The word Millennial carries strong associations for most people. An image quickly forms of a tech-savvy kid staring at his smartphone as the world spins around him. Millennials are the first generation in human history to have computing technology in their homes and shaping their everyday experiences, so it makes sense that their perspectives and preferences differ wildly from the dispositions of generations before them.
But marketing to Millennials has taken this broad grouping and placed far too much importance on it. Most marketing campaigns focused on Millennials reduce the generation to a few simple stereotypes and generalizations. The result is poorly targeted campaigns that often fail to reach their target audience as well as brands would like.
And those campaign failures only deepen the rut marketers find themselves in. They begin to see Millennials as enigmatic, unreachable. They fall into the misconception that marketing doesn’t work on Millennials.
It’s undeniable that Millennials consume media in their own way, and that certain distinctive trends are prominent from that population. But what’s overlooked is the incredible scale and variety of the group of people born into this generation. In the US alone, 80 million people can call themselves Millennials. As the DMA noted, 40 percent of them are parents.
If you want to start marketing to Millennials and getting the results you want, it might be time to redefine what Millennial means.
Before marketers can correctly target and strategize for Millennials, they need to understand where they went wrong. A number of myths that drive perceptions of Millennials have been proven to be exaggerations.
As Entrepreneur pointed out, it’s true that Millennials are, generally speaking, more connected to their smartphones than other generations. The average Millennial touches their phone about 45 times per day. While that number can vary widely from one person to the next, the numbers among the 19-to-22 crowd are much more clear: roughly half of those individuals spend at least four hours per weekday on their phones.
But that truth is balanced out by other fictions about Millennial behaviors. Despite a stereotype that Millennials are arrogant but uninformed, Entrepreneur notes that the older Millennials are the most educated generation in American history. And there’s evidence showing that Millennials actually read more than older generations: 88 percent of Millennials under 30 years of age have read a book in the past year, compared to just 79 percent of the 30-and-over crowd.
According to Digiday, the one-size-fits-all approach to Millennial marketing has become reductive: brands seeking Millennial consumers aim to demonstrate a concern for the public good, to engage with their audiences over social media, and to convey a strong sense of authenticity. Because this approach is so widely copied, Millennials can tell when a brand is shamelessly working to gain their attentions, and it can have the reverse effect—instead of being drawn in, they run away.
As research and mounting anecdotal evidence shows that the term Millennial only inspires distorted views and unreliable targeting strategies, a more fundamental question is born: if a person’s generation means so little, why is it such an important part of a digital content strategy?
The paradox is greater for Millennials than for other generations, because of the wide range of ages and life stages it spans. The differences in lifestyle, interest, responsibility, and opportunities between an 18-year-old, college-bound high school graduate and a 33-year-old married father of three are significant. In spite of that, a marketer might lump these two people into the same boat if they aren’t careful about how their campaigns target a Millennial audience.
Of course, many marketers don’t target solely by a consumer’s generation. There are other demographic data, including gender, income, and profession, to consider. Behavioral data can be culled from past online activity, and it’s easy enough to filter location data. But once these filters are employed, all that’s left to wonder if whether the person’s generation has anything to offer. Age is a more specific data point that offers more insight both on its own and in concert with other information.
The de-emphasis of “Millennial” in the strategy phase wouldn’t mean those people would suddenly stop possessing certain generational traits. It would only mean that marketers, forced to wrestle with concrete data points and freed from their reliance on misleading stereotypes, would start to build digital strategies that reach Millennials in the way they were intended.
Digiday’s recommendation is a simple one: stop marketing to age. More illuminating data might be found by examining the interests of an individual, or creating branded content that appeals to subcultures rather than attempting to reach large swaths of generations.
Social media remains a strong channel for reaching Millennials, just as it does other generations. But there’s no need to presume Millennials have sworn off marketing content of any kind. Because they’re such avid consumers of content, they invariably present themselves to be marketed to in a variety of ways, including through digital and traditional channels. Given their mobile usage habits, particularly among younger Millennials, mobile-based strategies might connect with those consumers at a higher clip.
And when in doubt, marketers should remember a golden rule of creating in the digital age: good content always finds its audience.
The challenge is knowing who that audience is. Where marketing is concerned, the term Millennial has done more damage than good. It’s time to embrace better ways of defining your audience.