For digital marketers, its impossible to go through a day without seeing advice aimed at finding, targeting, selling to or employing Millennials, as if this was the holy grail of any current marketing strategy.
We are all guilty of accepting unchallenged assumptions from time-to-time, but anyone who targets a specific age group as if they all behaved in the same way, Millennials included, will be wasting their time and money.
No amount of excellent creative, engaging content or cutting edge media placement will save a campaign if your audience categorization and understanding is flawed.
This is not to say there is no correlation between age and behavior, simply that using age as your principle segmentation tool is unlikely to provide the insight at the heart of any successful campaign.
Lack of Agreement
There is little agreement about who Millennials actually are.
The academic basis is provided by William Strauss and Neil Howe and their theory of Generational Cycles.
They coined the term Millennial and define the group as anyone born between 1982 and 2004, so now between 12 and 34 years old.
Wikipedia has a useful exploration of the theory and its shortcomings.
The Atlantic has a fun take on the idea.
But a much more commonly used range seems to be from 1990-2005, so people now aged between 11 and 26.
So, a 15-year range?
You can already see an issue.
What useful behaviors exhibited by a 13-year old could you map onto a 23-year old?
This goes to the heart of all age-related segmentation.
Demographics have been around for centuries, but became important to marketers with the advent of mass media in the 50s and 60s and the need for advertisers to use them effectively.
Perhaps society was more homogenous then and age, gender, and educational attainment were reliable predictors of behavior.
But now they are not.
The CEO under 30 is now as unremarkable as the 60-year-old surf bum.
Who Are the Millennials?
People think their kids (and their kids’ friends) represent this group and use that behavior to guide their Millennial marketing planning.
How many blogs or conference speeches have you seen where someone says, for example, ‘my kids don’t watch TV’?
When trying to understand an audience, use as much data as you can find.
And, by the way, this Nielsen data shows how much TV people in their teens and 20s still watch.
Give Them Your Social Media
You employ a couple of Millennials and get them to do your social media.
You turn over communication channels used by customers, potential customers, and influencers such as the media and regulators to people with little knowledge of your brand and almost no business experience.
Do you know you can speak directly to all these important people using these channels?
When you see it in this light, doesn’t look like quite such a good plan, does it?
At the head of all your communication, you need a strategy overseen by someone who understands what they’re doing.
Taking an Age-related Approach
You assume this categorization works across widely differing countries.
Sixty-five percent of India’s population is younger than 35.
Forty-five percent of Mexico’s population is younger than 25.
These groups are much too large to target meaningfully.
At the other end of the scale, 52 percent of Germany’s population is older than 45.
Taking an age-related approach to marketing is almost bound to be misleading.
Millennial Marketing is Short-term Behavior
You project what may be short-term behavior into the future.
What we can say about this group of people is they are the first generation to grow up with no experience of a world without the internet.
We simply do not know what this means longer term for marketers.
We have been too ready to predict the demise of entire media based on the behavior of younger people, only to see them change their habits as they get older.
The movies, radio, books, and even TV have had obituaries prepared and there is no substantive evidence that any of them are about to die out.
Millennials don’t read newspapers.
This is a definite case where internet unbundling has destroyed a business model.
Newspaper owners have, willfully or otherwise, misdiagnosed the issue with their industry and need to find a workable value proposition for the digital age.
It’s time to stop using the term Millennial as if it is useful in segmenting your audience.
It may be popular, it may be something your CEO has heard about (or they may have Millennial kids!), but its simply too fuzzy an idea to build a strategy on.
And, by the way, if you’re using something such as women aged 25-44 as a target audience, that’s equally unhelpful!
Take time to gather and analyze data on your customers and target audience.
One of the marketing revolutions of the past decade has been the explosion of available data.
Use that to inform your strategy.
Beliefs, values, mood, speed, and convenience are much more likely to influence someone’s behavior than the number of years they’ve been around.