Millennials is a common term in our industry. Marketers from all over the world are concerned about how they will reach this young target group, become an attractive employer to them, and understand the latest social media trends. But does it truly matter? Could millennials be as made up as unicorns?
Have you seen this clip from InsideQuest where Simon Sinek publishes the text about ”Millennials in the Workspace”? You’re in good company. The clip has, at this moment, been seen 4,120,625 times on Youtube and if one can trust the newsfeed in my social networks, everyone has seen, liked, shared and thought something about it.
Nothing bad about that. Simon Sinek is a wise man who has written at least two books worth reading (I haven’t read the third yet) and knows a lot of numbers from the top of his head. In addition, he says a lot of thought-provoking stuff, which probably are correct. But still he is wrong. Completely wrong.
Millennials don’t exist
When Simon Sinek speaks of millennials he puts together all people born after (approximately) 1984 and prescribes them a number of long, often negative, attributes. They are narcissistic, lazy, restless and have unrealistic demands. On top of that, they are more or less impossible to work with.
The problem with such sweeping generalisations is that they mean nothing. No one can claim that all people under the age of 34 are this or that way. Neither positive nor negative. The made-up group ”millennials” (I’m using quotation marks from now on) is just as homogenous as the group ”mums” or ”boat owners” or “people in a wheelchair”. They like different things, behave in different ways, have different goals in life and some of them are – as a matter of fact – really easy to work with.
”Millennials” is made up. AdAge coined the term at the start of the 1990s and it has since then been re-defined hundreds of times, for different reasons and for different purposes, by just as many experts. And many (including myself) have fallen for this trap and predicted that people within a certain age bracket behave in the same way.
A made-up target group
Another inspiring, but not as famous, thinker is Scott Stratten. He has also written a few books worth reading, managed the always entertaining as well as thought-provoking podcast UnPodcast, and travelled the world to talk about companies that in one way or another has made a fool of themselves.
In this talk from Marketing United 2016, Scott Stratten debunks the term ”millennials” once and for all. (Fast forward to 15:30 if you’re in a hurry, but please do see the whole thing). On the theme ”Everything has changed and nothing is different”, he makes a point of the labels we prescribe to ”millennials” as just typical behaviours and ideas young people have had throughout all ages.
“When I talk about marketing to millennials or working with millennials, what I mean by millennials is people younger than me… and I don’t like them… because they’re younger than me! We’re making stuff up about this generation so we can feel better about being old.”
The risk of marketing towards ”millennials”
Does this matter to us marketers? Yes, it does. Since the group ”millennials” is as unclearly defined as the group ”left-handed people” or ”house owners”, it tends to lead us astray. It allows us to be sloppy with our target group analysis (”we turn to everyone aged 34 or younger”), choose the wrong channels (”our target group is probably on Snapchat and Kik”) and produce the wrong kind of content (”because millennials like this stuff… sort of”).
It’s not strange that younger people have different media habits than the older population – that’s always been the case – but to plan your marketing based on the latest social media trends is pointless.
Young people have (low and behold!) exactly the same sort of feelings as older people do, and they are engaged, touched and distraught by exactly the same kind of content like those who are born before 1984. They consume and share great stories, too, just like their older counterparts.
”Millennials” is a made-up, unclear and pointless term. We throw it around without really knowing why. It doesn’t add anything, and it risks clouding our understanding and insights for our target group. Target groups are so much more than their age. They are people of flesh and blood, with good habits and bad, full of emotions and opinions. We must never forget that.