Sales Promotions for Millennials:
How to successfully engage with the new generation of shoppers
by Frances Yu
I was recently on an Iberian cruise that began in Portugal and ended in Barcelona.  This two-week vacation was a much needed break in what had been an extremely challenging year.  As I took in all the sights and sounds; enjoyed the various adventure and cultural tours; and dined to my heart's content, my niece was having a parallel adventure of her own throughout our trip.
In every place we would go, she was intently focused on catching Pokemons.  While this did not necessarily detract from her enjoyment of the surrounding scenery, it enhanced her entire vacation experience by adding a dimension of gaming and adventure.  For those who have not heard of it (and who hasn't?!), Pokemon Go is a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS, Android, and Apple devices.  It entails catching these little pocket monsters going out in the world.  These little monsters come in all shapes and sizes.  The most famous of these Pokemons is Pikachu. After two weeks of vacationing, my niece proudly declared that she was able to catch 100 different Pokemons; quite a feat from what I understood about the game.  This phenomenon has become hugely popular as it entails a challenge, active and physical engagement, and lots of fun.  The photo system has helped it go viral quickly.  It's inherently social and inherently active.
It contains many of the elements of what the millennials and new generations of consumers respond to.  As I think about how much marketing has changed only in the past two years, I cannot help but reflect on what the implications are for marketers across disciplines:  from advertising, PR, loyalty programs, and sales promotions.  Even these distinctions are in need of reinvention.  This article will focus specifically on creating sales promotions that are more exciting, engaging, and effective in this fast-changing environment. 
First let's do a quick review of millennials and why they matter.  Millennials are born between 1980 to 2000.  By 2017, they are projected to have more spending power than any other age group.  They have also been referred to as Gen CSR, with 50% saying that they would be more willing to make a purchase from a company if their purchase supports a cause.  They are connected 24/7 and fully immersed in digital technology.  They network and communicate digitally, value convenience, flexibility, and mobility.  They feel entitled, "It's all about me." and "I want it now."  They also crave experiences. 
With that brief description, let us now look at 4 ideas to help pump-up your promotions to be more appealing and engaging to millennials:
Gamification entails the use of game-like incentives or game mechanics to your promotion to engage customers.  These could take on the form of points, badges, leader boards, levels, and challenges.  This becomes even more exciting when the social component is added in which social communities are created in the various challenges.
One of the most popular examples of the use of gamification to engage customers is the Starbucks My Rewards Program. Players register for My Rewards through an application. Every time they purchase a Starbucks product, they accumulate stars (which actually look like cups that are graphically filled in).  But the game does not stop here. There are three “levels” depending on the degree of user loyalty. More frequent visits to a Starbucks store is awarded through an upgraded level. Examples of benefits include: an extra cup of coffee, a birthday gift or even offers designed especially for the customer.
Using Social Media for Social Responsibility
Many companies have made their corporate social responsibility programs, social.  Kohl's Department Store in the U.S. gave away $10 million to various schools decided by the votes of their fans on Facebook.  The 20 schools with the most votes were each given $500 thousand.  Kohl's Facebook page skyrocketed to over a million fans.  The winning schools each garnered over 100,000 votes.
Target in the U.S. asked its fans to select an organization where a $1 million donation would be made.  It kept its fans updated in real time which charity was in the lead.  The winner, decided by its fans, was St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.
Creating Experiences
Experience has become the new by-word in marketing today.  Millennials crave experiences.  One such brand that seems to truly understand this need is Harlan & Holden, a local specialty retailer.  The store's "Healthy Mondays" provide loyal customers with delicious and nutritious treats every Monday.  The philosophy behind this is that the brand wants to make healthy living accessible and easy; and it also seeks to help its customers lead healthier lifestyles.  It is held every Monday as Monday is about rebooting so that customers may begin their week on a healthy note. 
Recently, Harlan & Holden launched its new line of shoes called Caminos.  The name takes its inspiration from the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, the famous Spanish pilgrim’s route that stretches across Europe.  To illustrate the shoes' attributes of lightness, comfort, and durability, the company invited a group of individuals to participate in a trek across Bhutan in four days using the Caminos.Bhutanhas continually been ranked as the happiest country in all of Asia, and the eighth happiest country in the world.  To be on the receiving end of a free trip to this country is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Omni-channel is growing because consumers shop anytime, anywhere, anyhow, with any device.  Tech-savvy customers are actively comparing prices in-store, online and on the go.  Armed with multiple devices and looking for the best deals, consumers are increasingly price savvy, price sensitive, and even price influencers. Consumers do not make distinctions across channels and expect one, consistent experience across touchpoints.
With this new generation of consumers, more and more pressure will bear upon marketers to recognize the need for change, embrace the challenge, and clearly define its strategy for attracting and engaging millennials as customers. 
* * *
Frances Yu is the Chief Retail Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc., the only advocacy-based training and consultancy firm focused on marketing, sales, strategy and innovation., write to
mentors@mansmith.netor log on to for more information.