How Digital Native Millennials Are Changing Modern Innovation Strategies

Posted by Jon Hall on Apr 14, 2015

 170081410While a lot has been written about Millennials and how to market to them, innovators have been struggling to figure out how to evolve their strategies in order to capitalize on the sheer size and influence of these consumers. By understanding and involving Millennials in strategy development, brands can ensure they truly deliver against this group’s needs, wants and desires. In this post, we’ll discuss how successful innovators can take advantage of their technological prowess and engage Millennials in their innovation process.

Though Millennials are known for their “you only live once” attitude, commitment to social causes, and penchant for doing things their own way, if there’s one defining characteristic that makes them more unique than any of the other generations, it’s the fact that Millennials were raised as digital natives. By definition, a digital native is someone who was born or brought up during the age of digital technology and therefore familiar with computers and the Internet from an early age. While older generations have had to adapt to these major technological changes, Millennials are the first generation to be “plugged in” from birth, and most were able to outperform their parents on computers by the time they started kindergarten.

This unique upbringing and experience has given them many advantages when it comes to embracing new technologies, and as the world of business continues to become more online-focused, their strength in the marketplace has never been more apparent. In order to reach this unique group of consumers, innovators will have to find new ways to reach this digital audience and align their brand’s messaging with their core values.


With 50% of Millennials claiming that they need constant Internet access, it’s no wonder the majority acts as if their smartphones are glued to their hands. According to Experian, 77% of today’s Millennials own a smartphone, and the average owner spends 14.5 hours a week using it for texting, talking, and media consumption. Despite making up just 29% of the population, Millennials account for 41% of the total time Americans spend using smartphones, and 50% of Millennial consumers say they access the Internet more often through their phone than through a computer. Whether they’re streaming music and videos, posting a picture on Instagram, or researching that new restaurant downtown, Millennials are constantly using their smartphones and always keep them within arm’s reach when they aren’t. As a matter of fact, 83% admit to sleeping with their smartphones in their bed, compared to just 68% of Gen Xers, 50% of Baby Boomers, and 20% of the Silent Generation.

Social Media

According to recent data from the Pew Research Center, Millennials are the most active generation on social media with 89% having a profile on a social networking site. And while the gap has closed in recent years with 82% of Gen Xers creating a profile as well, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are still well behind at 65% and 49% respectively. For Millennials, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram provide an endless source of news and entertainment, as well as a hub for their social interactions with friends and family. Because these digital natives feel compelled to stay up-to-date on the latest news and events, the average Millennial spends 5.4 hours on social media each day. This might explain why they’re so attached to their smartphones, as 67% of Millennials use social networking sites on their phone, compared to just 50% of Gen Xers, and less than 20% of Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation.

Brand Research

It’s predicted that by 2020, more than 80% of the buying process will occur without any human-to-human interaction. As brands continue to focus on expanding their online reach, Millennial consumers have access to more and more new information each day, and use their digital knowledge to find the exact answers they’re searching for. Before entering a store, 62% of Millennial shoppers already know what they want to purchase thanks to previous online research, and 84% say consumer-written content helped influence their purchase decision. Even when they haven’t done any prior research, 46% still say they use search engines while in the store, compared to just 29% of Baby Boomers. Rather than talking to a salesperson or customer service, 57% of Millennials say they initially turn to online search engines when they want more information about a product.

Defining the Digital Native Mindset

When Millennials were asked to list a few ways in which their generation was unique, 24% said their technology use was their most distinct trait - more than any other response from any generation. These digital native consumers are constantly seeking out and consuming information online, and prefer companies who’ve optimized their online experience and content. For Millennials, being a digital native means:

  • They grew up with technologies rather than having to adapt to them
  • They’re highly knowledgeable of technology and extremely resourceful
  • They believe their use of technology makes them unique
  • They view technology as a way to make things easier and connect people
  • They expect to find helpful, transparent product information online

What Does This Mean for Your Brand?

With Millennials being more knowledgeable and obsessed with technology than any other generation, today’s innovators need to focus on their brand’s online presence, mobile friendly-design, and multi-channel engagement strategies if they want to stay relevant. As a matter of fact, 52% or Millennials say the technology a brand uses is the most important factor when making a purchase, and more than 33% say they would remain loyal to brands that stay up-to-date with technology. To help you connect with these unique consumers, here are five strategies companies can use to attract digital-native Millennials:  

Live Chat Customer Service

Despite Millennials love for social media, when it comes to human-to-human social interaction, it’s no secret that Millennials would rather communicate via text message or online chat than in-person or over the phone. According to a recent report from, 56% of respondents aged 18 to 34 prefer live chat customer service to phone – regardless of the nature of the question they’re asking. Compare that to just 27% of respondents 35 and older, and it’s easy see the disparity between generations. For a generation that grew up communicating to each other through computer and phone screens, not only is live chat customer service the most comfortable option for digital natives; it’s also the fastest and most convenient. In fact, an survey revealed that 63% of customers are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat, with 38% also saying they’ve made a purchase as a direct result of their chat session.

Increase Transparency with Consumer Reviews

Millennials are careful shoppers. Knowing they can find information on just about anything online, Millennials take advantage of the available resources and do their due diligence before making any purchase decisions. From restaurants to car insurance policies, there isn’t anything Millennials won’t research, and when it comes to researching product information online, user-generated peer reviews are seen as one of the most trustworthy sources. 68% of Millennials say they trust the information in peer reviews, and 60% even rate and review products and services themselves. As a generation that values transparency, they want to know exactly what they’re getting themselves into, and they feel obligated to be transparent about their own experience. If your product or service is as great as you claim it is, these reviews can serve as the best form of promotion. In fact, one watch ecommerce site was able to increase sales by 58% after adding customer reviews to their product pages.

Use Technology to Support In-Store Displays

As we explained earlier, the majority of Millennials turn to search engines when they want to find more information about a product – even when they’re already in the store.  Whether they consult consumer reviews or branded content from the company itself, Millennials like to go the extra mile when researching a sizeable purchase or investment. One way you can aid their research and make their purchase decisions easier is by using technology to support your in-store displays. For example, looking at the E*TRADE Mobile app, users can scan a product’s barcode with their smartphone and instantly find trading information about that company. It’s quick, convenient, and tells them everything they’re looking for in a matter of seconds. You could also use QR codes to accomplish the same thing. 

Create More Access Points

With companies having access to more marketing channels than ever before and consumers having access to more media, today’s innovators must understand how to win over customers in several different environments. The “moment of truth” for consumers isn’t just influenced by in-store displays or TV advertisements anymore, and today, brands must focus on several different marketing channels in order to maximize their efforts. New research has shown that the average Millennial spends 18 hours a day consuming media – often using multiple devices at once (1 hour of TV watching while web browsing = 2 hours). Whether they’re surfing the web, watching TV, or checking their Twitter feed on their phone, Millennials are constantly connected to a device and spend several hours online each day. 

As brands continue to become more online-focused, Millennial consumers are looking for more ways to interact with them and research their offerings. 64% of Millennials think companies should offer more ways to share their opinions online, and 63% actually follow brands on social media. Not only that, but 72% are also more inclined to download a branded app as well. Millennials are always looking for new technologies to make their transactions smoother and more enjoyable, and developing an app can help you win over more mobile consumers. For example, Blimpie, a national sub sandwich chain, introduced their Blimpie Run app in an effort to engage their Millennial audience. Users can play the app to win free subs for a year, while also receiving offers and discounts to use at their local restaurants. A week after launching the app, Blimpie saw opt-in rates to join their eClub increase by 36%!

In addition to creating an app, make sure your brand is on all relevant social media channels as well. Whether your audience is using SnapChat, YouTube, Twitter, Pintrest, Facebook, or Instagram, find where they spend their time and create opportunities for engagement. Not only will they provide an excellent source of customer feedback, but you’ll also be able to promote your brand in a popular public domain. Chandon Champagne is an excellent example of this. 

Mobile-Friendly Design

According to a recent report, 73% of Millennial consumers have made a purchase directly from their smartphone. With Millennials using their smartphones as go-to devices for product research and online shopping, it’s crucial that your brand implements mobile-friendly solutions for your customers and prospects. Not only will a user-friendly, mobile app or website design lead to more sales and conversions, but it will also help improve your position in the search rankings. While there are several real-life examples of mobile-friendly website design increasing sales, the results from NARS Cosmetics were particularly impressive. NARS Cosmetics, a nationally recognized cosmetics brand, wanted to introduced a more user-friendly, simplified responsive website, without compromising their site’s striking imagery. After launching their new website, NARS saw a big spike in their metrics, with smartphone checkout conversions increasing by 54% and tablet checkout conversions increasing 24%.

Ready to incorporate the digital native mindset into your long-term innovation strategy? While there are plenty of resources available for you to read about what makes Millennials tick, with SpencerHall’s Millennial Transforum® Brain Trust you can engage directly with some of the best and brightest Millennial minds in a fully customizable innovation process to meet your specific business needs. You can uncover the nature and depth of Millennials’ unique perspective, and brainstorm with them to create strategies, messaging, products and services that will truly resonate with this crucial consumer segment.

Download our brief to learn about how our Millennial Brain Trust process can reveal breakthrough innovation opportunities.

Transforum for Millennials

Topics: innovation, Millennials, product development