Millennials have been a marketing obsession for several years now as the generation develops into a larger percentage of the work force and begins to earn and spend more. Yet, a new storyline has recently emerged around Millennials: It turns out, they’re not a uniform generation with identical traits that apply to every single member.
Smart marketers have known this for years, of course, but so many of the resources and information available to marketers have painted the millennial generation as one single block that looks and acts alike. This has led to a greater issue, where many marketers consider Millennials a homogenous audience that they need to reach, without asking why they want to reach Millennials, or what the audience will do for their business. Before marketers ask about Millennials, they need to consider their strategy, and why Millennials should be a part of it.
“Millennials” is a term that generally refers to a generation of consumers born during a period of time, not a fixed age bracket, the same way that “Baby Boomers” and “Gen X” apply to a generation. The oldest consumers within the generation are now in their mid-30s, and many have already purchased homes and cars and started families. Contrast that with the youngest portion of the generation, who are teenagers on the cusp of earning their drivers’ licenses. Smack dab in the middle sits a group in its late 20s and early 30s who, perhaps for the very first time, are considering settling down, taking out a mortgage, or buying a new car.
These three different points within the generation demonstrate just how much variety exists within the Millennial population. The Millennial generation contains multitudes. Marketers may have a mandate to “reach Millennials,” but marketers most likely want to actually target the various segments within the generation, and certainly not with the same message. Instead, they want to reach each segment of the population, matching the right product to the right segment to meet their marketing goals.
The first things for a marketer to determine are what they are trying to do with their marketing, and why Millennials matter to their strategy. That opens up a broader discussion of what type of product and consumer profile the brand actually wants to reach within the Millennial generation. Is an auto brand looking to reach first-time car buyers? Or are they looking to reach first-time luxury car buyers? Is a bank looking to reach first-time home buyers, or those that may be in need of a refinance? Is a travel brand looking to sell all-inclusive packages to younger budget-conscious travelers, or alternative destinations to the more adventurous?
The only common thread these audience segments share is that they are young. Beyond that, we could be looking at very different slices of the Millennial population for each of these campaigns. Marketers have the ability to look more deeply into the Millennial generation, using segmentation to help get a better picture of where certain portions of the Millennial generation are in their lives. Rather than pursue an entire generation, marketers should consider age ranges, income, presence of children, whether or not the consumers own a home, and their overall estimated asset level. Armed with this information, marketers can better understand the different segments of the generation and see which cohorts line up with each of their campaign goals.
What they find may surprise them. This is a generation whose priorities vary dramatically even by where they live. Thirty years ago, an unmarried 30-year-old consumer without a home or car was considered unaccomplished. Today, this perception may exist in some markets, but certainly not all. Millennials within the same age range and income may have vastly different home lives and expectations depending on whether they live in a city, suburb, or rural area.
Meanwhile, it’s true that some Millennials prefer experiences over buying material things, but some actually like buying stuff too! If a brand segments by affluence, age range, life stage, discretionary spending, and financial products that a consumer might own, such as credit cards, then they should get a clearer picture of why consumers behave the way they do. Some consumers may not make frequent high-end purchases, but that may be because they are working through debt.
Of course, this kind of segmentation is most valuable when marketers start with a clear campaign goal, rather than a vague one like “reaching Millennials.” It’s foolish to say that all Millennials want the same things. Before you start asking about Millennials, look at your marketing strategy and decide who you want to reach and with which product or service, why you want to reach them, and what that audience will mean to your brand. Millennials are a colorful, varied generation, but a careful analysis will uncover the segments of the population that may drive more successful campaigns.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on July 13, 2016, in Engage:Affluent.