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What’s the point in targeting millennials?

Tuesday 23rd January

The media industry is obsessed with millennials. We have endless discussions about how they behave, the media they consume, how to reach them and what they eat for breakfast. But who actually are they? Broadly speaking, they are a demographic cohort born somewhere in between 1980 and 2000. They love smart phones, Netflix and avocadoes. Or do they?

In fact, recent studies have demonstrated that the behaviour and attitudes of young people, outside the borders of big metropolitan cities, is remarkably similar to that of their parents, or grandparents. The familiar characteristics we so often associate with this ‘mobile generation’ do not apply to many members of the millennial group.

Is it coincidence that most of the marketers who confidently propagate these ideas are based in said metropolitan cities, and many of them (erm, us) adhere to these limited stereotypes? I love avocadoes as much as the next London-centric graduate, but it would be absurd to work off the assumption that the other 16,231,312 16-34 year olds that make up the population do too.

The targetable demographic have also been widely stereotyped as self-centred, apathetic and having a poor work ethic. They are supposedly unenthusiastic about pursuing a career and resent being managed. This TIME cover says it all:

However, it is not difficult to find evidence that contradicts these claims. CEB, a consulting firm, polls 90,000 American employees each quarter, found that millennials in fact rank as the most competitive: 59% of them, in the most recent poll, said competition is “what gets them up in the morning”, compared with 50% of baby-boomers. When it comes to the notion that they lack ambition and are anti-careerist, CEB’s poll found that 33% of millennials put “future career opportunity” among their top five reasons for choosing a job, compared with 21% for other generations.

But it’s not just a question of debunking the myths surrounding this demographic group – marketers need to acknowledge millennials first and foremost as individuals. YouGov data clearly shows that there are as many differences within millennials as there are between them and other age groups. As Simon Harmston the Head of YouGov reports notes: “Millennials are not a homogenous lump and can’t be looked on as a bloc of people who act, think and feel the same.”

For every millennial obsessing over heavy metal, there is another listening to Mozart. For every liberal, there is a hard line conservative. For every avocado lover, there is a die-hard chicken nugget fan. In an age when we have more knowledge and understanding of consumers than ever, the positioning of a diverse and nuanced age group under the umbrella term ‘millennial’ is lazy marketing. There are always general outliers, and not everyone in a generation is the same. We have the capacity to create unique and personalized segments at a very granular level – so why are we wasting our time lumping together 34 year old mums of 3 and kids who have just taken their GCSE’s?

Thoroughly researched, fact-based understanding of demographic trends can be insightful. Analysing in-depth population data via platforms such as TGI, Indeemo and Nielsen empowers marketers and advertisers to effectively target the right people, in the right way, at the right time. Recording and collecting intelligence from behavioural data can produce new and previously unknown insights that help us understand the very people we are trying to reach.

Millennials are not all the same. They have wide ranging perceptions, tastes and experiences. Most importantly, they engage with media as individuals. A one-size-fits-all media strategy is convenient, but not always effective. Instead of working off misleading and inaccurate preconceptions about demographic groups, we should move beyond the millennial obsession and exploit the tools at our disposal to deliver an authentic, and relevant, consumer experience.

Article Written by

Isabelle James

International Media Executive, Total Media

Isabelle is a French and Spanish graduate and is working for the first time in the media industry. As a member of the international team, Isabelle has been excited by the opportunities to use her language skills in her work and in speaking with her international colleagues.

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