Stop Selling to Millennials, Start Helping Them

09/12/2017 12:32 pm ET

By Oren Frank, CEO, Talkspace

You’ve read a million articles about how to sell to millennials. There are over 6 times as many search results for how to market to this population as compared to baby boomers. These articles detail exactly what typifies the demographic, their every capricious whim. They’re passionate, but they’re disengaged; they’re overly sensitive, but they’re aloof; they’re destroying the world, but they’re saving it. Most of these pieces feel out of touch, contradictory, and anthropological — scrutinizing a demographic as if it landed on earth having descending from a distant star system.

The endless over analysis is embarrassing and, though Talkspace provides online psychotherapy, we can leave the pop psychology to others. We prefer to deal in hard data and we’ve learned something about these folks — who make up the largest slice of the US labor market — simply because they’re such a core part of our user base.

What Actually Drives Millennials

Overwhelmingly, the two most significant insights we’ve gleaned about millennials is that:

  1. They’re always online
  2. They’re stressed

We see these characteristics borne out in research — millennials (18 to 35) are significantly more stressed than is average for the population. Having come of age during the great recession, millennials were met with the highest unemployment rate since the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing depression.

As the labor market shifted downward, many traditionally entry-level positions were snapped up by those who had more years in the workforce. Millennials gained less valuable real-world experience, which very often correlates to future earnings. They’re saddled with student loan debt, unable to afford the typical mile markers of adult success: car, home, marriage. These financial pressures have a compounding effect, leaving the demographic more anxious, but less financially able to afford mental health care to cope with these challenges. As catch 22s go, their situation is a fairly dire one.

Millennials are passionate about social good. 84% percent believe that making a difference is more important than professional recognition, and 87% feel that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.”

Interestingly, in 2012 the number of smartphone users surpassed 50%, a milestone coinciding with the exponential rise in social media use. Though millennials may be somewhat hamstrung by economic realities outside of their control, technology has allowed them useful workarounds for these fiscal constraints. Remote work, vehicle shares, online marketplaces for goods and services help them — depending on whom you ask and their circumstance — either survive or thrive.

So manifestly pronounced is millennial demand for cost and convenience that it even plays out in regard to their health. Indeed, almost 1/3rd of millennials avoid seeing the doctor to save money. And 19% of millennials have asked for a discount on medical care compared to only 8% of population generally.

These two factors — economic constraint and demand for online convenience — are what we’ve seen driving millennials first and foremost. For marketers not speaking to these needs, the path may be…difficult.

The Millennial Unicorn Fallacy

Combine these demands, however, and you may have something. Always online and accustomed to instant access to media via streaming, takeout via delivery apps, and transportation via ride sharing, the on-demand lifestyle leads millennials to favor convenience and expediency.

We see this everyday at Talkspace. Millennials have no trouble messaging their therapist from their living room, in fact, the notion of traveling to a therapist’s office is not only prohibitive, but positively absurd. This is borne out by data. Even for in-person care, 34% millennials prefer quick-service retail clinics (versus 17% of boomers and 15% of seniors). In other words, millennials demand instantaneous care.

Millennials are also more likely to shop around than their older peers. Again, much of this may be chocked up to economic pressures, but we hear frequently from clients that they have scrupulously researched a host of other online therapy services, compared costs, user experience, customer care, and reliability via user reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. This demands a longer customer life cycle and a commitment to building brand loyalty. How do organizations serve these needs?

Simple. Provide a superior product and service.

Finally, while not every organization can be entirely purpose-driven — millennials are passionate about social good. For millennials themselves, 84% percent believe that making a difference is more important than professional recognition, and 87% feel that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.”

We’re lucky at Talkspace that millennials are passionate about mental health. These savvy young people are taking better care of themselves than any previous generation — and that includes advocating for mental health. They’re our loudest voices on social media, advocating for a decrease in the stigma surrounding mental illness and an increased access to care. Their passion is breathtaking and we feel lucky to be helping to serve their needs.

While not every organization is directly aligned with social good, there are opportunities such as B-corporation certification, or simply setting up company-wide charitable giving or volunteer opportunities. But remember, millennials don’t appreciate being used. Their bullshit detectors are extremely sensitive. Don’t do it for the recognition. Don’t do it for the PR coup. Do it because you’re motivated and the purpose-driven initiative is associated with your corporate goals. Millennials will be all too eager to share their transformative human stories that your brand helps to facilitate.

This is exactly what we’ve tried to do at Talkspace. We’ve built a product that we strongly, passionately believe helps our clients, and supports their mental wellbeing. All of our efforts go toward helping them achieve their goals by working with a licensed therapist — whether this means recovering from the effects of past trauma, wanting to be less anxious, or simply having better relationships and leading more productive lives. We’ve tried to create spaces that decrease stigma and raise awareness about the challenges faced by sufferers of mental illness everywhere.

The recipe to engage millennials authentically is a simple one. If you meet millennials where they are — don’t patronize, condescend, or treat them as anything other than young people who have come of age during a particularly trying moment in history — you will be rewarded with their passion and their loyalty.

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