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Drive millennial sales like Ford with these 3 tips for CMOs

Millennials will spend money with brands that speak to them authentically. They will not spend money on brands that talk at them in tired, traditional, and overtly manipulative ways.

Too many marketers focus on only the mechanics and wonder why the results don’t follow.

In order to drive sales among 18-34 year olds, CMOs must understand how to interact with millennials as partners. Positive sales will follow when there is a solid understanding of what this audience wants, and a conviction that success comes from the strategy and the tactics.

One great example of a brand that is doing an amazing job of unlocking the millennial code is Ford Motor Company. They have a product that everyone said millennials would not want to purchase. But in less than five years, the automaker has jumped from fourth in consideration among Gen Y car buyers to first place. In 2014 they reported an 80% increase in shoppers 18-34 and their sales are the fastest growing among any US auto brand in the millennial segment, according to Erich Merkle U.S. sales analyst for Ford.2

Clearly the automaker is using some very smart strategies that are translating directly to sales. Here’s what we can learn from Ford about successfully targeting millennials:

1. Actively cultivate your brand advocates and influencers
2. Invest in the big picture marketing journey
3. Bring only extraordinary creative


Recent studies have shown that a single brand advocate can influence 150 people to make a purchase decision. Twenty years ago, Michael Jordan did it for Nike. Today, bloggers hold the power.

Brands like Ford understand the impact a “core influencer” can have. They study and learn who the influencers are, and over time they convert these people into brand fanatics. Influencers then speak to the real target audience and share their honest experiences. When those experiences are positive, it drives sales.

For Ford, the core influencers were bloggers.

In 2010 Ford reached out to a number of bloggers and invited them to use the Ford Fiesta and honestly report on their experience. Because the target audience trusted the bloggers, they trusted their opinions, and bought the Ford product based on their recommendations.


Millennials are simply too smart for a marketing “slight of hand” approach of repackaging products or services with a “new and improved wrapper.” A frozen pizza brand changed its box with a new typeface and added the color black “because millennials like darker colors.” The product inside was the same bland product. There was nothing new or different being offered. There was no other strategic initiative. And the product failed.
Ford, on the other hand, recognized five years ago that their entry-level cars were not appealing to millennials. Rather than adding some new colors, they reached out to their target audience and asked why their products didn’t appeal to them.

Turns out millennials love technology. And they’re willing to pay for it.

Up until that point, the prevailing wisdom was to make cars cheaper for millennials. Adding more technology was counter-intuitive because it made the cars cost more. But marketing got involved to help create a product the audience was asking for, and worked alongside the engineers and product designers to deliver a product.

It was not the quick fix of changing the advertising, but a longer journey that began with understanding the desires of the consumer and then delivering those features. Gaining the deeper understanding of what technology features were important, and the value of those features rather than the price allowed the sales to increase.


Recently completed research by The Boston Consulting Group has shown there is a strong correlation between the quality of the creative and the effectiveness of a marketing campaign.3 Multiply it by a factor of 10 when you are considering the millennial audience. This demographic is an incredibly sophisticated and discerning group of buyers.

If you want to impact your bottom line, make the experience and the brand story resonate with the audience.

Make sure your message – and the delivery of that message – is flawless. The days of winning with the volume of impressions and overspending on media are long gone. A comprehensive approach that links strong and consistent messaging across print, broadcast, and digital is critical. Building in authentic social media and a creative solution that builds on the brand will drive your sales.

Look what Ford has done with the Doug, the spokespuppet for the Focus. Doug is a cheeky, irreverent orange sock puppet who is only found on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. But he is a creative creation that is able to speak to the audience in a way that resonates with them and allows the message to hit home. It is a wonderful example of understanding the millennial audience, engaging them creatively in their social networks and then allowing the conversation to organically grow.

If you are looking to impact the bottom line with your millennial marketing efforts, follow Ford’s lead. Think about your influencers, invest in the long haul, and make sure your creative executions are top notch.