How Not to Market to Millennials: My Weird Experience at a Timeshare Resort

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How Not to Market to Millennials: My Weird Experience at a Timeshare Resort

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For an insane moment, I thought maybe I’d crossed over into a weird alternate reality. Maybe these people weren’t actually marketers but a sadistic club of psychopaths leading us to the slaughter.

Ironically, it would have been a financial slaughter for my wife and me if we’d been a little more naive. I considered it a win for my pocketbook when they finally let us free. But that doesn’t change the fact [redacted vacation company] doesn’t get how to market to Millennials. Here’s what happened.

Lie to Us

If your product is really going to save me money, why do you lie to me? That’s the question that came to mind during our “not a timeshare” presentation.

They’d herded five of us couples into a room and offered us a small lunch buffet. They’d adorned the tables with yellow gift bags, one for each couple. A Beach Boys CD as a reminder of the concert they’d taken us to the night before.

So far, their marketing seemed well-designed. As a fellow marketer, I saw through their tactics, but there was nothing weird…yet.

It wasn’t until the presenter got up to speak that my mind called B.S. The lies were just too plentiful. The B.S. just too thick.

I won’t go into too much detail, but this particular vaction company is trying to distinguish themselves from timeshares while using the same crummy tactics. In fact, their marketing would make more sense if it were time at a specific resort they were selling.

See, they’ve replaced timeshare weeks with a set points system modeled after credit card rewards points. Pay a certain amount, get points to spend at any of their subsidiaries. Sounds great until you realize they’re trapping your money in their network, the points don’t roll over, they’re still going to charge you maintenance fee for a place you don’t actually own, and then they will have the gall to tell you you’re an “owner.”

The presenter lied about all of that. He waved his hands and spilled some B.S. about inflation and their system being better than cash. And when another couple asked about maintenance fees, the presenter acted as if he’d been caught with his pants down. He quickly pulled out a credit card and told us we could mitigate some of our maintenance fees with their special Visa card (it’s got points too!).

Millennials don’t like sleazy marketing tactics, but we like being lied to even less. Arriving to the job market immediately after the 2008 financial crises made us a suspicious lot. We crave authenticity and will only support brands that seem transparent and honest.

In fact, 90% of Millennials say that authenticity matters most to them. But guess, what! 85% of Gen Xers say the same thing. But what’s even weirder is that 80% of Boomers say the same effing thing!

So, [redacted vacation company], you’ll excuse me for wanting to say “screw you” by the end of the presentation.

Take a lesson from an inbound marketing an inbound marketing agency or two.

Look at how they market to, well, everyone who owns and operates a website. They’re upfront about what value they provide and and what they’re capable of. They’re upfront about costs. Why? Because guess what, some of their leads will be other marketers like us.

Marketers, just like Millennials, want to be told right away what value they’re getting. They will sniff out hidden fees like a shark to blood. What’s the lesson here? Be honest in your marketing or we’ll call you out on your B.S. and leave without your product in hand.

Treat Us Like Cattle

We get herded like cattle everywhere else in this world. This is especially true for those of us who grew up in the paranoid post-9/11 era. Airports are like cattle yards and we’re getting tired of being processed just like cattle.

My parents own two timeshares. I’d been through multiple presentations. I thought I knew what to expect, but I guess [redacted vacation company] does things differently.

The presentation was already impersonal. But when the presentation ended and they led us down a narrow hallway to a loud and busy room, the whole ordeal took on a strange meaning of its own.

People in suits rushed from place to place. Dozens of couples sat with representatives at small tables. It was bright and overwhelming. An autistic man’s nightmare.

I immediately had visions of cattle, TSA lines, and Ellis Island processing centers. I was done and mildly frustrated at this point. I just wanted to take my free stuff and leave, but I knew that if I did that, I’d possibly have to pay full price for the weekend at the resort. I became like cattle again (at least for a bit).

I now suspect that they’d given up on us already. But even if they hadn’t, this was the wrong place to seat us while we waited for our marketer to be done with the last victims (ahem, I mean leads).

If you’re going to make us wait for something, don’t make us wait in line or in a group. Give us our own space and at least offer us a drink. You might call us snowflakes, but I suspect most people feel the same way. You know, like they want to be treated as people and not animals or consumers?

In the end, we made it out with our free stuff. Nobody tried to kill us. And I’m now even more skeptical about corporate vacation companies.

But if you’re going to market to Millennials, don’t do what [redacted vacation company] did. Treat us like human beings and be honest.


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