Who’s lazier–millennials or the people who ‘target’ them?

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Marketers and brand owners like Millennials. Actually, they appear to LOVE them. Many insist on targeting them. “We need to engage with Millennials” are words I hear often. It depresses me…

Not because I’m a long way on from being a Millennial (I’m 56) and without the desirable facial hair or hoard of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram followers (delete as applicable), but because it’s a word that has taken on far more emotional significance than it deserves.

It’s interesting to read the definitions (Google-sourced, naturally) of what constitutes a ‘Millennial’. It started out, apparently, back in the early 1990’s when someone identified the generation of primary school children that would graduate at the turn of the Millennium.

Fair enough, I guess – but things thereafter have got a little muddier. The generally received wisdom nowadays is that ‘Millennial’ refers to people born between the early 1980’s and around the year 2000. Or maybe people born between the late 1970’s and mid 1990’s. Or maybe just in the 1980’s…or up to the early 2000’s…views differ.

Let’s just simplify things – let’s say people currently aged between 16-35 right now (November 2017).

Of course, age isn’t their only defining factor – although in many cases you’d be excused for thinking that was the case. It’s also that this ‘generation’ have defining characteristics and attitudes that set them apart from other groupings (“and make them such an exciting prospect for our brand!!”).

They have phones. They are connected. They’ve grown up in an online world – for the whole of their lives! They engage via social media. They are brand-aware and design-literate. They don’t watch television…well…they do, but they do so in a way that is different from their parents, whilst viewing another screen, or multi-tasking, or doing pilates or something.

Anyway, the point is they are different. They are different to Generation X, and to Baby Boomers. Although they are exactly the same as Generation Y, in case you were wondering – just another label for the same group, but one that doesn’t sound quite so funky.

The problem is that Millennials aren’t that different. At least, a fair number of them aren’t. They behave just like you and me (assuming, of course, that you aren’t a Millennial) and of course there are plenty who don’t.

There are examples of ‘typical’ Millennials that we can easily recognise like Mark Zuckerberg and Lady Gaga and Prince William – just like three peas in a pod, eh?

But then there are the ones who don’t quite fit the image we have in our minds, like (to take a random selection), Ben Lake, the Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion, BBC weather presenter Sarah Keith-Lucas and the slightly downbeat lady who works at the Greggs where I bought a sandwich today.

Even the often-stated claim that the Millennial generation are more socially aware, more inclined to rebel against establishment politics and institutions, more attracted to alternative ways of living, and searching for a purpose to their lives has deep echoes of…well, their parents’ generation. Remember the 1960’s…Woodstock …the summer of love?

The point I’m trying to make, at some length (Millennials don’t tend to have long attention spans, due to all that instant digital communication stuff they flit between, so I’ve probably lost them by now…) is that using any kind of short-hand definition that simply aggregates a lot of disparate people together is lazy.

It’s as bad as the daily horoscope, that conveniently creates twelve suitably vague scenarios for each day to fill us alternately with dread and hope – Aries : Today you will discover the road to fame and fortune as you douse the flames rising from your combustible trousers.

Marketers are taught to target their desired audience. A target should be a bullseye (or maybe the yellowy orange bit just outside it), it shouldn’t be the whole of the board plus the barn door it’s fixed to.

So, if you believe that your brand should be targeted at people aged 16-35 then please don’t just leave it at that. Try to narrow it down a bit by thinking about the answers to the following:

  • Why do they buy products in your sector?
  • How, where and when do they use them?
  • What do they think about competitor products and brands?
  • What do they know about your brand, and how do they feel about it?
  • What do they want from your brand?

Build a picture that turns them into real people rather than a cartoon icon. Recognise what makes them tick, and (especially) what distinguishes them – the people who are going to buy your brand – from all the other bloody ‘Millennials’ out there!

Words by Chris Blythe