Marketing to Millennials—Three Steps to Making the Lifestyle Connection

Marketers wanting to reach Millennials can learn a lot from Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s experiments.

For those unfamiliar, Steppenwolf Theatre Company was launched in a church basement in the 1970’s.  Early members include John Malkovich, Gary Sinise (a founding member), Laurie Metcalf and Joan Allen. The company has always been ambitious about attracting new audiences.

A while back, we worked with Steppenwolf on their Millennial Audiences project. Our job was to interview a range of Chief Marketing Officers from global brands such as Ford Fiesta, Red Bull and Google to discover best practices for converting Millennials. You can download the findings are in our free eBook: Tipping the Culture.

We learned some amazing secrets. Chief among them is the importance of making a lifestyle connection with GenY.

Let me explain.

Like most people, Millennials are busy. They aren’t sitting around wondering what’s missing from their entertainment mix and concluding, “Oh, yeah—I need more live theatre in my life.”

Classic institutions that are serious about attracting younger audiences must be willing to experiment with ways to mesh and morph their offerings. In this case, Steppenwolf aimed for a wrap-around lifestyle experience: dinner, theatre, socializing.

Check out an experiment Steppenwolf dubs The Scene. It’s marketed this way:

“A special opportunity for high school students to score an affordable ticket to a Steppenwolf production, meet Chicago’s most celebrated artists and connect with other teens who are passionate about theater. Each ticket includes dinner and post-show discussion with the actors.”

Steppenwolf makes the lifestyle connection with Millennials in three ways:

1. Make it achievable—young people remain grossly under-employed, so the more value and price sensitivity the better. Note that dinner is included, and affordability is emphasized.
2. Meet a social need—hang out with friends, see and be seen, deepen a romantic connection (date).
3. Transfer meaning–Using rituals and key symbols of their brand message, The Scene brings new people into ritual spaces (theatre) where they can slowly attach their own meanings to those key symbols.

Want your brand to be center stage with Millennials? I advise you to take a cue from Steppenwolf when staging your brand experience.