How to Market to Millennials

Steve Yastrow doesn’t consider millennials a lazy, entitled or selfish bunch. Instead, he calls them the “creativity generation.”

A business advisor and consultant who in 1997 traded in a career as a senior marketing executive in the hospitality industry to found marketing firm Yastrow and Company, Yastrow has authored three books on branding, selling and connecting with customers. His latest, “Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion,” outlines how salespeople can exchange stale, scripted sales speak for more spontaneous—and effective—conversation.

Engaging, two-way conversation is something that appeals greatly millennials, who Yastrow believes are ushering in a whole new era of sales and marketing.

IA: Can you elaborate on your description of millennials as the “creativity generation”? How does this affect the way this generation consumes media, advertising and ideas?

Yastrow: The old way of marketing and selling was delivery of your message—you send your message out in advertising and brochures or your salespeople deliver your pitch. That’s a dead way of marketing and selling for anybody, but especially when you’re talking about marketing to millennials, who have this mindset of “I can create things on the spot.” You can pull out your phone and make a movie, and post it to YouTube and put it out there in the world. You can write a blog and publish it. You don’t have to depend on other people to create things.

With that mindset of being a “creativity generation,” when I’m sitting in a sales call with an independent agent who wants to sell me insurance for my first house or car, I want to participate in this conversation. I’m not used to being an innocent bystander—I don’t like being an innocent bystander. Millennials have this automatic feeling of empowerment. They don’t want to be told how to think. That means you have to create a conversation, not a presentation.

So how does an independent agent make sales and marketing a conversation?

Your clients care about themselves a whole lot more than they care about you. When you’re pitching, you’re telling them your story—and they don’t care about your story. They care about their story. So focus the conversation on them, and then weave your stories together. Make sure 95% of the conversation is about the client. Listen and observe what your client’s telling you before you figure out what you’re going to say. Who are they? How do they make decisions? What’s the situation with their business or their life? The whole principle of “Ditch the Pitch” is based on improvising with a customer. You learn about the client, but you also really interest them in the conversation.

Let’s discuss some of the most common stereotypes about millennials: they’re lazy, they’re entitled, they’re selfish, they have short attention spans. How can an independent insurance agent use all this to inform how they sell to this demographic?

Don’t sell these people short. The two millennials I have working for me right now are the two best employees I’ve ever had, and I’ve had people working for me for 30 years. There may be lazy millennials out there, but I think that stereotype is a dangerous one. Independent insurance agents can find really successful young people who are very smart, very self-reliant, who believe in their own uniqueness, who are personally empowered—millennials notice when you’re stuck in your own ways. If you pull out the PowerPoint you gave to your last five clients, they’re going to think you’re stuck in 1997.

Millennials have grown up in a world of individuality: I am unique, I am different, there’s nobody like me in the whole world. I have control of my life, I’m self-reliant, I get to make decisions—don’t tell me what to do. So if you just tell me “Here’s what insurance is all about” and “People your age should have this kind of coverage,” wait a minute—I’m not like other people my age. I’m unique. You’re going to turn that millennial client off. On the other hand, when you ditch the pitch and you make it a conversation about them—not an explanation of what you do—you’re much more likely to fit into the way they see the world.

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA assistant editor.