Look into any marketer’s files and you’re almost sure to find at least one, if not several, market segmentation reports. Those reports will be full of catchy names like “Info Seekers” or “Reluctant Networkers” that embody the distinct characteristics of that segment. These names mean something and are a constant reminder of the mindset of the segment—which is part of the reason this age-old tactic works. Generational insight is a lot like this. The name of a generation means something, an understanding of which can inherently help marketers.
Although those born in the ’80s and early ’90s are frequently referred to as Generation Y, they are also called Millennials (which is the generation’s more academically supported, and accurate, name – see Strauss and Howe’s book Generations: The History of America’s Future). Two lessons about the name “Millennial” will give marketers key insight into this elusive group.
Lesson One The word Millennial itself is of course related to the Millennium, which is so appropriate because Millennials themselves are very similar to the phenomenon we experienced at the turn of the century.
Ask anyone over the age of 25 if they can remember what a big deal the year 2000 was. It was this once-in-a-lifetime moment where everyone was united, transfixed by the turning of the calendar year. Millennials are like that. They are a big deal. And, not just because they are 86 million strong.
Millennials are a Civic generation. Generations of this type unite to be a heroic and achieving group of adults. America’s last Civic generation, the G.I. or Greatest Generation, forever changed America with its heroism in World War II and its grandiose plans for post-war, suburban America. Millennials will be no different. They will continue to be a big deal.
The lesson for marketers is they can’t afford to not understand and thereby effectively market to Millennials, not just now, but in the future, too. Their importance won’t be eclipsed any time soon.
Lesson Two The word Millennial, or Millennium, conjures images and memories of hope. Millennials tend to be a hopeful and optimistic bunch. Their optimism and positive attitude was actually one of the first defining characteristics researchers discovered about them. For years, everyone, and especially marketers, had associated angst and rebellion with America’s youth (think MTV and Gen X) but suddenly study after study indicated that America’s youth was happy, actually liked their parents and were decidedly more “High School Musical” than “The Breakfast Club.” Now, even as almost all Millennials are officially adults (the last Millennial turns 18 in 2014), the same optimism prevails.
The lesson for marketers is that optimism is a definite Millennial mindset and messaging must be adjusted accordingly.
Millennials will gravitate toward positive, upbeat messaging. That does not mean they aren’t discerning enough to recognize counterfeit positioning. Rather, it means that previously successful strategies like scare tactics and smearing the competition aren’t going to work as effectively as fine-tuning authentic positioning about your product.
Just as market segmentations named “Group A” and “Group B” aren’t particularly illuminating to marketers, a generational name that simply follows the one before isn’t particularly enlightening, either.
The Millennial generation is just as their name implies.