Parents are expected to spend $675 on back-to-school purchases, according to Brand Keys survey.

Despite being months away from the madness of holiday shopping, ‘tis the season for retailers to sign off on holiday marketing efforts. According to NRF, one-fifth of all retail sales occur in November and December, and the 2018 holiday season is shaping up to be especially promising.

As the largest generation in our history, it’s no surprise that Millennials are a key demographic and highly researched group for brands finalizing holiday marketing plans. There are thousands of perspectives and reports unpacking Millennial shopping habits. But there’s something too often overlooked — Millennials are older than you think!

Millennials, a cohort of 80 million, have matured, and with that comes major life events like marriage and having children. Last year 40 percent of Millennials were reported to be parents — that’s 32 million moms and dads. According to the NRF, Millennial parents are more educated than parents in other generations and are more likely to have above-average household incomes. So the top factor for brands preparing for the holiday season? Rethink your Millennial strategy.

Utility above all else

Millennial parents are busy. A recent study from Boston College found Millennial dads are enthusiastic about parenting duties. Eighty-five percent of Millennial fathers reported they want to spend more time with their kids. Millennial families have embraced a coparenting approach, yet tend to overwork professionally, resulting in an incredibly busy schedule.

What does this mean for retailers? Utility is key. Whether promoting an app, holiday ad campaign, or mobile wallet program, the program must be simple, efficient and bring added value. While there has been a recent shift toward consumer-first, personalized, omnichannel strategies among retail marketers, it’s the utility of a marketing campaign that will make or break a brand’s goals this holiday season.

Sarah Martinez 

Retailers don’t need to reinvent the wheel to bring Millennial parents utility, either. Many advancements are already in place based on existing technologies. For example, e-mail — a medium that’s transformed in its own right. Today e-mail technologies allow brands to amplify the coupon experience with location-awareness to remind users to cash in on deals with mobile notifications.

Another key consideration for Millennial parents? Timing. Valassis notes that 62 percent of Millennial parents often make purchases during the workday based on getting a promotional e-mail, digital ad or mobile notification from retailers.

Make it digitally savvy

At the same time, many technology partners are also making significant innovations in advertising formats, especially on mobile devices. Mobile has transformed shopping as we know it, so marketers must ask: how can we create useful and meaningful connections with shoppers on mobile?

Take augmented reality (AR) for example. AR ads offer shoppers an enhanced experience, while also providing the utility today’s consumer demands. Within an AR ad, shoppers can select pieces of furniture and virtually place those items in their living space, all on their mobile device. Shoppers can see how a lamp will appear in their living room, before making their purchase. Imagine the impact an AR ad campaign could have for a retailer trying to reach a busy Millennial parent this holiday season.

From location-based marketing to AR, push notifications and of course, personalization, mobile apps can have a major impact on the Millennial parent’s journey by offering utility. Furthermore, a quality mobile ad experience is something this cohort will pay for. According to a recent study, over one third (37 percent) of consumers reported being willing to pay more for a product or service providing that they can get a superior shopping experience with mobile. When Millennials are broken out, the number rises to 44 percent, which is twice as high as consumers older than 65.

Balance the funnel with brand love and loyalty

I’d be remiss not to mention the value of effectively managing sales funnels — especially when targeting Millennial parents. Yes, it’s obvious, but many retailers get caught up in sales and forget to invest time, energy and budgets into the entire customer acquisition cycle and building loyalty. As Millennials become parents, studies show that they become increasingly loyal to specific brands. NRF notes that half (49 percent) of Millennial parents will continue to purchase from a preferred retailer or brand even if there’s a cheaper option available.

We recently partnered with Kantar to analyze data from more than 150,000 consumers across the globe to define drivers of brand love with results of what actually moves consumers. The survey identified a brand (and their brand love) can be measured by how well it exceeds needs, sets trends, shares values, builds trust, elevates experiences, and respects consumers.

How can retailers get there? From social engagement to premium short-form videos, content is a proven driver of in-store traffic, helping to connect the dots between online and offline sales. Retailers are starting to realize the value of content in driving brand loyalty and sales, whether it’s published editorial on their website, custom videos, or mobile tools that offer unique brand amplification. Story-led campaigns, from user-generated content to sponsored content, all ultimately contribute to the sales process and can be an essential differentiator for brands targeting Millennial parents this holiday season.

Retailers should start driving brand awareness now, leading up to the 2018 holiday shopping season. Look to exceed Millennial parent needs by offering utility, set trends with innovative campaigns, build trust with premium content and elevate experiences with new ad formats, throughout the funnel. From awareness to interest, consideration, intent and evaluation, leading to a new brand loyalist and ultimate purchase.

While this is by no means a perfect equation for effectively connecting with Millennials and inspiring loyalty, understanding their habits, nuances and life stage can help to get you there. The holiday shopping season is rife with noisy, competing promotions.

Sarah Martinez is the vice president and retail industry lead at Oath, a media, tech, and communications hub.

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