.
  • Millennials don’t want to interact with brands on social media the same way that they interact with friends or family. But, if the brand’s personality is social, we’re open to conversations with the people behind it.
Ninety-eight percent of millennials own and use cell phones.
A mobile site is a must for reaching millennials: 74% of them use a smart phone.

The Center for Media Research recently cited four suggestions for developing a well-crafted mobile strategy from mobile messaging provider, Iris Mobile, that resonates with millennials. According to researchers, mobile is becoming a huge part of American adults’ daily lives with more than 74 percent of millennials (ages 18-34) owning a smart phone and nearly all (98%) owning some type of cell phone. CMR’s suggestions are spot-on. Here’s why:

Since more than 75 percent of millennials access the Internet via their phones, a mobile site is a must-have. Research reveals that mobile click-through rates are 34 percent higher when matched against other platforms. So make your brand accessible via mobile to take advantage of this prevalent behavior, using fundamental digital marketing practices applied to mobile devices the audience uses most.

Kelly: This suggestion applies to all age groups, not just millennials. If you want someone to reference your website first, read your newsletter, or sign up for a program when it’s convenient for them, I agree that a mobile site is essential. Because we’ve grown up with computers and easily adapt to changes in digital life, we expect others to do the same. (We know that’s a biased perspective, but that’s how we feel.) When our favorite sites aren’t easy to use, we quickly find alternatives.

I also feel your organization doesn’t have to host high-definition images or fancy animation on a mobile site to make it appealing. But it should have a visually-pleasing and organized format that is appropriate for a smaller screen. It should be easy to tap around and navigate. And it should present the same information we could find on your full site, even if it’s a condensed version. Most of the time when accessing the Web through a mobile device, we are trying to find a small snippet of information that will help us keep our lives running smoothly until we are around a computer again.

Hillary: I agree that a mobile site it a must have. However, how far I dive into the website depends on the industry. Most the time, I am on a mobile website because I am searching for an address or other contact information (VERY important for contact information to be easy to find) or I am looking for the answer to a question. I don’t browse websites on my phone the same way I browse websites on a desktop.

According to researchers: 90 percent of millennials spend time on mobile devices sending and receiving messages, a powerful tool, with open rates exceeding 99 percent can be an exceptionally effective channel for driving instant results from this audience. Once users are opted-in, relevant campaigns that deliver personalization and value will always outperform other types of content and prevent the list from shrinking.

Kelly: We do love to text and send messages through apps, but as for the 99 percent millennial open rate cited here? Almost no one I know (of any age) who owns a cell phone ignores text messages. So that tool can be “exceptionally powerful” for everyone as well.

Once you earn someone’s opt-in consent, however, keeping them interested in your texts or direct messages is equally important. The convenience of having an organization text you offers or reminders directly will lose its novelty if those notices are too frequent, too infrequent (we know, we’re picky), continually irrelevant, or if we disassociate from your organization IRL (in real life) and you don’t update your recipient list. Text campaigns can work well, but organizations must be hyper-vigilant about their use or risk having millennials become more protective of their phone numbers.

Hillary: While shopping at Express, I opted-in to receive coupon texts. The benefit was relevant to me at the time because I was shopping in the store. Unfortunately, I now receive texts at times when I am not interested in purchasing anything. I find the texts annoying and have thought about opting-out of the service. When sending text updates to members, be mindful of where they might be and what they might be doing. A coupon sent at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon isn’t relevant to me because it is an inopportune time for me to go shopping.

According to research, mobile apps are also a useful for connecting with millennials, as 60 percent of us download them to our devices. When considering building a mobile app, identify the type of value the app will provide for it to become an integral part of daily life. Using the app push notification feature along with messaging will be effective to continuously drive traffic and notify users about updates. Research shows that using app alerts can increase usage by 540 percent.

Kelly: Apps entertain, inform, and smooth the flow of life for us. An app must serve a unique and necessary purpose for it to appeal to a millennial’s use. If not, the app runs the risk of being deleted after only a few uses, or forgotten in the pantheon of apps extending to the fifth or sixth screen of a user’s smart phone. Sometimes, “a unique and necessary purpose” means an app is used only for a season or a defined event period. That’s okay–smart organizations will know how to keep in touch with us in other ways.

Hillary: I use mobile apps in lieu of opening the full or mobile version of a website. The app is usually quicker and it often has the information I am looking for in an easy to use format. When I was a student at the University of Delaware, I used the campus app on a regular basis. The app included class schedules, account information and most importantly real-time bus schedules. I liked using the app because it gave me the information I searched for most often without having to go to the university website.

Research indicates that millennials openly embrace social media, sharing what’s on their minds. They want to engage with brands the same ways they engage with friends. Millennials want brands to not only provide content that’s relevant to them, but also content they can share with their social media connections. A recent study revealed that 73 percent of mobile searches lead to additional actions and conversions, with 18 percent of consumers sharing that content. Even with major purchases, millennials consult friends before making a purchase.

Kelly: We want to interact with brands, but NOT in the same way we interact with friends. With the proliferation of digital media and all the ways that brands/organizations can reach us (texts, email, app messaging, social media, gaming; not to mention more traditional ways like snail mail or phone) and know about us, we have become pickier about how we talk with organizations and more selective about how we share information about ourselves. With our friends, we know we can generally trust them with the personal information and stories we share (and vice versa). But with businesses and organizations, we know there is usually a revenue-based reason behind that sign-up form we must complete to watch the latest video and the promise of future marketing emails behind the hip associate’s kind request for our email address when we want to join a live chat.

Some of us ARE more open with brands because we like the attention they give us. But others realize that interacting with organizations online often means compromising your privacy, and hold back. Building trust for more authentic online interactions will have to start with marketers if they want to continue to reach us online.

Hillary: I agree with Kelly that I want to interact with brands, but not in the same way that I interact with friends. I might retweet something funny from a brand or send in a photo as part of a contest, but I am not going to initiate the conversation. The brand must also have the type of personality to interact with. I am more likely to interact with a clothing company than I am with my car insurance company.


Based on the stats and suggestions above, what changes would you make, if any, to your association’s mobile strategy? Share this article with your younger volunteers and staff members. Tell us if they agree with us.

Kelly Donovan is the team leader for online marketing at Naylor, LLC.

Hillary Levitz is an online marketing specialist with Naylor, LLC.