Marketing To Millennials Is A Mistake

The generation known as “millennials” is a mysterious enigma to businesses and marketers alike. They hunt for solutions to connect with this emerging age group on social media and on the web in general.

The problem is that the media and marketers have painted “millennials” into a singular demographic consisting of teens and young adults whose entire lives revolves around being online and taking care of themselves. We see articles and headlines from sources like Time magazine calling millennials the “Me Me Me Generation.” If you search millennials on Google images, most pictures feature a stock group of young people crowding around a smartphone or laptop, a few even taking selfies.

It’s dangerous to buy into generational stereotypes when planning your campaigns. A lot of assumptions about the millennial generation are over-exaggerated or based on a sub-demographic within it, without data to prove it. So, as you plan your next campaign targeting the newest level of consumers, here are some items to consider.

Who Are These “Millennials?”

First, let’s talk about who qualifies as millennials for completely arbitrary reasons. It’s probably a government agency who helps us group people into generation, right? Well, according to the Census Bureau, they don’t define or endorse generations, they simply measure when people are born. So who did?

Well, there have actually been multiple different names you might remember like “Generation Y,” “Echo Baby Boomers,” “Internet Generation” and a personal favorite the “MyPod Generation.” Turns out, being the person who names a generation is a lucrative practice. The people credited with coining “millennials” are authors William Strauss and Neil Howe back in 1987. Yes, long before most millennials were born, they had already received a generational name.

So according to Strauss, Howe, and a variety of other sources like Time magazine, people who fall into the millennial generation were born anywhere between 1977 to 2000. Nobody can really agree exactly on the dates, but this wide range covers the most popular. Why these dates? Well, because they seem like great numbers. There is no real world cut off, where one day Gen X was being born and then next day, babies were coming into the world asking for the hospital’s WiFi password.

The crazy part is that millennials, according to these randomly chosen dates, technically include ages ranging from 16 to 40. That’s right, people in their late 30’s with multiple children, stable careers, and mortgages, are being labeled as narcissistic, lazy, and sporting the man bun as a fashion statement.

So who are millennials really? Well, the simple answer is, people. Millennials are people, just like you and me. Sure, there are people who fit the millennial “mold” perfectly, but most just want to be treated like normal humans and not be treated like the stereotype.

What Happens When You Target Stereotypes?

There is nothing wrong with targeting demographics. It’s an essential practice in the world of marketing. “Millennials,” though, aren’t a target market, it’s a buzzword. But, if you decide to base a campaign on the stereotype of millennials, this is what could happen.

First off, everybody knows that millennials love talking in emojis. They practically have entire conversations in them, right? So we should try to get them to talk to us on social media using emojis. Or have ads that feature them. Millennials will love it. (Fun fact; ads don’t work with millennials.)

Or, there is this thing called memes. Surely there have been corporate marketing meetings about how to use memes to promote products. There are marketing creatives getting paid full salaries to create the most effective memes that promotes their agenda. So we get corporate ads featuring cats, forced humor, and memes.

This doesn’t work with younger generations. This doesn’t work with any generation. Targeting a whole generation simply off of their stereotype is not only ineffective, it’s counterproductive and insulting. People rarely identify with their demographic’s stereotype, and millennials are no different.

Actually Appealing to Younger Generations

There is no magic bullet  approach to getting in the hearts and wallets of younger generations. Instead, you need to break down your demographics to target who you want and then examine how they do business. In other words, do authentic market research.

Hard data is the only trustworthy source for understanding your target market. If we trust what the media and millennial “experts” tell us, millennials are extremely selfish and needy. Yet, in a study done by the Pew Research Center, 52% of millennials surveyed said their number one priority is being a good parent. Number two is having a successful marriage with 30% and helping others in need with 21%. Data can paint a much better picture of who the millennial generation actually is.

A great example of this is the NFL and their relationship with millennials. They researched into what they need to do to retain viewers with this generation being the largest consumer base ever. They found that a large percent of them view the NFL unfavorably and don’t trust NFL players. In fear that this might lead to a loss of profits and viewers, they are taking steps to earn that trust and respect back.

Trusting a business is huge for the younger generations. They’ve grown up with more scams and misleading advertising than anybody before, so they are naturally distrustful of businesses. Things like an authentic marketing personality, transparency, useful customer support and reviews are more important than ever.

Take the time to actually identify and address their needs and concerns. Stay consistent to your brand and approach them how they want you to be approached. A healthy dose of humor is great, but shouldn’t be the only way you market to them. Instead of looking at trivial ways to connect, like memes and emojis, find ways to be extremely helpful to your consumers.

Don’t Make This Mistake

The biggest take away here should be is to not market to the millennials, but to people. Treat them with respect and actually put the effort to understand them.

By doing so, you’ll avoid alienating the largest consumer base of all time and earn their respect. The sooner you realize that millennials is just a name for an age group and start identifying real demographics, the sooner you’ll be finding success with them.

What are your thoughts on millennials? Do you think the stereotypical picture of millennials is accurate or completely off base? How is this newest generation impacting your business? Let us know in the comments below.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.