As a writer and a millennial – and one who specializes in millennial-focused copywriting, no less – I am painfully aware of the challenges faced by brands writing for this audience. We hate advertising1, use fast-moving language steeped in internet and pop-culture allusions, and – due to infamous amounts of screen time – are constantly bombarded by marketing messages to the point we consider them white noise.
But the most intimidating aspect of writing for millennials? We’re extremely unforgiving. Drag on too long, try too hard, or veer into murky politically or social territory and you’ll find yourself getting slammed on a Buzzfeed list faster than you can say “our brand is so on fleek rn.”
At Skidmore, we’ve got a lot of thoughts on how to talk to millennials (see also: this and this), but here are some of the most important things to keep in mind as you craft messages for the largest and most powerful consumer group in history.2
Millennials are people, too
Though it compromises my job security as someone who writes for millennials, I cannot stress this point enough: There is no secret sauce. You’re writing for real people, with real thoughts and feelings and needs and goals. Millennials are not internet-raised aliens but human beings who speak the same language(s) you do and want copy to be written in a clear, concise, and human way – just like everyone else.
If you begin any copywriting task with that in mind, you’ll be off to a great start.
Use your own voice
When courting millennials, it’s tempting to abandon your brand’s voice in favor of so-called “millennial speak” in an attempt to sound relevant or funny or get shares. If your brand defines itself as irreverent or informal, then sure – throw in some Twitter shorthand or emojis (we’ve compiled a slang dictionary here). But for most brands, incorporating millennial slang will just come off as disingenuous or pandering.
Because you’re dealing with a generation that holds authenticity among its chief values3, it’s best to use a voice that rings true for your brand. As Nicole Fenton and Katie Kiefer Lee put it in their book, Nicely Said: Writing for the Web with Style and Purpose, “Your voice is the fiber of your communications…it should come from a real place.”
Have you clearly defined your brand voice? If not, it’s time you do. Otherwise, it’ll be incredibly difficult for writers to craft copy that’s both authentic to your audience and consistent across mediums.
TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read)
We’ve all heard that millennials just don’t read. The truth is that they do, just differently. Millennials are expert “scanners”4 with zero tolerance for walls of text or copy that takes too long to get to the point.
So, when crafting copy for a millennial audience, it’s absolutely essential that you keep it snappy and skimmable. Prioritize the important stuff (Inverted Pyramid, all my J-School peeps!!!), trim the fluff, break up copy blocks with headers and/or mixed media content, and always – always – consider how your content will break down in mobile.
Contrary to our industry’s tired-but-still-prevalent stereotype of the entitled-white-millennial-yuppie-hipster, Gen Y is the most diverse generation in history.5 When crafting copy – even if it’s for a distinct millennial subgroup – be cognizant of this generation’s wide spectrum of racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual identities. This may influence not only the attitudes and themes conveyed in your brand messages, but also your brand’s word choice (e.g. more self-identification options on forms, using the singular “they”).
Millennials are also the most philosophically egalitarian generation yet. They view people as equal and will reject any messages that hint at sexism, racism, or have any kind of discriminatory undertones. Though the advertising industry has been notoriously slow to keep up with millennial attitudes, brands like Unilever are finally wising up for good in favor of more inclusive messages. All brands would be wise to follow suit.
Remember that millennials aren’t one big, scary, unknowable target audience. They’re single professionals and parents, homebodies and world travelers, foodies and fast-food eaters – individuals with any number of unique characteristics. Find your brand’s authentic voice, and use it to speak to your audience with the empathy and respect they deserve as individuals.
Need help finding your voice? Making your messages snappy and skimmable? We’ve got a team of writers and strategists (including me!) that’d love to help.