Magazine article Marketing

The Millennial Dilemma: Generation, Mindset or Irrelevance?

Magazine article Marketing

The Millennial Dilemma: Generation, Mindset or Irrelevance?

Article excerpt

It's tempting (and useful) for marketers to put people in neat demographic boxes. But, as consumer lives become more fluid, age-agnostic and globally minded, is it time to put a stop to generational generalisations, asks Rebecca Coleman.

Netflix's vice-president of product innovation, Todd Yellin, described traditional demographics as 'almost useless' at last year's SXSW festival. His reasoning? 'Here's a shocker for you, there are 19-year-old guys who watch Dance Moms, and 73-year-old women who are watching Breaking Bad and Avengers.'

To support Yellin's point, BBC Radio 1 and 1Xtra's outgoing head of music, George Ergatoudis, observed that there is a 40% overlap in the musical tastes of 60-year-olds and 13-year-olds, going by the lists of each age group's 1000 favourite artists.

Despite contradictory information and some, like Yellin, decrying the significance of targeting using established marketing means, there still seems to be an industry-wide obsession with millennials and their younger siblings. In fact, a new 'gen (insert cleverly chosen letter here)' seemingly appears with greater frequency than common sense would tell us we can spawn them.

Not only that, but the argument against these demographic groups is bolstered further by the increasing fluidity with which people live their lives. This could be seen as a 'millennial trait', or it could be that, enabled by advances in technology, we are all, regardless of age, able to explore new ways of doing things that humans have always wanted to do, but hitherto haven't been able. Our behaviour has changed, but the underlying drivers haven't.

So, is the seemingly never-ending list of new kids on the lifestage block - millennials, Gen Z, Gen X, Gen i - simply down to trends agencies trying to sell their wares, or is there still real value in looking at age-related nuances?

The millennial fallacy?

The generation that seems to have attracted the most attention from marketers keen to reach the newest high-disposable-income group is, of course, the millennials. This troop of consumers is defined as those born somewhere between the 1980s and early 2000s; however, as with much of the research used to characterise millennials, these parameters are somewhat blurry.

In a 2012 Nielsen report on Gen X (the ones before millennials), the researchers stated: 'Unlike other demographics, such as millennials, real-world situations and authenticity appeal most to consumers between 35-54.' Now, three years on, they say: 'Millennials place a premium on authenticity - from the products they buy to their interactions with brands.' Similarly, mention has been made of Gen Z's love of authenticity and experiences. When companies promote their insights into each generation as revelatory, yet also conclude that they're pretty much all identical, it quickly starts to lose meaning and value.

Phil Barden, managing director of strategic marketing consultancy Decode Marketing and author of Decoded: the Science Behind Why We Buy, has been one of the most outspoken opponents of generational research and, in particular, the idea that millennials are any different from other consumers. In one tweet last October, he wrote, 'What is all this Gen Y, Z, millennials bullsh*t? Brains don't change in a decade. We're still driven by the same goals as our ancestors.' Following this up in January, he dismissed an article on what millennials want in the workplace with: 'Waste of research. No surprises at all. Why? Because Millennials want what other humans do. Simples.'

At the time of writing, these tweets had garnered just 10 retweets in total. This is not to say he doesn't have a point, but it doesn't seem to have stirred as much agreement among his 933 followers as one might expect of what sounds like a call to arms.

Tracey Follows, chief strategy and innovation officer at strategic consultancy The Future Laboratory, and a Marketing columnist, believes that any current backlash against the millennial moniker is mostly down to exaggeration and a desire to kick back at trends. …

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