Don’t Fake It

Authenticity is everything when marketing to Millennials

A Distributor Asks: As a Baby Boomer, how can I best engage with Millennial buyers? What specific communication and marketing strategies have other distributors found that work best with this generation? And is there anything I should absolutely avoid doing?

A Baby Boomer, depending on how aged and how hip, can find it tough to be relatable. Staying up on current trends can be helpful. Acting and dressing more casually at in-person networking events can assist the older generation in being a bit more approachable. Just don’t overdo it and try to be something you’re not; that is a major turn-off.

In my experience, the younger generation is more interested in leisure time than in killing themselves with a 60-hour work week. Engage by asking about what your younger client or potential client is doing this weekend. Then the next week, remember and ask how it went. Ask about the person’s pets if you know they have them. Be personal and personable first. Once you’ve developed a personal relationship it will be much easier to close deals.

People do still buy from those they know, like and trust. With my older clients this trust and friendship is built in the same way; however, the personal connection seems to not be as important as with my younger clients. If you can find a common interest or hobby, make sure to exploit that to the fullest. Doing the same thing that young people do and speaking knowledgeably about it will certainly make you more relatable.

Marketing and outreach must be as fun and eye-catching as it always has been. Include pictures of a younger person using the product you’re presenting to make the ad more relatable. Use bright colors, which are in style right now (especially neon).

Stopping in to their office with a little gift, unannounced, then leaving quickly so as not to be annoying or take up too much of their time seems to work well. That way you know the person got your message and received your smile.

Avoid seeming stodgy and old-fashioned. Don’t show up to their laid-back office space in your suit. Yesterday’s news isn’t interesting so be sure to be innovative and think differently; bring a new idea even if it seems weird—at least it’ll give you something to talk about. Don’t try too hard; just be you, try to be relaxed and find out about the person. Millennials like talking about themselves just as much as anyone–if not more–so get them talking about themselves. Lots of info and insight will be revealed.

Tom Gudekunst, CAS

Sales Manager

MARCO Ideas Unlimited


By the end of 2015, Millennials officially took over the Baby Boomer generation as the largest living consumer population in the U.S. By the end of 2017, they will carry the bulk of the spending power.

They have come of age just as ecommerce, cell phones, social media and instant messaging have become pervasive technologies that this generation understands and, more importantly, uses daily in their business and personal buying decisions.

In our category of promo and apparel, a great number of them have become the buyers and decision makers for imprinted promo and apparel items. If you are not a person of this generation and mindset presenting to them, then automatically you are at a disadvantage and need to shift your sights to get on their level quickly.

Millennials’ view of products lends itself more to the perception of what is valuable and authentic. This is a big reason why the technology category within promotional products has grown so quickly and will continue to do so in the coming years. This group views technology products as valued and authentic in their day-to-day lives.

In addressing the Millennial marketplace, both suppliers and distributors need to do so in a different way. They should not just sell them products but sell them experiences.

Reaching them needs to be different as well. As my father once said to me, “Fish where the fish are.”

In the case of Millennials, go to their fishing holes—social media sites such as Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook—in order to reach them with ideas that engage them.

Don’t do that, and the smarter distributor that does will catch the fish.

Forrest Fairley

Director, Channel Support, Promotional Products

Safeguard Business Systems


First things first: Believe it or not, many younger buyers do not like to be called or considered a Millennial. Some of my younger friends, colleagues and clients have communicated to me that they like to be considered innovative and progressive leaders—instead of being labeled a demographic category. Regardless of the age group, it’s unrealistic to think we all communicate the same way. One of the key components in successful intergenerational engagement is really in the communication style. Many distributors, including me, have made the mistake of expecting younger buyers to respond to phone messages or face-to-face communication. The Millennial generation prefers technology. Reach them where they reside: on their mobile devices and workstations. Use short, concise emails and consider Skype for conferencing. Regardless of the generation, any professional utilizing technology to its fullest will become quite proficient in conducting business.

Fast facts about younger buyers:

1. Do not try too hard to relate. It’s more about respecting the style of communicating.

2. Stay up-to-date and trendy but don’t try to mimic them.

3. Understand needs, consult with straight talk, and steer with facts and value.

4. Never sensationalize or embellish (this is a good rule of thumb for anyone at any age).

5. Regardless of age, never complain about taking a sales order from a text. It doesn’t matter if it’s digital or on a bar napkin. An order is an order.

Embrace and appreciate the differences of communication with any generation. Understanding how a potential buyer communicates and responding accordingly is the first step in closing the sale.

Dan Livengood, CAS, BASI, ATM-S

Senior Account Executive

Brand Management Division

Business Impact Group

UPIC: Busin946

I think the first issue is that everyone is spending so much time assuming that Millennials are very different than other generations. The basics are still the same; we want to have a relationship with people we work with. While it may look like a different relationship on the surface because so much is done virtually, it is still a relationship.

One thing I work on with all of my account managers is get to know a buyer on a personal level. You don’t need to friend them on Facebook, but see if you can find their profile. What do they like? What do they dislike? Is there something you have in common? I buy from many suppliers because they “get” me. Some I have never met but I still feel a connection with them. Some know what university I went to and send me items featuring that logo, or they know I have a new baby and ask to see pictures or hear stories. I, in turn, try to have the same relationship with my clients. So they know I get them.

The second thing to think about is “why?” Our generation is not only focused on what we are doing but why are we doing it. I find that many of my clients are interested in the research behind why one product is better than another. Why is there value in buying the travel mug with the vacuum feature? Why should I consider ring-spun cotton? We are a generation that has known little or no time without technology or the internet. If you can’t answer the why question, we will find someone who can. Make yourself the expert.

Whether you are using blogs or just sending over an interesting fact sheet, create that value so if someone just “Googles it” they find you and then seek your knowledge.

Finally, when something goes well, throw it out there. “I loved that idea you had to kit the items together for your show. I’m going to recommend it to another client,” or “I saw on LinkedIn you posted an article about attending the trade show. I thought it was really interesting.” We are a generation of the participation trophy, and with the good, bad and ugly of social media we are all seeking some validation. Ask for pictures of the trade-show booth or of their team wearing the shirts. Help them feel like they are doing well. And if they are doing really well, think about sending a note to their boss. They would do it for you.

There is an element of human vs. internet, but I think that line is shifting a little. More buyers are preferring to interact on some level with an actual person when they are making their decisions. Be ready to create that relationship and add value and recognize successes and you will find a loyal customer who will Yelp about you.

Jessica Gibbons-Rauch, CAS, BASI

Director of Sales

Club Colors Buyer, LLC


Millennials can’t be stereotyped any more than Baby Boomers can. However, most Millennials do have these characteristics in common:

They don’t consider their job to be a long-term commitment. They are quite tech savvy. Consequently, providing them with cutting-edge technology is very important.

Transparency is highly valued. They want to know that what they are doing matters, and they want to be recognized for it. Millennials tend to be very cause-oriented. They are more concerned about improving the world than they are about their employer’s bottom line.

Millennials represent the future, and they can teach you how to market to their peers.

David J. Hawes, MAS+

Brand Architect


UPIC: geiger

New Question:

A Distributor Asks: I’d like to sell a client on a gift incentive program for their sales team. However, my client says that I need to prove to her bosses that an incentive program is worthwhile in order for them to spend the money. What’s the best way to present a sales incentive program’s worth? What research can I use to back up my presentation? Send your answer to

Due Date: April 29