How To Engage Millennials Purposefully!


There is a lot of information about Millennials out there- in fact, there’s probably almost too much. This information is often contradictory. It’s rarely actionable, and often misleading or overly broad. Yes, Millennials may believe strongly in social causes, but that doesn’t mean that this belief drives all their purchase decisions. Yes, Millennials are perhaps interested in well-made products with an authentic story- but that’s not to say that Gen X’ers aren’t!

We recently did a project with the smart folks at which had us look at the leisure behaviors of Millennials and the potential implications for brands who want to engage them. We couldn’t find an actionable model, so we decided to create our own based on secondary and primary research. Based on all the data we collected regarding Millennials leisure activities, we framed this “universe” along two core discriminating variables:

  1. Where they were alone or in a very small group vs. a large group activity
  2. Looking to relax (52% of the time) or looking to be more active (48% of the time)

These two dimensions lead to a perceptual map which highlights four distinct Millennial “leisure zones.” Two of these offer especially rich opportunities for brands and advertisers that are looking to engage.

The opportunity for marketers is twofold: to first understand the what- what types of activities are Millennials doing in these leisure zones? What type of media are they interacting with? The second opportunity is to understand the why- what are the contexts, emotions, and motivations that matter in each leisure zone?


  1. The chill zone. This is when Millennials decide to chill. Usually they’re at home, and typically they’re alone or with a friend or two. 52% of Millennials prefer these types of leisure activities according to Mintel’s Millennials Leisure Activities report (2013). Especially because many Millennials are dealing with economic insecurity, it’s likely this type of leisure is popular because it doesn’t cost anything. But, connectivity is still the rule- even if they’re alone. This is a key moment when social connectivity, online video and music streaming, video gaming, content and information consumption happen. This is a key moment when Millennials focus in on screens- tablets and smartphones, and perhaps TV screens (especially if it’s connected to an Xbox). This is also the zone of Youtube Karaoke (ever wondered why so many music video have lyrics attached them?), board games and personal content creation.
  1. The adventure zone. This is the stereotypical Millennial zone that we see portrayed in advertising. Groups of young people jumping off a cliff into the wide blue ocean, driving in a classic convertible down a winding desert road, long hair flowing in the win. Or of course, maybe they’re having an awesome roof top party (usually in Brooklyn, NY) with a multi-million dollar view of the Manhattan skyline. It is interesting how cliché and out-of-reach most Millennial advertising looks, especially when considering that they have this supposed thirst for authenticity. But I am digressing. In the adventure zone, Millennials are on the go with their friends. The destinations are way less exciting that what is shown in advertising. Local sports events, movie theaters, concerts and plays, even the zoo. When Millennials go out they want to maximize the value they get for their below average budget. In this zone, they want to create or participate in share-worthy experiences and turn those (hopefully) into stories they can share.


The “maintenance zone” and the “Bonding zone” are far more challenging areas for brands to meaningfully engage Millennials. In the “maintenance zone” they are usually on a “mission”, either going to the gym or yoga class or at the dog park. The “bonding zone” which usually happens in larger groups (more than 3) and usually at someone’s dining room table or backyard (or at a restaurant) is the zone where relationships are nurtured, stories shared and board games played (Cards against Humanity anyone?).

The lines between the zones are fluid and Millennials move between them seamlessly. However, understanding the context in which you’re trying to reach this demanding audience and their frame of mind within that context provide useful guidance for brand initiatives.

  1. The chill zone. In this zone, Millennials are pursuing their own interests and brands here need to compete for their attention and interest as the Millennials pursue their goals. So, as a brand which would you rather be? The brand that interrupts their quest for fun with annoying pre-rolls and disruptive banners? Or do you want to be the brand that fuels their interests and passion? And let’s face it, while many brands aspire to be like Red Bull or GoPro and wow Millennials with original content, the majority of brands out there will never be able to produce the type of content that captivates Millennials the way these two brands do. And they don’t have to.An analysis of successful Millennial campaigns First-The-Trousers recently did shows that a large number of the brands that successfully engaged Millennials either relied on celebrities (pop stars, online celebrities, familiar radio hosts, etc.) to introduce their brand to those consumers or on existing entertainment or media properties (Walking Dead anyone?). Using the equity of these celebrities or media properties often acts as a short cut to gain Millennials attention.
  1. The adventure zone: Millennials operate on a tight leisure budget. In fact, some studies show that their leisure budget is 40% lower than the American average. It is therefore not surprising that they seek to maximize the leisure value they get for their money, which provide a perfect opportunity for brands. Engage them at these outings by enabling them to get more out of the experience whether through participation, or by providing some sort of additional value.In fact, another interesting learning from our study of successful Millennial campaigns is that many of the brands we looked at associate themselves with a big event (whether a sports event, a national holiday, Comic Con, etc.) and find ways to amplify Millennials’ experiences at these events (often through anticipation and participation) or by providing them with the digital tool to share their experiences.


Understanding the various “leisure zones” in which to reach Millennials can provide some useful tips on the frame of mind your audience is in, what they want and expect in those moments and the role the brand can meaningfully play in those situations in order to add value and engage.

And, even better than providing a clear sense of what brands should do, it can also help them understand what to avoid!