July 5, 2017 @ 9:55 AM

I recently had an online conversation with a businessman who was looking to help a trade organization reach out to the millennial generation. It fostered some great conversations about marketing and even called into question the role of trade organizations today.

Below is a shortened paraphrased version of that conversation and names have been changed or redacted.

Here is what he had to say:

“Looking for everyone’s thoughts on an idea. Our organization faces some struggles with reaching the consumers. From youth engagement which is a major topic right now, to consumer awareness of what our organization is and what it does, beyond being only a trade show once a year. I believe we should create a membership for consumers, perhaps something like the NRA has.
This membership could provide benefits for both the organization and the consumer. Consumers could get discounts from our member companies that opted into the program, perhaps a subscription to the magazine, much more access to scholarship’s for youth, and so on. The organization would benefit by being more known and having a much greater reach to the consumer.
I think the consumers in the industry would be proud to support the industry and our member companies any way that they can. With the recent government regulations we can easily see how hungry the consumers in the industry are to help out and to be a part of the industry. I’d like to hear everyone’s thoughts on this, good and bad.”

Now on the surface, this sounds like a good idea has the trade association reach out to the consumers with education and industry information. But the problem with looking at a niche market from the inside we tend to forget that most consumers give little thought to the inner working and politicking of a trade organization. Plus, with as an organization made up of members with different brands and products, the marketing message might not fit all of the brands

One commenter who not only falls into the millennial category but is tasked with marketing to them for a major brand had a great reply.

He said:

“In my opinion, a membership system is definitely not the way to engage the young consumers. Honestly, I think it has been one of the downfalls of the organization for some time now. Which, unfortunately, is often looked at as corporate-run with an elder management structure (even though this isn’t entirely the case). You even mention the NRA. Do you think the youth (or consumers in general for that matter) are truly currently engaging with the NRA?”

The OP replied that the NRA was a household name and touted the benefits of being a household name. Some members of the group agreed that creating this system would be a benefit to their business and that the trade organization should consider reaching out to retail consumers. But the vast majority of the commenters saw it as just another way for the retail customer to bypass retailers and dealers and buy direct.

But the conversation had drifted far from the original purpose, which was, ‘how does an industry, an organization, or a brand connect with the retail customer, especially the millennial buyer?’

Here is what I had to say:

“I agree that a membership card is not something I (as a millennial) look for from a brand. The only people I see taking selfies with their membership cards, are holding up one from AARP.
The organization as an overall umbrella would only give consumers some kind of confidence if it promised something of value. A ten percent discount for showing your card is not a big incentive for me to sign up, since most retail brands are often offering all kinds of discounts and promos. Any promise beyond that would just become a major administrative and marketing nightmare for the organization.
The other issue is that this organization lets anyone join, so what real stamp of approval is it? How do we tell the story that being a members means you are dealing with a professional, serious, legitimate brand when authentic brands have the same “Stamp of Approval” as the knock off brands?
If being a member is suppose to mean something, it has to actually mean something if you expect to overcome the skeptical millennial buyers. With the current membership including companies that have nothing to do with the industry, shady offshore knock off factories, and intellectual property thieves, that stamp of approval is superficial at best and deceptive at worst.”

No consensus was met among all the members who were involved in this chat, but what was clear was that the shift has already happened and organizations are scrambling to figure out what is next. As much as I hate to say it battle lines were being drawn between the generations (for the most part), the older wanting to keep everything as is, and the younger agitating for some kind of solution to what they see as a throwback to the 1970s. What this really brought to the forefront of my mind is the fact that most brand’s marketing directors are completely lost and seeking answers.

So what are organizations and brands to do? I can only share what it is I am doing with my brands and the clients I consult with, but here are four ways I am reaching millennials.


Just like the commenter pointed out about gimmicky ‘membership cards’ Millennials aren’t looking for empty promotions. They want value and they want authenticity in the brands they deal with and the products they buy. Today more than ever before consumers have access to reviews, product information, and pricing in just a few clicks. We tell our brand’s story over and over again, through blogs, social media, and traditional advertising. We make pricing, shipping, and promo codes, clear and easy to use.


Far too many brands are obsessed with creating content by the pound, and you can see it right away. I can’t tell how many times I will sit down in a meeting or answer the phone to hear about how much content is being produced or pushed. No thought is given to if the content is any good. Is the content driving real results? Is it achieving its goals? So much is focused on the number of likes or views, without really focusing on the data and conversions.

Reacting to the moment your consumer is in:

Dealing with large corporations sometimes it can take 4–6 weeks to get an Instagram or Facebook post approved. That doesn’t work, social media is about embracing the moment. Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Live Tweets, sure a bad Tweet might slip through the cracks, but it's a small price to pay for being in the moment and part of a community.

Being where you consumers are:

Millennials are constantly shifting and adapting to new social platforms, technology, and trends. But many marketers are often behind where the buyers were or are too far ahead of where they may be one day. A good example is the focus many marketers are putting on 360 videos, big brands and firms are spending a lot of money on it. But, so far, the community really doesn’t see a lot of value there yet, the quality is still not great and the user experience isn’t up to the standards most people expect. Right now it is a novelty, one day it might be the right platform, but it is not the right platform, for right now. Figure out where you consumers are active and become part of that space.