Millennials are not your target audience

…you’re just too lazy/buzzwordy to narrow it down

Alt: A post from those of us sick of sweeping generalizations, unwanted advice articles, and inspirational fluff posts. NOT from millennials.

I’ve lived most of my life blissfully unaware of the craze that is articles about millennials. But my latest shuffle of who I’m twitter!stalking has led me into some dark and dangerous alleys. Namely, into posts like “What Makes Millennials Happy In The Workforce” or “The Legacy of Pokemon for Millennials”.

it’s not just that people are wrong on the internet, it’s that people I respect are wrong on the internet!

I’ve struggled for the past week about what to do. Articles/posts about millennials are the very thing that really gets my goat¹, but expressing exactly where I disagree with the people I respect who do choose to engage with/contribute to this genre requires a considered response, and one comprised of more than 140 characters. So, here we go.

Defining the problem

As far as I can tell articles with ‘millennial’ in the title fall broadly¹ into 3 main categories:

  • Fluff piece. No real substance or actionable insights. Usually quite anti-millennial, but could be a positive in-defense-of-millennials response post.
  • Advice for non-millennials. Could be either anti/pro, usually trying to teach others how to manipulate me so I will buy their product.
  • Advice for millennials. Typically explains the obvious mistakes we’re making, often rudely but sometimes veiled in compassion.

Let’s break down what frustrates me about each of these.

Fluff Pieces

Please Stop Having Dumb Opinions About Millennials

Fluff pieces are irrelevant. At best they’re a mildly inspirational waste-of-time, at worst they provide lots of poor-quality stats to get people angry about. They don’t seem to move the discourse forward (not that I’m even sure there’s a ‘forward’ to reach when we’re having a conversation that doesn’t seem to have an impact on reality — do our actions change upon the outcome of a discussion about whether a generation is ruining or saving the world?).

Ben Schreckinger said this better than I could:

It’s hard to tease out useful generalizations about a diverse group of 80 million people, and much easier to shoot from the hip while cherry-picking the findings of PR-hungry market research firms. After all, it doesn’t seem to matter what you serve up, if you put “millennial” in the title, people will keep on clicking.

Advice for non-millennials

I’d like to question the very premise of these. If the goal is to improve your ability to empathize with, relate to and understand a sector of society then probably the worst thing you can do is approach it by bucketing a bunch of people together on something so arbitrary as age.

I’m going to let Jandra Sutton sum this one up:

Why should we stop writing articles about Millennials? The same reason we should stop writing articles about female-oriented tactics designed to help women succeed in the workplace, about understanding violence among black kids, and about Asian overachievers. Just because I have blonde hair, and you met a blonde who likes vodka once at a bar, doesn’t mean all blondes like vodka.
Stop trying to define a group by gathering less-than-common characteristics and applying it widely.

If you’d like to learn about marketing trends, figure out who your target audience is and embed yourself in their world. Millennials can’t be your target audience the same way women can’t be your target audience the same way ‘humans’ can’t be your target audience — it’s just too broad an audience. Heck, let me stick some Forbes³ in here just to back me up on that.

It might be helpful to think of the market selection process as a multiple staged funnel. For example, your first bucket might be gender. Your second filter might be age range. Your third and final sieve might be income level — the family purchasing a Kia probably occupies a different income bracket than the family purchasing a Lexus.

So, millennials is your first bucket. Find some more!

Advice for millennials

Unwanted advice is one of two things, both involve not knowing your audience.

The first is what happens when you say that I’m your target audience, that these words you’ve written are aimed at me, and then none of it applies to me.

Take Hey millennials, here are 5 easy ways not to act entitled, for instance —

And for those millennials not making these mistakes? Keep it up — you guys have no idea how much you stand out!

— tacking a hasty disclaimer onto the end of an article doesn’t make up for including me in your grab-basket.

If you think your target audience is millennials you’re just being lazy. Your target audience is going to be ‘young professionals going for their first promotion’ or ‘college kids worried about doing well at an internship’ or ‘people looking to buy their first house’ or ‘anyone suffering from crazy student loans and working at a bar’. Be more specific, be more precise.

Again, to let someone else sum this one up for me, Rob Gunther⁴:

And who are we really talking about when we say Millennial? Is it really even a worthwhile task trying to make generalizations about an entire age group? Does a twenty-something daughter of a single-parent trying to eek out an existence in Detroit have that much in common with a twenty-something guy coasting his way through private schools on the back of his parents’ wealth?
Is it fair to the vast collection of wildly different human experiences to round them all up based on age demographics, just so we can come up with catchy Internet headlines that attempt to serve up the world in easy-to-swallow factoids?

I’d classify the second type of unwanted advice as when you really have figured out who your audience is, but you’ve completely missed the mark on anything useful and instead are using ‘advice’ as a way to hurl insults.

E.g. An Open Letter to Millenials Like Talia. I don’t think I really need to comment on why negativity like that isn’t really helping anyone.

Where do we go from here?

This one’s easy.

I think the search results speak for themselves

This is pretty much the same suggestion Rob Gunther made;

I don’t know. All I can say is, if you think Millennial is as stupid as I do, just stop using it. Don’t respond to it, don’t repeat it, just do your best to pretend like it doesn’t exist. Hopefully if enough people sign on, we can at least use Millennial as a dead giveaway, that anybody who uses it doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

It’s easy to say that all we need to do is use our silence to starve generational conflicts of their legitimacy, and yet I understand the desire to hasten things along. When refraining from participation doesn’t seem to be working, the need to speak out against the unreasonableness of it all often wins out —that’s where this article comes from after all!

Now that I’ve chosen to step off the sidelines and start participating I imagine ‘millennial’ is going to stay in my lexicon for at least a little while longer. But I urge you, next time you think about using the word, to consider carefully whether what you have to say is well-targeted, positive, actionable and well-researched (especially if you’re going to throw in facts/stats!).

And if it’s not…maybe just let it go.

¹ …I couldn’t help myself. I just had to throw that phrase in there.

² Look at me make sweeping generalizations in my article complaining about exactly that. #Can’tStopWon’tStop #IDoWhatIWant #FuckThePolice

³ I went with Forbes, but do a quick search for “Target Audience” or “Identifying your target audience” and pick your favorite.

Honestly I could have just written this headline and had the article consist solely of a link to Rob’s post, but I felt like maybe I should try adding to the conversation?

…In other news, taking my inspiration from XKCD, I’ve now added a custom substitution to this extension to replace “millennials” with “a diverse, complex and large group of people (who I’m making sweeping generalizations about)” and I’ve got to admit, my life is definitely a little better.