What we’re referring to here, of course, is the term “Millennials”.
The people making up this cohort, generally considered to have been born between 1981 - 1996, are actually very nice.
But the term itself serves no purpose. We explain why in our post below.
Who exactly are you speaking to when you say Millennials?
For the sake of our post, let’s accept these dates.
That means that Millennials can be aged anywhere from 23 to 38.
Can you see the problem?
People don’t stay static throughout their lives. Their desires, wants, needs and motivations change. That’s true whether you hail from the Middle Ages or the newly emerging Generation Z. Human nature doesn’t always dovetail as neatly as we would like with our preconceived ideas around marketing.
It’s a pretty strong bet that a 23 year old has some vastly different goals and motivations to a 38 year old.
And that’s not because they’re a Millennial. It’s because they’re a human. Are Baby Boomers or Generation Xers the exact same throughout every decade of their lives? Highly unlikely.
Yet marketing teams the world over persist in lumping Millennials together in one big group. And then attempt to market and sell to this amorphous mass.
This is a fail.
One of the fundamental building blocks of doing good business, and good marketing, is understanding your customer personas. The purpose of establishing customer personas is to create a reference that represents a realistic idea of who your key audience is.
Qualitative and quantitative user research goes into building a robust customer persona document. Then, every activity within your business is tailored towards these personas. In other words, you know who you’re speaking to.
How do you ensure that you’re offering the type of products and services your customers want, and that your messaging is landing with them, if you haven’t researched the finer nuances about your ideal client? Essentially, simply saying “Millennials” does not a customer persona profile make.
Any market is way too segmented to be covered appropriately by such a one-size-fits-all term.
Millennials come with a lot of bias - negative bias
No other term describing an entire demographic comes with as much bad feeling as “Millennials” does.
Okay, no one is exactly vanilla about “Baby Boomers” either. But a little more logic and intelligence is applied to the understanding of who this population category is. Whether you like them or not!
And Generation Xers don’t seem to catch the same degree of media coverage that Baby Boomers and Millennials do. (The media also plays a big role in establishing and maintaining the constant warfare that transpires between the demographics on either side of Generation X.)
Put it this way, no one has ever called a Baby Boomer or Generation Xer a snowflake.
Yet, say Millennials and all sorts of stereotypes come into play.
They’re always on social media. Which isn’t actually true. In fact, Generation Xers spend 40 minutes more on social media per week, on average, than Millennials. Plus Xers do this at the dinner table. Naughty naughty.
Millennials don’t buy enough diamonds and they’re killing the napkin industry. Chewing cereal is too much for them and their consumption of mayonnaise leaves a lot to be desired.
Are all these stories really true? Do they confuse causation and correlation? Are they really clickbaity types of articles designed to look like some deep insight into the generation that everyone loves to hate?
While we feel Millennials are horribly misunderstood, we’re not making a case here to be for or against this demographic.
What we are saying is that the way we speak about Millennials, and the tropes we take to be true about them, is not useful to doing good business.
Beware of your own ideas about Millennials
No demographic is made up of just one characteristic. And the characteristic that has been accepted as most defining of Millennials has been their mobile phone usage.
Recently, a writer in our extended network shared a brilliant illustration with us on how accepting this belief without interrogating it could have lead to a very poor piece of marketing.
The writer was asked to write an ebook for a global travel technology brand on why travel agencies need to use a Global Distribution System (GDS). This is the system that a travel agent uses to book flights, car hire and hotels etc. for a business or leisure traveller.
Part of the content for the ebook would be making the case about how a GDS can provide benefits for travellers that newer players in the market, such as Booking.com, Expedia etc., are unable to do. Additionally, these benefits would translate into new revenue streams for the travel agency industry. An industry that we know has been drastically disrupted by technology in the last decade and a half.
Needless to say, the old chestnut reared its head. Millennials do everything via their mobile! Modern GDS platforms can provide for this demographic plus keep the rest happy too!
So far, so typical. However, when further research was done, by no less than the industry body representing travel agents, it was revealed that Millennials book their travel (both leisure and business) far more frequently through travel agents than any other market.
Secondly, it was the Baby Boomers among us who booked the bulk of their travel through their phones.
The GDS platform being written about was still the same as before. What had changed was how messages were crafted to appeal to travel agents serving different markets (and a combination of all of them). These messages had to reflect the accuracy of how people actually book travel, rather than how marketers think they do.
There is no hack for Millennials
Of course, a 28 year old in 2019 is confronted with a vastly different environment, in just about every sense, to an individual of the same age in 1959.
One of the disagreements around how we speak about Millennials is that we often don’t account for just how much our social, political and commercial environments have changed. Instead, we point fingers only at the generation who has come of age in this new era and claim that they’re so different from “us”.
If Millennials truly are your target audience; and likely they are since this is a big segment of our current economically active population across the globe, then invest in getting to know exactly who these Millennials are.
A robust marketing strategy is always about great communication. You cannot communicate effectively if you’re not sure who you’re really communicating within the first place.
Marketers hear a lot about content personalisation strategies. Separating the myths from the realities around Millennials is one of the strongest investments you can make in developing the kind of personalisation strategy that will keep your business flourishing.
But step away from the lazy label.
Millennials are as complex as any generation before them. Smart marketers see that for the opportunity it is.