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Marketing to centennials

Aug. 1, 2019
Who they are, what they care about, and the changes they are bringing to marketing your practice

By Susan Baker

The eldest centennials are already in their early 20s, and by 2020 that entire generation (born 1995 to 2012) will be responsible for 40% of all consumers.1 This generation, also known as Generation Z, was born into the digital world. However, many are making conscious choices to disconnect from technology in small ways. These seemingly contradictory changes are the marketing winds of the next few years. 

The centennial profile: price-conscious, advocacy-conscious, authenticity-conscious

Centennials are price conscious. Growing up with online-shopper parents means they are used to comparing real-time prices from the safety of their mobile devices. This means a hard sell won’t sway them, and neither will concealing the price. At the same time, seeing most goods on a desktop or phone screen makes them more sensitive to actual quality. Quality drives loyalty for 57% of centennials, and price drives the purchase for 55%.2 

Centennials are advocacy conscious. Like their Generation X parents, they want to make a positive difference, and to make sure that even their everyday decisions, such as which dentist they choose, makes a positive difference. Even though the clinical services of the practice are also important, seeing that your personal straw is reusable and made of bamboo goes a long way with them, too.

Centennials are authenticity conscious. Growing up natives to the digital world means much of their memories and experiences are two-dimensional and fit on a screen. It also means they have been oversaturated by videos and images ironed into perfection.

Now that we have a better idea of what appeals to centennials, let’s get to practical marketing tips. 

Speak their language on every platform

It’s no longer about creating one viral ad that you blast across all the channels. According to the white paper by MNI Targeted Media, each social media platform has its own lingua franca, so to speak.1 Centennials didn’t need to be eased into the social media world—they exist on many platforms simultaneously.

That means centennials will see your advertisement on at least four platforms: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. If it is exactly the same one, it will add to the daily digital noise. They might unfollow you on one or more platform; it’s that easy, and they won’t think twice. They want to know you as a “person” (authenticity) rather than as a brand.

To get their attention, speak the platform language. Twitter is where they get the latest news in bite-size; you can share trivia and related articles there. Facebook is where they join and start conversations. Instagram is where they showcase themselves; they can share your relatable posts, or they can become organic brand ambassadors. YouTube is where the videos are, so you’ll find the centennials there too. A story-telling ad can catch and hold their attention.

Have a conversation with them

Conversations range from the relational face-to-face to the more formal email-to-email, and then to the informal direct message–to–direct message. Centennials managed to skip the email-to-email phase and went straight to direct messaging, with peers who are online 24/7. They expect the same kind of attention from brands. 

When centennials message you or use your contact form, respond conversationally, with a “hello” and using their names if they provide them. A simple emoji, like a smiley face, won’t hurt either! Don’t worry about formalities. Centennials are more practical than the previous generation.3 All they want is a direct answer—the quicker and more helpful, the better.

This means pay attention to when they mention you on social media. Centennials rant on Twitter, so answer them on Twitter. They give feedback through both direct messages and comments, so answer them on both. Nothing turns a centennial off more than an unresponsive brand.

Be easy to navigate

Don’t make centennials jump through hoops. Of all consumers, 47% leave a webpage if it doesn’t load in one second.4 Centennials in particular will open a page and then close it if it’s not obvious what they should do next. They don’t need to care because their options are nearly endless.

The more well-presented and easy-to-understand information you have in one place, the more chance you have of keeping their attention. Invisalign is a good example of this: in its page on underbites, it describes what an underbite is, why it’s important to treat it, and if they, as a brand, can really fix it. Footnotes and journal articles add to the credibility.5

Centennials look for authenticity because trust and the truth are important for them. According to the McCann Worldgroup’s study, 72% of people believe truth is the most important factor in any situation.6 If centennials believe your brand or office is aloof, simply because your online responses are slow and your website is hard to understand, they will go elsewhere.

Capitalize on advocacy and diversity

Centennials want to make a difference, and they want to make sure they’re being inclusive about it. They are the first to notice if an ad has only one gender represented (or only the traditional gender frames), or only one ethnicity shown. The speed of their screenshots means mistakes can live on even if original ads or posts are taken down. 

Instead of tiptoeing around the issue, pick a stand and make it bold. Centennials, themselves in the process of finding out who they are, are attracted to quirky and original statements. Go green in your office design. Talk about the causes you support. Be personal and tell a story; don’t write a press release. Remember, authenticity is key.

For example, Viacom recently published a story on centennials’ digital activities that does it right. Its centennial author speaks to a centennial audience, and it tells two strong stories about how centennials can make a difference. While the entire article is a frame for Viacom’s global insights, a centennial would want to know more because of how it might help him or her make a difference.7 That’s the way to market to centennials.

Not too early to plan

You might think the “centennial age” is still on its way, but centennials are already changing the course of marketing decisions. As more and more of them join the workplace and continue to make their voices heard, it’s important that we already begin conversations with them. In keeping with their love for truth and advocacy, the best thing we can do is let them know we want to connect with them—as early as now.  


1. MNI Targeted Media. Generation Z: Unique & Powerful. https://insightlab.mnitargetedmedia.com/?article=generation-z-unique-and-powerful. Published May 7, 2018. Accessed May 26, 2019.

2. Gade E. Understanding centennials to better market to them. Total Retail website. https://www.mytotalretail.com/article/understanding-centennials-to-better-market-to-them/. Published August 2, 2018. Accessed May 27, 2019.

3. Tomas D. Digital marketing for generation Z or centennials. Cyberclick website. https://www.cyberclick.es/numericalblogen/digital-marketing-for-generation-z-or-centennials. Published January 23, 2019. Accessed May 27, 2019.

4. 20 ways to speed up your website and improve conversion in 2019. The Daily Egg website. https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/speed-up-your-website/. Last updated May 16, 2019. Accessed May 27, 2019.

5. Underbite. Invisalign website. https://www.invisalign.com/treatable-cases/underbite. Accessed May 27, 2019.

6. McCann Worldgroup. Truth about global brands 2: Powered by the streets. https://cms.mccannworldgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/TAGB2_ExecSummary_WebsiteVersion.pdf. Accessed May 27, 2019. 

7. Folkovich I. For Generation Z, it’s cool to advocate for change. Viacom website. https://www.viacom.com/news/for-generation-z-its-cool-to-advocate-for-change. Published December 18, 2019. Accessed May 27, 2019.

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