I recently received an email from a consulting company that helps businesses recruit millennials. It said something like, “Do you know the largest span of the workforce — one in three — are millennials?”
I did know that, actually, and the response I wanted to give was, and is: “Are you seriously telling me you have a silver-bullet strategy that you can use to catch the attention of one-third of the country?”
According to Neil Howe and William Strauss, the researchers who originally coined the term “millennials,” this generation spans birth years 1982 to 2004. Think about that. This one supposed cohort contains people who were adults when 9/11 happened and people who weren’t even born yet. Talk about a vast difference in psyche, and that’s just one example.
Yet companies continue to invest in gimmicks that they believe millennials, on the whole, will allegedly find attractive.
Deloitte's Millennial Survey 2017revealed that 76 percent of this age group surveyed felt that businesses could help solve societal problems. And that, in turn, supported a Nielsen study that found that 72 percent of 15-to-20-year-old respondents would pay more for products from socially conscious companies.
Ironically, after the clothing company Banana Republic banked on this fact and helped create #HotDudesReadingForACause on Instagram to appeal to its millennial customers, it actually saw net sales drop by 10 percent.
The possible lesson here? Millennials are not a single, monolithic demographic. According to Pew Research Center, they are now the largest living generation. That makes it inherently naïve for any of us elders to assume they’re all just one type of person.
Rethinking the definition of "millennial"
I get it. The internet has made the world so much bigger and yet so much more accessible at the same time. So, throwing an entire generation into a single bucket feels like an easy solution.
As noted in a CNBC article, we’re talking about 80 million complex individual human beings here, making the "single bucket" approach a massive oversimplification. Thankfully, though, there are more effective ways to reach people in this age group and others.
Here are three keys to slicing up the pie more strategically:
1. Take the word “millennial” out of your vocabulary altogether. Did you know that, according to Luxury Daily, millennials now have more children under 18 living at home than any other generation? Not exactly the picture that comes to mind when you hear the word “millennial.” That’s why that same word has to go.
Certainly, you'll want to target age demographics to a certain extent, but your targeting should also be more granular. Instead, go right to the actual attributes of the real customer. Even if those in your target market typically display well-known “millennial” traits, their age should not be the most important thing about them.
At my company, we do not — nor should you — place a 20-year time span into one bucket. We start out proactively by running marketing and advertising campaigns based on age, sex, income and every other possible variable we can get. Then, we test initiatives on those more distinct customer personas to figure out the right next steps.
2. Narrow your scope, and focus on the bull’s-eye. As we’ve already learned, millennials span a wide range of age groups. My brother is 21, for example, and I’m 30. By definition, both of us would be considered millennials. But in reality, what catches my attention is going to be different from what grabs his.
Think about Coca-Cola: It’s trying to tailor its message to these really general targets and demographics, with a goal of reaching everyone 20 to 35 years of age. Of course, a 20-year-old in New York City has vastly different values and triggers than does a 35-year-old in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Add to that the “One Brand” strategy that Coke recently deployed, where all four of its products are being promoted under one, master “Coca-Cola” brand, and not as separate items.
Now, I’m willing to bet that consumers of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Life and Coca-Cola Zero are very different people. So why would the company advertise to all of them in the same way? Beyond narrowing-in on more specific target customers, you also need to consider which of your offerings might appeal to each one.
3. Segment according to statistics, not generations. At my company, we think about the “who”: What kind of people — not what age group — would our content resonate with the most? We don’t strive to reach “millennial entrepreneurs” or “millennial business owners.” We want to work with progressive, aspirational clients who seek to raise money and run businesses, regardless of their age.
With these targets clearly in our sight, we decided to run an ad on Shark Tank, and it was a great move. When we made that decision, average age range was the least interesting thing we gleaned about its audience. We wanted all the data we could find about Shark Tank viewers — from what else they’re watching and how long they watch, to whether they watch regularly.
That kind of data is far more useful. From it, we were able to learn what our target customers like and dislike, where they spend their time and what they care about. Segmentation along these lines is far more powerful than the number of years someone has been alive.
Personally, I’m over the whole idea of generational marketing, most especially when it comes to the largest demographic in America. If you want to get real traction, establish your brand, find new customers and grow your company’s revenue, then do this: Ditch the millennial demographic, and get to know these young Americans on a more individualized basis.