Retail Evolution

4 Companies that Are Connecting with Millennials (and Their Children) through Marketing

Kate Silver

It’s time to hit the “reset” button on yesterday’s marketing tactics. Times they have a-changed, and today, consumers want a personalized experience, not a one-size-fits-all product. Doug Straton, chief digital commerce officer with Hershey, recently wrote an insightful piece for MarketWatch analyzing the ways that companies are connecting with millennials and their children through marketing. “Yesterday’s shopping experiences are no longer relevant,” writes Straton. “With our devices, we’re summoning rides through Uber, ordering groceries online via smart lists, subscribing to and binge-watching our TV shows through Netflix. Everything is on-demand, everything is personalized and everything is available right now. And when we like our experiences, we share with those we care about.”

In the piece, Straton highlighted four companies that “get it.” Here's who they are, and how they're reaching young audiences in new ways.

MGA Entertainment

If you haven’t heard of L.O.L. Surprise! by MGA Entertainment, odds are you were on a digital detox over the holidays, when it was the runaway (and surprise!) hit of the season. The appeal lies in the reveal: the sparkly dome is filled with wrapped balls, which hold wrapped surprises—50 total—including dolls, doll clothing, stickers, charms and more. Search  “L.O.L. Surprise!” on YouTube and you get more than 6.8 million results, many of which are unboxing videos. Straton says marketers should pay attention to the success of this gift, which reflects what kids get excited about. “There may be no better metaphor for companies looking to connect with millennials (and clearly, their children),” he says. “Today, how this generation experiences, communicates and shares information about products is in many ways more important than the product itself, and critical to brand building.”


You can hold an entirely personalized world in the palm of your hand (or on your tablet or computer) thanks to Apple. Straton points out that millennials wish to be seen as individuals, and this multinational technology company delivers that through its products and its communications. “The way Apple approaches design and marketing, and the way it delivers on its value proposition are all about simplifying the complex and allowing individualism and self-expression. Nothing is more personal–or personalized—than what you experience and share through your phone. Apple’s advertising reflects this,” says Straton.

Sun Basket

Meal subscription programs don’t just make weeknights easier, they also introduce new flavors into the workaday routine, and can help consumers keep their diet on track. Sun Basket, a San Francisco-based meal subscription delivery service, is a great example of this, offering vegetarian, gluten-free and paleo options and personalizing recipes. On the one hand, Sun Basket is a product. On the other hand, it’s a personalized service that continues to evolve, keeping consumers engaged along the way. “Tightly connected to personalization through experience is the blurring between what we traditionally think of as a ‘product’ manufactured by a brand and what we think of as a ‘service,’” says Straton. “Unlike products, services can be improved and updated 24/7, at relatively low cost.”

Thrive Market

Thrive Market isn’t just an organic e-commerce site. It’s a full-on lifestyle brand, backed by business intelligence and rich content. Thrive members pay wholesale prices (25 to 50 percent off retail) for food and natural products, such as beauty products, items for babies and kids, health goods, pet products and more. The business is a good marketing example, in part, says Straton, because it offers an array of occasions for users return to the site. “It caters very specifically to its customers’ behavior and feedback, particularly around the importance of a shared social mission,” says Straton. “Its product sales enable this, but Thrive’s proposition can stretch to other lifestyle choices beyond organic food.” 

Businesses that resonate with younger audiences connect with them authentically and build trust. Customers can be a company’s biggest allies. They can also serve as the loudest marketers—if they like what the enterprise has to offer, and the brand behind it.