Millennials and why you should stop caring about them

“Demographics are important, but not all demographics are useful.” – Michael Harris (Just Now)

What is a millennial, or for that matter what is a baby boomer? Where did these little fragments of generalising nomenclature come from? And most importantly why do marketeers pretend that they matter?

I must come clean and say that by most standards I, and indeed most of my friends, are millennials. There’s a good chance that you are also a millennial, especially given that this is my site’s first article and only my friends will be likely to see it.

If you are a millennial then my next point becomes much simpler to make, how much do you have in common with your friends and peers? Assuming you aren’t a full-on hipster scarf wearing, easily offended snowflake, avocado eater with a ‘gig-economy’ job, you probably don’t see much of yourself in a term so broad that it includes a quarter of the world’s population.

You are assumedly something of an individual, with your own dreams, plans, hopes, fears and thoughts on avocados. And it probably doesn’t feel nice to be lumped in with a general group based on the circumstances of your birth.

So why do we insist on over generalising audiences and customers?  

I was recently leafing through a book on marketing, I won’t name it here, but it was very broad, and that was by design. It was meant to provide a broad guide to newbie marketeers on everything from setting up your basic analytics to developing a brand identity.

Unfortunately, before I finished the first chapter, I found myself internally tutting and shaking my head. Within a few pages the book had already started to put together its view on what millennials were and what they looked for in a business. Not only generalising in terms of how to target millennials as consumers and customers for specific services or products, but it started to talk about millennials preferring to buy from companies that do x,y and z.

Now I’m sure marketeers out there will disagree with me on this, but I am extremely sceptical of certain aspects of the trade commonly used today. It has many names ‘social justice’, being ‘woke’, ‘culturally inclusive’, ‘sustainability’ or as I like to call it the ‘warm and fuzzies’.

For every brand that makes a big impact with some cultural or socially focused marketing campaign there are 10 that crash and burn. The worst offenders in these campaigns are brands that allow themselves to alienate potential customers because they want to reach this ‘socially turned on’ generation and so they make a political or controversial statement.

In my view millennials have the exact same requirements of a product that their parents did, and their children will have. And no, I’m not talking about any hierarchy of needs, just plain common-sense marketing.

  • Do people need this product? If so who and why? If not, get a better product.
  • Is this product better than the competition? If so, why? If not, it better be cheaper…
  • Is this product affordable? If yes, great. If no, why not? Is it exclusive, rare or prestigious?

Yes, I’m afraid that no matter how much people may talk about businesses that make a difference, change the world, never hurt anybody ever and are definitely not just in it for the money, it just doesn’t pass muster.

Millennials know it is a crock, because everyone knows it is a crock. Why do businesses feel that because they support this cause, or promote these politics, that people will magically forget that they are a business.

I mean we’ve all seen the kid in the Che Guavera t shirt eating his McDonalds while looking at his iPhone and felt that mix of sympathy and confusion, but when did the industry start thinking it could trick people into thinking massive multinational conglomerates cared about their pet cause of the month?

Businesses are there to supply a need, or fill a gap of some kind, the vast majority of consumers know this but admittedly there are some people, and they tend to be younger in my experience, who are very vocal and are happy to shout about how this company has a bad track record of whatever cause they are harping on about this week.

But the vast majority of consumers, of any age are most concerned with getting a good deal on a reliable product or service that allows them to go about their lives with the most convenience.

So should businesses not try and target this vocal minority? Well of course they should, those people are still potential consumers, the issue is when businesses either spend inordinate amounts of money on campaigns targeting them or chose to alienate aspects of the silent majority to reach the new customers.

A key aspect of marketing that so many businesses have forgotten, from comic books and video games through to luxury holidays. If a group does not by your product or service, do not alienate your current base in order to reach them.

And don’t get me wrong if a private business wants to back a political stance or push an agenda, they have every right to do so. But any marketing manager or director who signs of on a campaign that is more about their feelings than meeting ROI is not in the right position.

So, remember that marketing isn’t about virtue signalling, attacking your competition or pushing a personal or political agenda. It is about refining a simple message, that promotes the benefits of a product or service and putting that message out in front of the most efficiently targeted audiences possible.

And when someone can show me how 25% of global population can be considered ‘efficiently targeted’ I will happily retire from marketing and make a living growing avocado.