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Why you shouldn’t Market to ‘Millennials’


Last month we discussed how to market to the millennial generation and the ways in which we can most effectively communicate with this new wave of consumers. This article takes the alternative perspective, inspired by Adam Conover and his talk at Deep Shift marketing conference. The thesis of his talk was essentially:

“Millennials don’t exist and the entire idea of “generations” is unscientific, condescending, and stupid.”

Let’s dive in shall we.

As a young professional, working in digital marketing, myself and most of my colleagues would appear to fully fit the description of ’a Millennial’. I work in an office which has yoga and massages every week, and we have chosen to work in an industry which didn’t even exist when we first entered the education system and we are all active on social media.

Here are three reasons why businesses should think about ‘millennials’ more complexly.

1. Millennial is a paradoxically too broad and too narrow descriptor

Neil Howe and William Strauss are the millionaires who coined the term ‘millennials’ and in their book Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (2000) they ascribed 7 traits to this generation: special, sheltered, confident, team-oriented, conventional, pressured, and achieving. Because none of the generations before this one were in any way special or pushed to achieve things,  the baby boomers going to the moon was in no way a team-oriented, achievement. The 7 so called traits of this generation read like a psychic telling you exactly what you want to hear. It’s just a cold reading.

According to a quick google search a millennial is:
a person reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.

So that pretty much encompasses anyone born in 1978 to 1994? 1996? That is possibly the vaguest definition of a target audience ever.

Moreover the things people generally think about Millennials only really applies to a shockingly small demographic. The Starbucks drinking social media addict is also in the same generation as the American Chinese 35 year old whose family ties got them into Harvard. And also in the same generation as the young girl working 2 jobs to support her family.

The “classic Millennial” that we all picture is a very western centric middle class ideal which isn’t the reality for the vast majority of the world.


2. Millennials themselves hate the image our society has thrust upon them

The image that we all have of the “me generation” isn’t exactly flattering. The idea that an entire generation is made of narcissists is unrealistic and also quite insulting. As one Reddit user put it rather succinctly:

 “Honestly, the word millennial has almost become a derogatory word used by people who don’t like things that are “hip”. “Look at those millennials doing all those stupid young people things. ugh millennials.””  TheNamesVox

When you approach your customer base from this perception, you sound condescending and like you are attempting to pander to a stereotype that your base probably doesn’t identify with.


3. Generational marketing is made up and inherently useless.

Finally, and the most important aspect to this, generational segmentation is unhelpful. Generations are just one way that society has come up with for dividing people into smaller subsections, one of humanity’s all-time favourite activities.

The question we need to answer is how useful is this particular subsection? Does it really tell us that much about the group of people we have segmented? Or would it be more useful to look at a different method of dividing up society?

For example in email marketing it is far more useful to break down a segment by looking at who opened your email to show you your engaged audience. Having a segment purely based on age makes little to no sense.

Closing thoughts

It is unproductive to assume an entire 20 year age bracket of the population like the same things or behave the same way. The best way to interact with your market is to have a solid understanding of your actual consumer base. Making assumptions based off someone’s age is not going to get great results.



Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (2000)

By Neil Howe, William Strauss

Generation Me (2006)

By Dr. Jean Twenge

Millennials Don’t Exist by Adam Conover at Deep Shift Marketing Conference.