I’m technically a Millennial. At 35, I thought I was too old, but apparently not — depending on which of the many cut-off points you choose.
And yet I don’t fit into the categories that millennials are lumped into.
I don’t eat avocado toast. I don’t actually like avocados at all.
I don’t drink craft beer. Or any beer. I prefer fruity drinks.
I’m not on Snapchat and I have no idea what’s up with those filters.
I have never (to my knowledge) received a ‘participation trophy’.
On the other hand, I do tick some of the millennial boxes…
I love emojis — they add much-needed tone to written communications (though I keep them to social rather than professional correspondence).
I understand what ‘I lik the bred’ means (I’m probably showing my age by referring to that specific meme, but I happen to like it for its Chaucer-esque poetry).
I don’t own a house (and no one can blame avocado toast in my case) and I’m not buying diamonds.
What I’m trying to point out is that I’m a millennial and I don’t fit all of the stereotypes that are supposed to define this particular age group. And that’s almost certainly true of every other person — not just in this group but in all of them. None of us, of any generation, tick every single box.
So why do some businesses insist on ‘marketing to millennials’?
I’ve seen briefs and customer personas and strategies that state the target audience is “millennials”, with no further information about age, gender, interests, location or family status.
Within that one bracket you could easily have a city-dwelling single 30 year-old man who likes going to the gym and watching Netflix, and a 19 year-old woman who likes drinking and gardening, and lives in the countryside with her parents. And a 35 year old woman who likes knitting, travel, and books.
Do you use the same marketing for the dad of a new baby, living in Kent, as you would to a lad’s lad in Southampton? Does the woman who takes the tube to her city job and reads the Financial Times want the same things as the board-game-loving retail assistant who cycles to work?
The answers might be yes, but they’re likely not. Lumping them all in together, as a homogenous group is pointless.
Millennials are not frivolous
When Virgin Trains released their ‘Avocard’ campaign (I actually know the Millennial responsible for that one, funnily enough), it was a great stroke of marketing for Millennials. But it was only appealing to a section of the generation — those who use the train.
That’s a pretty broad potential customer base, so it’s easy to create a relatively broad marketing campaign. Ok, so they brought in the avocado thing, but in a way that poked fun at the stereotype of how we all supposedly love them, so it felt tongue in cheek rather than eye-rollingly patronising.
But when you decide all Millennials like frivolous things at the expense of sincerity, you end up with a blunder like this:
Youth doesn’t mean people can’t have serious thoughts, nor does it mean they’re incapable of expressing those thoughts, concerns, and issues in articulate, intelligent, and insightful ways.
Stop relying on exhausted stereotypes
Millennials — a generation of tens of millions of people, spanning a 20 year age gap — are not the same. I may have mentioned this, but it bears repeating.
So, when a business thinks it’s going to ‘market to Millennials,’ all it can do is rely on tired, worn, and boring stereotypes. There’s nothing innovative, nothing interesting, nothing exciting. Just stale ‘haha, they like craft beer and food trucks’ from marketers who don’t understand who they’re targeting.
Marketing to one demographic, without understanding how few commonalities there are within that group, is lazy at best.
When you throw everyone into one bucket, you miss the nuances. And, with marketing, it’s often those nuances that cause your audience to connect, engage, or take action.
One of the worst things about brands trying to appeal to this imaginary Millennial is how they disconnect from their own style and branding to achieve it.
If your brand is quirky, cheeky, or lighthearted, then this kind of thing works. Virgin’s campaign fit their brand.
But when Microsoft recruiters sent emails to potential interns, using the term ‘Bae’, it backfired. Not to mention ‘hella noms’ and ‘lots of dranks’. This felt completely contrived and out of touch coming from a brand like Microsoft, a brand old enough to be the parent of the people it was trying to reach. In fact, it’s exactly like a parent trying to keep up with teen slang — cringeworthy.
Forget trying to be what you think Millennials are looking for. Look inside. What is your brand? What do you stand for? People these days want authenticity, not flashy tactics.
Don’t sell, engage
Talking of flashy tactics…
Advertising and marketing have evolved constantly over the years. We all, not just one generation, see through tactics that worked years ago. But that’s not because we’re cleverer or ‘harder to reach’. It’s because those tactics have been around forever. They’re old, they’re boring, and we know what’s what.
Advertising used to be brash — ‘buy our stuff and people will think you’re great’, ‘I liked it so much I bought the company,’ and so on.
Online marketing used to be full of clickbait — ‘one weird trick,’ ‘doctors hate him,’ etc.
Millennials weren’t around for the first lot, so we never had the chance to get sucked in, and now it feels very much like a tactic from a bygone age. We were around for the start of clickbait and we fell for it. We’ve learned, the same way previous generations learned the marketing techniques of the day and became less susceptible.
So, sales tactics don’t work. Great. What’s a marketer to do?
Get with the times. Funnily enough, this works for more generations than just Millennials too. Gen X are more likely to buy from a company they engage with. Gen Z want to feel a connection. It’s almost like we’re all human.