Advice on Millennials has become something of a growth industry. Every week seems to bring new studies, conferences and recommendations on what brands need to do to attract them as customers or employees. And for good reason, at 80 million strong, Millennials are larger than any other demographic group. Then there are also the counter-arguments, cautioning brands not to go overboard, as older generations still account for the majority of customer spend.
But this focus on Millennials as a generation can be a rather misleading basis for decision-making:
1. Increasingly, we're all Millennials now.
The Millennial label has come to describe some broad cultural trends: digital, mobile, social, collaborative, socially conscious. While useful shorthand, these behaviors are as much driven by the impact of technology than they are by a radically different generational mindset. Certainly, familiarity with technology saw them emerge among the Millennials. But as previous generations are becoming more comfortable with technology, so the behaviors are spreading. Even my 80-year-old mother did most of her Xmas shopping last year on mobile, using an iPad. And she's far more social with friends and family, thanks to technology.
Every business needs to be addressing these trends, regardless of the age of their customer base.
2. Millennials is too broad a segment for marketing.
Generally defined as born between 1980 and 2000, it stretches from high school students at one end to mid-30s at the other, from singles to parents, and from baristas to CEOs. Even before the rise of big data, you'd break this down by income, education, life stage, etc., to create more useful segments for targeted communication. And ironically, one of the expectations ascribed to Millennials is for a more personalized experience, which technology enables.
To engage younger customers, every business needs to go beyond a broad Millennials marketing strategy.
3. Focus on a generation provides an increasingly limited view.
Technology has made it much easier for people to connect around particular interests, ideas or concerns, regardless of the generation they belong to. This can then create critical mass, and impact customers. For example, while there had long been concerns voiced about the industrialization of food, these remained on the fringes until social media pushed such issues as additives in processed food, “pink slime,” and high fructose corn syrup into the mainstream. And the explosion of artisan and organic food brands also owes much to the development of interest in less industrialized foods.
This fascination with the Millennial generation is of course a reflection of the major changes flowing through society. But while recognizing the broad trends, I still find the best advice is to focus on the customers in front of you, rather than generational stereotypes. To work with them to understand how their behaviors are changing, what their interests, ideas or concerns are, and what you can do to create more value for them. If you can change as your loyal customers change, then you're still unlikely to go far wrong.