06/05/2013 04:26 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2013

The Secret to Marketing to Millennials: Don't

I don't think a week goes by without finding myself in a meeting or a discussion with brand, marketing and PR folks either announcing that they have discovered the best way to market to the ever elusive millennial consumer or with people candid enough to admit they just can't seem to figure this demographic out. Just google "marketing to millennials" and see how many hits you get. Everyone seems to have a theory.

Make no mistake, millennials are the most important customers right now for brands -- and will be for many years. They are young and often categorized as being born after 1980. And, at 100 million strong, they make up the largest generation in U.S. history.

This is a group that either consciously or subconsciously rejects much of traditional advertising and has fully embraced social media as a means of receiving any data they require from weather and sports to fashion and product reviews. Brand loyalty to millennials is often won by making them feel like tastemakers; rewarding them for sharing your products with friends and providing them with a platform to curate, create and relate. But what may be the single greatest challenge with this generation of shoppers is the fickleness of their trends and the speed in which the medium they adopt can change. By the time many retailers were becoming fully invested in Pinterest, the cool kids had already shifted to Tumblr.

Unlike picking up a copy of Golden Retrievers for Dummies and effectively becoming the Dog Whisperer overnight, you can't treat millennials like a breed with reliable traits. This group pivots and reacts with unimaginable speed and is swayed by both peer pressure and self expression. Most conventional e-commerce wisdom will tell you that millennials nearly always prefer online shopping but yet a recent Urban Land Institute survey reported that a summary of 1200 shoppers between the ages of 18-35 found that 37 percent love to shop in a physical brick and mortar store. With these often mixed behaviors, targeting this group is quite literally trying to hit a moving target.

This generation is savvier and better informed than ever before. They know when they are being pitched and they typically turn away from that. Young or old, we want to connect to the brands in our lives that our important to our lives. We want to be either entertained or emotionally moved by their message. An eco-friendly, budget-friendly, quality, product may still not appeal to everyone and before spending valuable resources of time and money hunting a millennial customer base, take the time to explore if that's who you are. There will always be unexplainable trends and exceptions to that rule where a specific demographic connects with a disparate brand (think Cadillac SUVs and young money) but the more marketing meetings that focus on immersive, good story telling to consistently excite and re-ignite your base will likely be the ones to yield more impactful and sustainable campaigns for brands with staying power. And while there will always be opportunities for edgy and targeted advertising that seeks to reach out and attract a younger consumer, if that's not your core fan base then let that be where you dabble but not where you swim.

So I offer this thought to my friends and colleagues; don't target millennials, target humans. As it turns out these two groups are one and the same. Just stop chasing this white rabbit as if the rules of marketing have somehow drastically changed for them. This generation, like the ones before it, will inevitably age, evolve and mature just as you make some traction on learning their lingo. Marketing has never been and shouldn't be about trying to speak someone else's language but rather presenting a genuine position of who and what your brand is in a compelling way. In the end, the reality is that brands tell their story for all to hear and only some to react. You can't be everything to everyone and it's imperative to know who your customer is and even more importantly who it isn't. Young, old, media savvy or not, people secretly desire to be engaged in commerce and if you properly align a valuable, age appropriate product with a meaningful message... watch what happens.