That's Not How You Market To Millennials

Your impression of Millennials might be that they’re lazy, narcissistic, selfish, and incorrigible. You might even characterize  them as the “Boomerang Generation” for their propensity to move back into their parents’ house. While you may be right in some circumstances, it’s safe to say that most Gen-Y/Millennials are open-minded, tech-savvy, great at multi-tasking, and optimistic. Whatever your opinion of this generation, the sometimes harsh generalizations are a questionable approach.

Before we explain why, let’s recognize that it’s understandable why marketers and advertisers have somehow considered all of the aforementioned characteristics to be representative of every Millennial. We are talking about a group that comprises 26% of the U.S. population (that’s 83 million individuals). Millennials are digital natives who are more connected to each other than any previous generation –– they share A LOT, because they’ve got the answers to all of their questions, and an attentive audience who will listen to them at their fingertips.  

Millennials’ penchant for instant, digital gratification has become a challenge for marketers and advertisers. Forbes explains, “Because Millennials today are much more aware of products’ attributes and issues, they tend to be less brand loyal.” But, what they may lack in brand loyalty, they make up for with smarter purchasing decisions.  It’s a no-brainer why shared knowledge among peers can uncover absolute value, and it’s become more and more obvious that leveraging early-adopters can enhance brand equity for companies.

As described by The New York Times, “Millennials have a significant earning potential in the years to come, and, because of the sheer size of the group, have the ability to reshape the economy in ways that haven’t happened since the huge Baby Boom generation was hitting the job market and moving into first homes.”

The problem is that a majority of companies looking to target the Millennial market are missing the underlying values of the generation. It’s not a one-size-fits-all demographic. Millennials are very diverse individuals within a larger, diverse group — socioeconomically, ethnically, and ideologically –– and they don’t appreciate ignorant representation of the Millennial generation in popular culture. If you do not believe us, check out a piece of this comic that originially appeared on

There are many unfair Millennial stereotypes out there –– people tend to use the words “hipster” and “Millennial” interchangeably, and ignore the fact that a majority of Millennials aren’t privileged or “entitled,” as the media and older generations would have you believe. These cliches are based on the behaviors of specific subsets of the Millennial group, and aren’t indicative of every Millennial.

At the most recent Advertising Week conference in New York, Bryan Melmed, VP of Insights Services at Exponential, presented a new way to prevent overly broad generalizations by using categories, like experiences and lifestyle choices, to help us identify the Millennial market as accurately as possible. He presented three major forces: the economy, globalization, and social media, which define key Millennial populations.

Melmed’s research describes the “Boss Babe,” an ambitious, professionally focused woman in charge of her own life, and the “Brogrammer,” a pro-tech young man interested in gaming and sports, who works hard and plays hard. Then you also have the Millennials who “[have] done all the right things, but they’re more or less stuck in an economic purgatory”, Melmed said. This subset consists of those with no access to college education, as well as the overeducated and underemployed recent grads who are unable to secure jobs and reach their full potential. Melmed’s team analyzed data from 4 million young adults to define the different groups and their reactions to the economy, globalization, and social media. AdWeek does a good job further explaining other types of Millennials as described by Melmed in this article.

Mashable adds to Melmed’s study by saying, “There are several Millennial subgroups, each with its own specific needs and preferences. While there is some overlap across categories, it's important that marketers know which groups they want to target, and how to appeal to each one individually.” We are inclined to agree! Successful marketing campaigns that catch Millennials’ attention are fruitful because they’re relevant and authentic, and not trying to reach a simplified version of this demographic.

Targeting Millennials with marketing messages has evolved dramatically, forcing brands to constantly react and adapt to technological advances. Our advice? Start by identifying what type of Millennial subgroup you’re trying to target, and make it a point to understand that specific subset. Once you begin listening to their digital conversations, make your brand easy to engage with. It will be worth it, even if it is hard to adjust your tried-and-true marketing methods to target this seemingly elusive generation. 




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