Marketing to Millennials: Lessons for the Next Generation

27 Oct 2015|tarboxl

We are reaching fever pitch when it comes to marketing to Millennials.

As sights are set on capturing that elusive group, tunnel vision ensues with nearly every new client challenge. Not only that, but in a bid to alight on a piece of even more useful insight, industry articles abound on the subject ranging from the broad (“Understanding Millennials in 2015”) to the specific (“How brands can tap into Millennial wanderlust”). And even The White House has an infographic that aims to visualize everything one might need to know about Millennials: where they are, where they’re going, and what President Obama is doing to ensure their success.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll find the seeds of an uprising. From a tongue-in-cheek take on “How to advertise to Millennials” to the more explicit “Everything You Know About Millennials Is Wrong”, commentary is springing up that speaks to the mistakes marketing has made when it comes to dealing with such a big group of people.

Painting with broad brushstrokes

One such charge is the treatment of Millennials with broad brushstrokes that actually have more to do with life stage than anything generational – for example, some things are universal in ways that don’t appear so at a single point in time. Human beings are generally idealistic when they are young, more pragmatic in middle age, and philosophical later in life. Many express surprise that “hipster” Millennials are buying suburban houses – but that’s what happens when people have babies, which 30-something people generally do. Indeed, the timeline of Millennials’ life stage milestones may not be as linear as that of older generations, but it doesn’t mean they won’t happen.

Disregarding context

Another is the assimilation of certain traits as gospel across the board, without considering the nuanced context that frames them. For example, attaining a leadership position is indeed a goal for many Millennials, according to research by Universum. Overall, nearly 70% say becoming a manager/leader is either important or very important: a solid figure. However, it is the intricacies of these findings that are important. While half of respondents from Central and Eastern Europe chose high future earnings as a reason, 46% of African respondents cared most about opportunities to coach and mentor others. Clearly cultural context is important when considering broad findings like this, and arguably has the potential to tell us more.

Surface level stereotypes

The number one allegation, though, has to be the stereotypical traits that marketing in its droves has insisted in employing at largely face value. Call it singing from the same hymn sheet or showing your strategy, but many campaigns targeted to millennials have largely become caricatures of themselves; depictions of bearded youngsters seeking out experiences with their arms outstretched as an errant wind lifts their hair that serve to show marketing up as, well, marketing, and alienate the very group they’re trying to reach as they fail to recognize themselves in such pigeonholes.

So with this in mind, and with Gen Z already on the horizon, what can we learn from our treatment of Millennials to aid our understanding of the next buzzword generation a little better?

Plugging into culture

When it comes to a new generation, the first thing is to recognize that they still have much growing up to do. Perhaps the most effective thing we can do given this context is seek to understand the cultural world they exist in; the things that are influencing their lives today, that will possibly shape their mind-sets and behaviours as they come of age in the future.

For example, American Gen Z-ers have grown up in a post 9/11 world amid a recession, developing life skills and identities in an economic environment marked by volatility and complexity. Not only that, but for the first time traditional gender roles have been challenged meaning that their self-identity had the opportunity to be less constructed by gender than for past generations. Their context has been one of increasing diversity – the tenure of an African American president and the country approving gay marriage vs. the Millennials childhood in which homosexuality was merely no longer considered a disease. And thanks to the prevalence of social media, it’s no wonder that American teenagers are more enthralled with more ‘everyday’ YouTube stars than they are the biggest names in the more established entertainment industry – one can only imagine the implications that might have for how they view the potential of their own success.

Intricacies of context

Second, if taking a cookie cutter approach to over 80 million Millennials in the U.S. alone shows us anything, it’s that a more nuanced view is necessary. As with any group numbering such a figure, the likelihood of them all being cut from the same cloth is slim to none. To counter, what attitudes exist within the broad Gen Z group that we can use to segment them into smaller, more manageable and truth-to-life cohorts, for example? Further, what intricacies of context can we pillage to get to deeper understanding of why people say and do what they say and do?

As with every case for change, it is only as remarkable as the impact it makes in the aftermath. But if marketing to Millennials has taught us anything, it is that we need to think differently about how we deal with broad generational segments of the world population.

With that in mind, viva la revolución.

Written by: Laura Tarbox, Strategic Director, Added Value NA

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