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I'm a millennial, you're a millennial

Fun game: Google the phrase “marketing to millennials” and see how many results you get. I got 340m. To be fair, I also searched “marketing to generation/gen Y” and combined those tallies. Next, let’s see how the older, wiser generations compare:


  • Marketing to Baby Boomers: 11m

  • Marketing to Generation X: 400k [sic]


What’s going on here? For years marketers have struggled to connect with our elusive, younger demographics. At times we treat millennials like an alien species to be studied from a protected distance. But are they really so different from you and me?


Millennials are the barometer of our culture, one that has evolved significantly in the past 20 years — perhaps at a faster rate than at any time in American history. Digital and social technologies have turned the world inside out, revealing our sensitive, visceral insides, for better and for worse. How do we know this?


Let’s conduct another Google search, this time for “the ULTIMATE guide to marketing to millennials.” Surely, this will narrow our results. Bingo! This time, only 9.4m. Peruse a few pages and you’ll see what they have in common. The same tips and advice you’ve no doubt heard elsewhere:


1. Millennials want authenticity. This is apparently in stark contrast to other generations who are seeking elaborate means of corporate bullshit. Or, or, or, just maybe technology now provides users with ways to uncover half-truths and exaggerated product claims. Brands that admit their faults, then address and improve them, will win our hearts.


2. Millennials don’t trust outbound media. Here’s a good question: does anyone? These days, we can’t trust our own eyes and ears, let alone a billion dollar company trying to sell us products and services we might not even need. As an aside, not only do viewers actively avoid advertising, but also they avoid any content that even resembles advertising.


3. Millennials want Tom’s shoes/products with causes. As above, digital has leveled the playing field. More and more brands find themselves in parity categories, struggling to differentiate. To boot, people of all ages might actually care about our planet and its inhabitants. Put two and two together and get Warby Parker; millennials are excellent at cause-related math.


4. Millennials are looking for better content. Which experience do you prefer? In-person: a car salesman telling you the features of a car on the lot. OR online: searching for that same car, seeking out reviews, videos, and asking friends about their experience? I’ll take Option B, along with a marketer who cared enough to create interesting, compelling and dynamic materials.


5. Millennials love social media. While I wrote this article, I checked Instagram twice, Facebook and Twitter once, plus LinkedIn and some others. The point is, people of all ages are tethered to social media; saying millennials love social media is like saying Gen X loves sex and drugs. It’s true, but you know, a generalization at best.


6. Millennials think in terms of experiences, not products. Here’s another mystery for the ages. The current cost of living plus healthcare benefits far exceeds the typical wages earned by most of our citizens. Millennials will scrimp on necessities, so that they can spend $50 at a brunch with friends. Ever heard of anything so crazy? (Don’t look at my credit card reports.)


7. Millennials want healthier options. I would hope so. Gone are the days when mom would stick you in the back seat of car, no safety belt, with a Twinkie and can of soda, then proceed to chain-smoke with the car’s heater blasting and the windows rolled up. We all know better these days, how to treat our bodies, how to take things in moderation. For the most part anyway.


Now, let’s return to the most telling and impactful statistic mentioned thus far. Only 400,000 results for marketing to Gen X?! Why does nobody care about my spending habits? Or my media consumption? Maybe because Generation X does not exemplify our current culture and how we interact with the world around us. Maybe because millennials, like it or not, are the most accurate mirror for consumer behavior and the most important lead to follow for marketing and communications efforts.



What do you think? Send me a note and I’ll post your comments on the site. Thanks!