For Millennials, the coming-of-age process isn't as defined or linear as it has been with past generations. They are not as closely bound by expectations related to going to school, starting work, getting married, and raising families, which makes their lives a constant work in progress and much less predictable.
It also means that while past generations represented a fairly cohesive cohort, Millennials are much more fragmented. The result is that brands need to be extremely flexible to adapt to the changing paradigms of this generation.
Characterizing Millennials as one big group misses the opportunity to address the full spectrum of who they are. And, yet, many marketers and researchers alike ("The Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change") ascribe universal values and dimensions to this generation. Millennials are typically characterized as optimistic, altruistic people who are confident, connected, post-materialistic, and open to change. If only it were that easy.
A global monitor study by The Futures Company found that while Millennials have some consistency in the characteristics described above, they are a fragmented group refracted by technology and their expression of identity, the same social/technology factors that differentiate them from other generations. Both "expression of identity" and the "role of technology" in their lives stood out as good dimensions for a useful segmentation:
Using these two dimensions, Futures identified four segments of Millennials and the corresponding marketing modes they would naturally gravitate toward:
For a brand, the question becomes how to utilize these segmentations. A large brand would ideally find products and marketing approaches to address each. Consider brands like Toyota or Nike. Nike+ would be attractive to a Satellite because it utilizes the latest technology to connect devices and improve performance. In contrast, because it adds meaning to the shoe and raises awareness for a cancer charity, the Livestrong line would better appeal to a Spirit. Likewise, Toyota could align the efficiency and durability of the Corolla with Steppers and the performance technology of the Matrix with Striders.
Smaller brands may find it more efficient to target the segments that have the strongest connection with their brand values. For example, a brand like Method would appeal to both Striders and Spirits. Spirits would love the conscientious technology. They'd take great personal satisfaction in putting Method on their counter, knowing they'd bought something good for themselves and the planet. Whereas Striders could appreciate Method's aspirational qualities and design leadership, but they would still expect performance -- the impact the liquid has on their body and how the cool packaging enhances their experience with it.
Regardless of how you align your brand today, change is the only thing that's certain. You only have to watch the "Did You Know" YouTube video to recognize that the speed of change today is much more rapid than in previous generations. In the face of such change, Millennials will continue to be versatile in their approaches to life, with their identities always in a state of transition. And brands need to be responsive and malleable to adjust to the fluidity of a Millennial's world.