Surprise! Millennials Actually Like (Some) Marketing Mail

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Millennials – usually defined as individuals born from about 1981 through about 1997 – are on the cusp of becoming the largest generational cohort in the U.S. population, and they are already the largest component in the U.S. labor force. Several recent research studies have found that Millennials are now playing significant roles in B2B purchase decisions. Therefore, we are witnessing a generational shift in B2B buying.

Some B2B marketing pundits have argued that Millennial buyers have distinctive characteristics that require different marketing and sales methods and tactics. One recent research report emphatically stated that “the Millennial buyer is impacting the entire buying journey and the old marketing and sales tactics won’t work.”

In reality, however, many of the claims made about the attitudes of Millennials are greatly oversimplified or just plain wrong. The global research Ipsos has characterized Millennials as “the most carelessly described group we’ve ever looked at.”

In a detailed analysis of Millennial attitudes and behaviors published last year, Ipsos wrote, “Myths and misunderstandings [about Millennials] abound, with bad research jumping to general conclusions based on shallow caricatures about a group that makes up 23% of the population.”

Clearly, B2B marketing and sales professionals must recognize that Millennials have become active participants in the B2B buying process, and they must be prepared to engage Millennial buyers on their terms. But to develop and execute effective tactics and programs, marketing and sales leaders need an accurate picture of the attitudes and preferences of Millennials, not “shallow caricatures.”

One of the most pervasive ideas about Millennials in general – and about Millennial B2B buyers – is that they are digital addicts who prefer to do everything online, and who view other means of communication with disdain. Recent research has shown that this “digital only” view simply isn’t accurate, and now a new study has found that Millennials actually like “snail mail” more than is commonly believed.

Millennials and the Mail discusses the findings of research conducted by the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (“OIG”). The research report is based on two surveys:

  • The 2017 Postal Omnibus Survey – A nationally representative survey conducted in the summer of 2017 that produced 3,391 responses from U.S. residents, including 1,130 responses from Millennials.
  • The 2018 Millennials Survey – An online survey of 2,497 Millennials conducted in April 2018 that targeted a nationally representative sample of 18 to 34-year-old U.S. residents.

In addition to the surveys, OIG hosted a moderated online discussion board in February 2018 that engaged 69 Millennial participants in an in-depth conversation about several mail-related issues.

Some of the findings of this research reinforce common perceptions about Millennials. For example, OIG found that Millennials receive fewer mail pieces, and pick up and review their mail less frequently than older generations. The research also found that Millennials have a strong preferrence for receiving and paying bills online. 

Other findings, however, show that Millennials have positive feelings about postal mail. Three out of four Millennials, for example, said that receiving personal mail makes them feel special. 

Millennials also like (and respond to) “marketing mail” more than is commonly believed. In the OIG research, 62% of Millennials said they had visited a store in the past month based on information received in the mail, compared to 55% of GenX respondents, and 52% of Baby Boomers. In addition, more than six out of ten Millennials said they like receiving coupons through the mail from restaurants and other retail businesses, and more than half said they like receiving mailed ads from such businesses.

The findings of the OIG research demonstrate that the attitudes and preferences of Millennials are more nuanced than is generally believed. And while this research focused on the attitudes of Millennials as consumers, it’s likely that Millennials will exhibit similar attitudes and preferences when they’re acting as B2B buyers. The important lesson here is that B2B marketers shouldn’t rule out the use of direct mail just because they’re marketing to Millennials.

One final thought. When reviewing any research study, it’s important to consider the potential self-interest of the organization that conducted or sponsored the research. Therefore, I would normally be at least a little skeptical about research regarding the popularity of mail that was conducted by an arm of the Postal Service. In this case, however, the OIG appears to have followed market research best practices when designing and executing this study. You can find a detailed description of the research methodology in the Appendices of the research report.

Image courtesy of Kate Ter Haar via Flicker CC.

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