The millennial misnomer

Wed, 12/10/2016 - 08:53

As marketers, we’re fortunate to live in an era of rich data: an age that’s empowered agencies to weave enticing pictures of high-performance marketing campaigns that use segmentation and personalised communication to sell more stuff to more people. So why the heck do so many of us still apply sweeping (and meaningless) labels to target audiences?

I speak, of course, to the marketing industry’s obsession with millennials.

Most hallowed of audiences

You can barely have a conversation without someone talking about this most hallowed of audiences. Brands obsess about engaging them, conference organisers fall all over themselves to put on millennial-themed events and, if any further evidence is needed, run a Google search for ‘marketing to millennials’ and you’ll unearth a staggering 19m results.

Treating anyone born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s (and that’s soon to be 50% of the world’s working population, according to the folks at PwC) as a single demographic just doesn’t sound like a terribly good idea.

It puzzles me for a number of reasons — not least that no-one seems terribly bothered that millennials really don’t have that much disposable cash. Certainly not in comparison to the over-50s who, according to the Daily Telegraph, buy 65% of all new cars and half of Britain’s cosmetics (perversely, there’s much less interest in them; Google ‘marketing to the over-50s’ and you’ll find slightly fewer than 1.5m web pages).

Shareholder pressure

And while I’d love to think that brands are taking a long-term view on nurturing tomorrow’s big spenders, I remain unconvinced. Shareholder pressure has created a short-term profit motive for most corporates, and I doubt there are many CEOs with the vision or courage to swap their shareholders’ annual dividend payouts for the potential of future millennial earnings.

But that aside, two of the biggest gripes brands have about millennials is that they’re a fickle bunch, swapping allegiance at the drop of a hat; and that they’re damnably difficult to engage.

That’s the heart of the problem: because the concept of the millennial is so loosely defined, it’s ridiculous for us to apply a catch-all label to them.


In days gone by, marketing was all about finding people’s shared interests: commonalities that we could use to create broad-ranging target audiences. Brands would then buy media to reach them; for example, they’d sponsor a food show because that’s where people interested in cooking would be. But the disruptive influence of the internet means foodies are now more likely to turn to Facebook, Instagram or YouTube than the TV for their culinary insights.

Behavioural targeting, such as programmatic advertising, means we can now serve content that speaks directly to these peoples’ interests. More to the point, we can segment them into tiny groups based upon location, age, gender, income and a variety of micro insights.

Which speaks to marketing lesson 101: people, regardless of their age or demographic, exhibit a better response rate if spoken to as individuals.

Treat them as unique

So, for we marketers to deliver what millennials want, we need to kill the misnomer of group labelling and treat them as the unique people that they really are. Which, as a millennial, is non-negotiable. It is the I-generation, after all.

This article was originally published by MarkLives.

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