Millennials in the Marketplace: A New Breed of Consumers and Employees

By Susan Knobler

Release Date: June 1, 2015

Expiration Date: January 23, 2017

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Understand and identify the Millennial and their attitude drivers.
  2. Learn what motivates the Millennial as an employee and consumer.
  3. Know what to implement in your marketing plan for the Millennial.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Susan Knobler Susan Knobler, is the founder and former Director of OneSight; Director of Development, Cincinnati Ballet and is currently a clear and persuasive writer and grant writing consultant with academic, nonprofit, business and consulting experience.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course SWJH601


Millennial is the name that has taken hold to describe the generation of young people born between 1981 or 2000 who, in 2014, range in age from 15 to 34 years old. They are also sometimes called Gen Y, or the Boomerang Generation, for their habit of returning home to live with their parents as young adults. While they may be our children, they bear little resemblance to us at their age.

Ashton Kutcher, Serena Williams and Mark Zuckerberg are famous Millennials. Your neighbors, coworkers and gym buddies are everyday Millennials. All have been hit hard by the 2008 recession, 9/11 and numerous school shootings. On the positive side, they grew up in child-focused homes sheltered by parents who tried to protect them from the world's evils while, perhaps, overscheduling their childhoods.

Millennials often get a bad rap. They are depicted as entitled, selfish and lazy, a demanding group spoiled by technology that values little over having fun. (You may recall that Baby Boomers were also described this way at first: selfish, entitled and unwilling to grow up.)

But they are no longer kids. Millennials now comprise the largest population group, having grabbed this position from the Boomer generation. They represent 27.4 percent of the population while Boomers equal 23 percent according to the 2012 U.S. Census. Millennials are expected to make up 50 percent of the workforce by the end of 2014 and 75 percent by 2025, and be responsible for 30 percent of retail sales by 2020. They are taking on more and more leadership roles in business, government, communities and culture.

Millennials are smart, confident, tech-savvy social activists concerned about the environment and social equality. (A Wall Street Journal poll in October 2014 states that 68 percent of Millennials favor same-sex marriage compared to 48 percent of Baby Boomers and only 38 percent of Traditionalists.) They are passionate, collaborative and innovative. They abhor the hierarchy of a traditional corporate structure. Millennials add unique perspective to any workplace and as managers, it's important to help coach and mentor them to prepare for future leadership roles.

As customers, they're poised to change the way almost everything is sold because of their international, instantaneous digital connectivity. They see work as a means for doing good in the world and look to purchase products affiliated with causes they care about. We'd better pay attention and take them seriously, learn who they are, how they see their world and how to employ and sell to them.


First and foremost, Millennials see work as means for doing good in the world, even more important than gaining professional recognition.

To understand how they see their world, let's compare their attitudes to three key issues with those of previous demographic groups: Career Goals, Work Life Balance and Workplace Feedback. Then we'll present practical steps for motivat ing a generation with these beliefs. Try to force Millennials to fit into your definitions, and they will run for the door.


1. Provide both flexibility and structure. While Millennials prefer flexible scheduling of work time, they require specificity concerning their job definition and project goals. They are ready to take on the world, so show them the big picture and where they fit. Share where their career might go within a time frame they can envision, not five years from now. Provide guidance, even daily teaching and coaching. Assess progress frequently. Be prepared to fulfill whatever promises you make.

2. Leverage their comfort with teamwork and collaboration. Millennials like to do things in groups, so put them on work teams and create workplace events that bring people together. Think not only about face-to-face teams, but also international teams through digital networking. Millennials' intense connectivity leads to high acceptance of diversity. Use this preference to make sure your workplace reflects the customers you serve.

3. Listen to them. Millennials are used to loving Boomer parents who scheduled their lives around their children's activities. They have ideas and opinions and want to express them. Shaped by technology, they are innovative and embrace rapid change. Be willing to try some of the new approaches they suggest.

4. Accept multitasking as a normal way of doing business. This is their way of life, not necessarily a sign of poor attention to detail. Leverage their electronic/digital literacy. Put Millennials in charge of your business' website, Facebook page and "Green" program. Never let a Millennial employee be bored.

5. Provide a fun, work-life balanced workplace. Millennials work hard, but not the 60-hour weeks defined by Baby Boomers. They want to enjoy their work and make friends in the workplace. They want to get the job done, then put it behind them and get on with their life.

6. Inspire a Purpose-Driven Workplace. Multiple research studies suggest that Millennials want to work for companies trying to solve the world's problems. Overwhelmingly, they see their jobs as a means for doing good in the world. According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report from Achieve and Case Foundation:

  • A company's support for a cause is one of the most important factors in deciding whether to apply for a position and remain with the job.
  • Nearly half of Millennials surveyed had volunteered for a cause or nonprofit through their workplace in the past month.

Your challenge is to figure out how to put their passions to work. Make sure your shop has an updated vision statement and set of values and communicate these to your employees and live by them. Affiliate with a cause in the community for the right reasons, not just to build sales and enlist Millennials' support. Focus on partnering with a sector of the nonprofit world that makes sense to your business and keep it long-term and authentic. Provide volunteer opportunities that allow them to use and develop skills, in addi tion to focusing purely on the social importance of a cause.

Any effort you put toward adapting to Millennials' work style will pay off. Build relationships with them from the beginning, implement a flexible, collaborative, fun, socially responsible workplace and increase your use of technology. With little sense of employer loyalty, Millennials will network right out of your workplace if their needs are not met.

The good news is that setting up your office/shop as a progressive workplace will, at the same time, make your products/services more appealing to Millennials as consumers.


Just entering their prime spending years, Millennials will soon be the group driving the economy. Fueled by credit cards and shopping malls in an age of relative affluence, the Baby Boom era is over.

According to a Goldman Sachs report, Millennials: Coming of Age in Retail 9.13, Millennials as shoppers are:

  • Earning less than previous demographic groups, having been hit hard by recession.
  • In no hurry to get married, start households, buy homes, appliances and cars.
  • Much more health-conscious; attracted to athletic brands.
  • Extremely tech-savvy. Because they are so engaged in sharing knowledge and opinions with peers digitally, they are early adopters of new ideas, concepts and products. This will drive the speed of change even faster than what we've known.
  • Not brand loyal.

1. "Do good" as a company. Implement strategic, long-term and genuine partnerships that make sense for your business and are not simply marketing ploys. According to a 2011 study by ad agency network TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart, the digital division of Participant Media, 7 in 10 young adults consider themselves social activists, 1 in 3 boycott or support businesses based on the causes they care about, and 4 out of 5 said they would be more likely to purchase from a company that supports a cause they care about if price and quality were equal. The good you put into the world will now return to you through this generation.

2. Update your store/office design. Introduce some interactive and experiential displays such as tablets that teach and demonstrate the benefits of products like AR, photochro-mics, free-form, polarized or sun lens colors. See Oakley View, ABS Mirror, Optikam and others.

3. Go green and let your customers know. Millennials feel a strong connection between personal and planetary health which guides their purchase decisions from food to cars. They pay attention to energy inefficiency and smile upon efforts to preserve the earth's resources. They are driving the growth of the green movement.

Implementing a green business is not just for the big guys. According to a 2012 report based on the Office Depot Small Business Index, "61 percent of small businesses are trying to go greener while 70 percent anticipate becoming more environmentally-conscious in the next two years."

Applying green processes to the workplace improves worker safety and health, reduces cost through increased energy and material efficiency, and helps affect social change. It creates new revenue opportunities by catering to the growing consumer segments that seek out green businesses and may even provide tax benefits, depending upon local and state policies.

Going green can occur in steps and need not break the bank. In fact, approaching the process as a team can build office morale. At a store meeting, brainstorm all the green activities your office might put in place, then check off what you're already doing. Put a Millennial in charge of your goals and next steps. Consider the following basics:

  1. Recycle using appropriate bins in break rooms and labs.
  2. Reduce consumption of energy, water and other natural resources and hazardous emissions.
  3. Reduce hazardous emissions.
  4. Use more energy-efficient appliances and vehicles to reduce consumption of energy and water. Remember to turn off lights at night, unplug electronics from their outlets when not in use and/ or use energy efficient lightbulbs.
  5. Use biodegradable paper products. Stay away from Styrofoam. Use recycled paper for everything from computer paper to Rx pads.
  6. Scrutinize suppliers to be sure workers who manufacture your products are paid a living wage.
  7. Use more local suppliers.
  8. Sell products committed to sustainability.

For example, Vision-Ease Lens advertises that its Minnesota facility manufactures with 100 percent renewable energy. Its website states that, "By converting to energy-efficient lighting sources and post-consumer packaging materials, streamlining shipping processes and recycling 100 percent of scrap products, Vision Ease Lens has reduced its carbon emissions by more than 99 percent."

On the frame front, Modo launched ECO (Earth-Conscious Optics) in 2009, a collection of eyewear that uses recycled stainless steel, "to create frames that fuse fashion and sustainability for the stylish and earth-conscious consumer." In 2011, ECO Kids was added. All styles carry an UL Environment Validation certifying the products are made from a minimum of 95 percent recycled stainless steel of acetate.

  1. i. Clean with eco-friendly cleaning supplies. Several for-profit companies offer "green certification" and counseling to small businesses at a price. Before going this route, consider hooking up with a local SCORE Mentor through the U.S. Small Business Administration ( and check out the wealth of information on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( industry). While public response is not the prime motivation for going green, it is definitely a welcome side benefit. Let customers know what you're up to, but keep it honest. Avoid "green-washing," the act of misleading consumers by overstating or misrepresenting environmental practices.

4. Research and seek out brands that feel unique to this group. Millennials learn about "cool" brands through social media and prefer those vetted by their peers. They visit stores to see if a product fits. So make sure your in-store experience has some "cool factor."

5. Use social media. Improve your website and turn it into a source of terrific content. Create a Facebook fan page. Make sure both are smartphone-friendly. According to a 2014 study by SDL, a global customer-experience management company, Millennials check their mobile phones 43 times daily and are up to 56 percent more likely to learn about brands and products via Web content delivered by phone than via e-mail or traditional search engines.

Every generation wants to make its mark on the world, and Millennials are no different. Having grown up in an era of technological innovation and global inclusion, they bring a different set of ideas and expectations as both employees and as customers. Employers and marketers who tap into their unique interests and strengths will have the edge over competitors.