SALT LAKE CITY — This is Amanda McKnight at 27: She has a smartphone that she uses "all the time," and she prefers texting to talking. She checks Facebook and Twitter on her phone and recounts snippets of her day via them, delivered randomly as the urge strikes. She downloads coupons to her phone, sometimes while she's staring at the product on the store shelf. She also loves her computer.
McKnight, a sixth-grade teacher, could be a poster child for her generation, the Millennials. They are not just tech savvy; technology is their native tongue, and those who would sell to them should keep that truth in mind, experts say. They ask friends and family for recommendations. They zip online to get instant product reviews. And they take seriously stories of bad products or work practices, mingling social conscience with hunger for a bargain.
"I'm constantly surrounded by various technology outlets and have the overwhelming urge to participate in each one — social media, smart phones, TV gadgets, car gadgets, you name it," Jamie Kloss, 21, of Newtown, Penn., says.
"They communicate on networks nobody owns," says Jeff Fromm, senior vice president of Barkley, a Kansas City-based consulting firm that will soon release an in-depth study of marketing for Millennials.
"We have to learn how to market with them, not to them. We used to be in control of our brand and communicate that to our audience. Now we don't have that much control."
He believes "a Millennial isn't defined as much by age as by habits and practices."
AdvertisingAge found that 68 percent of Millennials ask friends before they choose a restaurant. "How do you begin to understand shopping habits of a generation that can't make up its own mind? it asked recently.
Millennials buy based on Twitter and blog posts, customer ratings on the Internet and word of mouth from friends, delivered in person, by text, or on social networks.
When Applebee's writes on its Facebook page: "Tell your friends about our new entrees now," it means it. The restaurant chain has 1.28 million "likes" and uses social networking to promote products. Joe's Crab Shack touts the free app SCVNGR, with instructions to download it to a smartphone, find the restaurant in "places" and take challenges for a free appetizer.
Companies such as Cafe Rio have a YouTube channel and Twitter feeds that are more "chatty" than hard-sell. And companies exchange samples for a "like" that will show up on Facebook newsfeeds as a positive recommendation.
That's the other thing experts say Millennials love: special deals. This most loved, hovered-over generation, as experts describe it, thrives on the sense they're being rewarded, from rewards cards and samples to insider deals.
Blaine Becker, senior director at Hartman Group, gave Deseret News a sneak peek at highlights of its upcoming "Culture of Millennials" report. It says they are more than a fourth of the U.S. population and influence more than $170 billion in spending, with one-fifth of all household dollars spent by or on them. They get their information "online and through their social networks/friends." And while older consumers shop online more, Millennials use smartphones much more to gather information and make purchases.
Harris Interactive calls them the "arbiters of cool." They grew up in the nation's longest economic boom but are part of a devastating recession. It says they are more loyal to brands and stores than others, provided the store connects to them.
But when it comes to trust, they always head back to their own networks and sources of neutral advice, because Millennials are inherently skeptical, especially when it comes to big business, says Matthew Segal, president and co-founder of Our Time, a consumer group for Millennials based in Washington, D.C.
"We grew up in the age of corporate greed, too big to fail," he says. "And every young generation likes to support the underdog."
Our Time promotes "consumer engagement we believe will lead to civic engagement," such as a campaign that asks Millennials to buy from young businesses with a high capacity to grow and that challenge old models and assumptions and weave ethics and social responsibility into their business model.
Examples include companies that make clothes from recycled goods or that use materials made in America. Creating American jobs and improving quality are "a priority of this generation," he says.
He predicts Millennials will lead against mammoth corporations that outsource work and don't respect the worker.
"Those who think the cheapest thing will win are arguing economics over values. Values will win."
Julianne Hancock, 30, Salt Lake City, agrees. "I base all my decisions heavily on recommendations from friends and online reviews. I have a lot of friends, and I am conscious of types of brands. I shop at Costco not because I need 23 rolls of toilet paper at a time, but because it donates to progressive causes."
She has sometimes steered clear of certain businesses, she says, because favorite sites like Gawker reveal unsavory business practices. And "if friends say they had a horrible experience somewhere, that will resonate with me for a long time."
Her generation, she notes, expect that "especially through social networks and Google we are being marketed to subliminally."
When a restaurant shares a funny movie clip on Facebook without touting a specific product, it's probably sliding its name into a consumer's brain where it hopes it will resurface when hunger strikes.