Why the Word Millennial is Not Cliché

January 13, 2015

In our industry, “marketing to millennials” may prompt eye rolls. Once a word permeates the media vernacular and become ubiquitous, it starts to feel like jargon sans meaning.

But I’m here to say that the word millennials is not a buzzword or catch phrase. It’s also not meant to downplay the importance of other generations, as Gen X and Boomers are also largely untapped targets that we focus on with great vigor.

Several years back, the communications industry declared “demographics are dead,” basically putting a nail in the coffin of age-based targeting in favor of life stages. Then, with the bourgeoning spending power of new generations (millennials and Gen-Z), the question has resurfaced — does age really matter?

The simple truth is that generation and life stage are different… and both matter. Millennials are the most hyper-segmented generation in the world — and the first global generation. So segmented, in fact, that one of their main hallmarks is a general lack of unified values and circumstances.

In addition, with the ubiquity of information sharing, a 60 year old and a 20 year old are more likely than ever to laugh at the same cultural references. Add this to the fact that millennials aren’t necessarily following the “normal” life stages of previous generations. Kids sans marriage and delayed homeownership are now both considered viable options in an endless array of scenarios.

With that said, there are still clear commonalities based on the era in which you come of age — and for us millennials, (here’s proof that I actually am one) the digital revolution and 9/11 were perhaps our most profound defining moments; the economy also tanked as most of us entered the workforce. These shared cultural experiences have far-reaching effects on our worldview that cannot be ignored.

Iconoculture refers to these formidable political, economic, cultural and social forces as “the ties that bind.” Their regression analysis of core values stands as proof that things like “maximizing personal agency” and “finding individual fulfillment in a complex, ever-changing environment” rise above regardless of education, employment or household.

When we extend this analysis of the millennial mindset, specifically within the communications sphere, we also find that certain content channels, platforms and information-sharing tendencies also rise above – unsurprising given their digital adeptness. This, in turn, has a significant effect on how we reach millennials through earned media, given that they are helping drive much of their own news cycle — and paid media, given that their content preferences are so consistent (think visual, short, entertaining, and human).

So yes — you’re unlikely to find one person who is representative of the whole millennial generation. And yes, being highly specific in which millennials you’re targeting is the best bet, as it better incorporates life stage into the mix. But a thorough understanding and embodiment of the millennial mentality is a must-know to effectively reach this generation from a brand perspective.

We love doing this day-in and day-out, as clearly demonstrated in this new video showcasing Ketchum’s approach to millennial marketing:

Feel free to leave a comment or question about millennials below!

Sarah is a VP of Insights & Strategic Planning, working closely with team leaders to catalyze the planning/creative process and develop key research-based and target-relevant insights that help lead to clear strategic vision. In essence, people fascinate her and she figures out what makes them tick so brands can intersect with consumers in a meaningful, mutually profitable way. Recently named to the 2015 Forbes 30 Under 30 List in Marketing & Advertising, her focus on millennials has become a core area of Ketchum expertise. A committed cultural enthusiast, it’s hard to find something that doesn’t interest her. You can follow Sarah’s random musings on Twitter @sarahjane047, PSFK, and her blog, So Five Minutes Ago.