Long before I finished graduate school with an advanced degree in psychology, I believed, as many mental health professionals do, that labeling a person or a group based on a set of traits or symptoms could do more harm than good.
Today, as the CEO of an advertising agency, I understand the obsession with Millennial consumers but I am baffled by the marketing world’s tendency to look at this entire generation of people as one group with similar traits and tastes. Millennials, also known as Generation Y, were born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Most agree that people born between 1992 and 2001 make up the key part of this group. This means that a Millennial may be 18 years old or 33 years old.
It’s hard to imagine how any marketer can assume that an 18-year-old and a 33-year-old man or woman would share many, if any, of the same values, preferences and experiences. A 10-year difference in age is enormous, especially in today’s fast-changing world. Think about it. The first iPhone was introduced in 2007. That means the youngest people in this coveted consumer group were only about 10 years old when Apple introduced this device. They grew up with it. The oldest among the Millennials were about 23. They remember life before there was a phone, a camera, a keyboard and the Internet in every pocket. For them, the iPhone was a massive new technology, and a life-changing one. Consider, too, life and job experience, economic conditions, food trends, popular culture – even the memory of 9/11. How is it possible that the people who make up this group could be considered similar?
Labels are for the lazy. Yes, they make it easy to communicate when speaking of a generation or to a consumer target. But unless there is a powerful and unifying common cause that rallies an entire generation, generation labels are nothing but marketing buzz terms to help marketers communicate and simplify their targeting efforts.
So what is a marketer to do? My agency, for starters, shuns labels like Gen X, Millennials and Baby Boomers altogether. Instead, we think in terms of consumer lifestyle. Here are three other things we bear in mind to keep from making generalizations about huge consumer groups: