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Generation Y

Swift Lessons in Millennial Marketing

There’s no doubt 2015 was the year of Taylor Swift. Building off the success of her 1989 album, Swift’s world tour generated over $4 million per show.

There’s no doubt 2015 was the year of Taylor Swift.

Building off the success of her 1989 album, Swift’s world tour generated over $4 million per show.

At last week’s Grammy Awards, the 26-year-old received Album of the Year. While most of the media focused on her acceptance speech, there’s more to Swift than her riff with Kanye West and much-discussed love life. Suffice it to say that Swift is an under-30 marketing master, with plenty to teach about marketing to Millennials.

The biggest T-Swift take-away? FOMO.


FOMO, otherwise known as “fear of missing out,” is a powerful force for Millennials and stems from their intense need to belong and be part of a community.

This is why each 1989 album sold includes personalized photos and messages, and fans also receive a special code they can enter to win a personal meeting with Swift.

FOMO marketing produces social buzz and free publicity as excited fans share their exclusive purchases on social media with friends. This exclusivity is crucially important among the Millennial crowd. For this reason, limited-edition products and special offers are an effective way to invite young consumers to join your community and strengthen their allegiance to your brand.


To further capitalize on FOMO, Swift’s 1989 World Tour concerts created the ultimate sense of exclusivity and community. With over 38 different guest performers, ranging from Selena Gomez and The Rolling Stones, Swift successfully made every concert unique and gifted fans with a special memory.

Obviously, Swift understands her generation’s appreciation for special experiences. In fact, a Harris study revealed 78 percent of Millennials would rather spend money on an experience than a product.

The best part about creating special memories? Sharing them. Fans feel empowered and excited about their special experiences with Swift and spread the word on social media. (Enter more FOMO.)

Marketers need to consider how they create similar, meaningful experiences. Customer appreciation luncheons, movie screenings, game nights, service projects, and family events are all great ideas. Think of creative ways to connect with your own fans.


As the power of FOMO demonstrates, community has a strong influence on a consumer’s buying decisions. So does emotion.

Last December Swift and her team combed through select fans’ social media pages to figure out what each person wanted for Christmas. Presents were then purchased and delivered, wrapped by hand, and adorned with handwritten notes from the pop star herself.

Swift unveiled “Swiftmas” via YouTube, and fan reactions flooded the Internet. Clearly, a mass-produced gift of an autographed CD would not garner nearly the same reaction.

Then, Swift’s team took surprise and delight to a whole new level when carefully selected fans were invited in groups of 89 to an “amazing opportunity”. These opportunities turned out to be album-listening parties. Fans spent the day with Swift in her own home, listening to her new songs, eating home-baked cookies baked by the pop star, and posing for dozens of selfies with her.

These events provided fans with the ultimate reward of hanging out with Swift, cementing their adoration of both her and her new album.

Swift excels at connecting with her fans on a personal level, and this creates a ripple effect. With 91 percent of the Millennial generation willing to make purchases based on a friend’s recommendation, peer marketing can be a very powerful force.

The bottom line: Swift’s campaign was hugely successful. 1989 went platinum almost instantly, with 1.3 million copies sold the first week.

Furthermore, Swift is now the highest-earning musician in the world, reportedly earning more than $1 million per day in revenue.

Millennial marketing isn’t just about posts and likes and it shouldn’t be neglected or overlooked. There’s real revenue and opportunity to be discovered when you take the time to engage your youngest fans.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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