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The art of marketing to millennials

Millennial consumers want to get to know the artists whose work they like. This mural was painted by British artist Banksy. Julien's Auctions via Reuters/file 2015

Marketing to millennials has become every company’s obsession. While the generally accepted picture of the millennial consumer is the starving college student or young grad, there are 6.2 million millennial households in the United States earning $100,000 or more each year, according to research firm FutureCast, and they’re on track to spend $1.4 trillion annually by 2020, says consultant Accenture. Sure, a lot of that money is spent on high-tech gadgets and new fads, but traditional markets still have a place in the digital world.

Here are some tips to win over millennial buyers as discovered through one such traditional market: the art world.


Millennials prefer researching things themselves. Companies that provide information publicly and allow potential customers to dig into all aspects of their products are far more likely to succeed. In the art world, millennials tend to collect or buy from websites that let us track artists, sales, and prices.

Millennials prefer online. Think Etsy or the hours spent reading blogs of obscure European artists. Millennials like to be able to sign up online for events, see who else is going, and have a seamless way to interact with our favorite artists. We want to have updates, e-mail chains, and sites that we can compare side by side. Some of us want the anonymity of Internet forums. Some of us just don’t want to leave our homes to buy stuff.

Millennials prefer a community. Millennials want to be able to talk about the things we’re doing and buying with other people like us. As big believers in originality, we prefer small communities that we can use to complain about how everyone else in the world just doesn’t get it. This community should preferably interact both online and offline and include not only brand spokespeople, but the people who design and make the product. They drive discussion and create a sense that millennials belong to the identity of the brand and can help shape it.


Millennials prefer artist appreciation to art appreciation. Art appreciation is dying. But it’s also never been a better time to be a starving artist or musician with a viral social media feed. Millennials don’t care as much about who created the art or how famous you are. In fact, many of us want to discover that one person that no one else has bought stuff from before. And then we want to get to know the artists, understand how they create their work, and be able to follow them.

Millennials prefer narrowly tailored brands. Google is a dog company. Apple is for the outcasts who grew up to be rich tech nerds. Budweiser is for bros. The reason social media is important is that it’s allowed us to identify with people and products and ideas that are exactly like us. Gone are the days when brands can tell us what to do and how to behave. We want to find niche artists and companies that already speak to us as a person. Artists of all types — from Jennifer Lawrence to knitters on Etsy — have to take time to describe themselves, their personalities, and their personal lives, so that we can identify with and feel like we know them.

Millennials are diverse. Millennials don’t want to buy the same piece of art twice. We want impressionist paintings, a bit of modern art, cool trinkets from all the places we’ve been to, and DIY crafts. We want to listen to classical music, oldies, and Lady Gaga. Galleries that have the same type of pieces over and over again or companies that don’t consistently rebrand (this time it’s in rose gold!) have a harder time holding our interest.


Millennials prefer experiences, not things. It’s way cooler for us to be able to say that we’ve traveled to a new country or met a new artist than to say we bought an antique or a painting. We want ways to interact meaningfully with the things that we own. We want art events where we can meet performers, eat and drink with friends at the same time, or create our own art. We want concerts with light-up bracelets and trending hashtags. We want authors to have “Ask Me Anythings” on Tumblr.

Millennials like unusual investments, not safe stock or ostentatious wealth displays. Many people think we’re not doing things like buying homes or art, for example. Not true. While we wait longer and focus more on careers, we also intricately understand the value of things as investments: ways to create more wealth now and secure more wealth for later. We prefer cash to stock, but we like emotionally investing in companies. We want a piece of the pie for actually doing something. It’s why many of us buy stuff on eBay, Paddle8, or smaller arts websites like ArtPal, or support artists and small businesses directly through crowdfunding platforms, but are loath to buy stock in large companies or invest in famous paintings or artists.


Isvari Mohan can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.