April 20, 2018  |  Carrie Straub

The Millennial Obsession

An obsession with Millennials has dominated strategic direction in the business world with the goal of better understanding user behavior and courting potential customers. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of marketing. Just check out a few recent marketing industry headlines:

Born between 1981 and 1996, the Millennial generation is made up of nearly 71 million people according to population projections from the US Census Bureau in 2016. That makes this group, defined solely by their age, about 22% of the total US population. Clearly, a significant portion of US consumers and one that the marketing industry is keen to target.

To leverage Millennials’ buying and influencer power, many marketing professionals have attempted to “define” the group by attributing to them (over-generalized) characteristics that marketers believe will help improve their demographic segmentation and targeting tactics. After all, this practice creates a nice clean box in which to fit an entire group of consumers. The trouble is that it’s short-sighted, superficial, and largely ineffective.

*Gasp* It’s not uniquely a Millennial thing.

Millennials have become the scapegoats for a changing societal landscape, which means a changing marketing landscape. When you dive into the characteristics that marketers tend to attribute to Millennials, you’ll really find evidence that our behaviors, norms, beliefs, and values are shifting on a societal level and are not age-driven attributes. Take for example these trending soundbites:

1. The Prevailing Soundbite:

Millennials engage on social networks and are increasingly using social media to purchase things.

The Whole Truth:

According to the Pew Research Center, 69% of American adults use some type of social media. Notice, this data includes all age groups, and it’s unsurprising. Social media is deeply embedded into our current social interactions and expectations.

2. The Prevailing Soundbite:

Millennials value honesty and authenticity from their brands.

The Whole Truth:

Turn on the news or tune into forces driving conversations in society, and it’s easy to see that there is a strong current that’s demanding accountability from our leaders, from our institutions, and from the products, media, and influencers we choose to consume on a daily basis. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to those born into the Millennial generation; it’s true of a vast swath of our society across all age groups.

3. The Prevailing Soundbite:

Millennials want convenience.

The Whole Truth:

Ahem, everyone wants convenience. Good luck finding the portion of the population that wants to jump through hoops to buy your product or support your cause. It just doesn’t exist.

If not Millennials, then who?

Marketers must go beyond age-based segmentation if we have any hope of identifying the people whose lives can be enriched by a message, product, or cause. The term “Millennial” has become a buzzword that by definition boils down to people born in a certain subset of years. It says nothing, however, of each person’s individual passions, values, beliefs, economic status or purchasing behaviors.

If we are to be effective at making connections (after all, we’re really just matchmakers, right?), we must be more strategic and diligent in getting to know individuals and understanding their motivations. We must identify the infinite “segments-of-one” within our society that can benefit from our brand or organization’s offerings or unique value propositions and tailor our message to speak directly to them. Sure, it may sound like a tedious, time consuming, and even maddening approach, particularly when compared to the broad-stroke approach to which we’ve become accustomed. But it’s also the most effective and ultimately, cost efficient way to identify, engage and build lasting relationships with the people we want to reach.

Data-driven personalization has been adopted by some of the most successful companies in the world. Just think of how effective Amazon, Netflix and Facebook are at delivering customized content and product suggestions. Research conducted by McKinsey has shown that personalization has the potential to deliver five to eight times the ROI on marketing spend and lift sales 10% or more.

And a marketing strategy that leverages data-driven personalization isn’t just for mega-companies with unlimited budget. Regardless of whether the objective is to sell products, to attract donors, or to rally supporters of a cause, a strategic research-based marketing plan can and should be developed for any company and organization that is looking for the most effective and efficient approach to connect with their audience.

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