Depending on who you’re talking to, the mere mention of “millennials” will inspire a cringe or an eye-roll. The so-called “me” generation, which lives in the age of “participation trophies,” both gets a bad rep and has advertisers falling over themselves to reach them.
At age 34, I am (technically) a millennial. And it never ceases to amaze me how advertisers tend to treat us as one-size-fits-all. Comparing an 18 year old to a 34 year old is like comparing apples to organic pressed kale juice. Even comparing two 18 year olds to one another can be a losing strategy, which is I guess that’s to say that if age is hardly a discerning filter, then stereotyping an entire generation is just lazy. But targeting and strategizing by life stage is a different story.
As with any generation, millennials’ life stages are comprised by predictable benchmarks and transitional moments that give brands crucial information about what’s important to consumers at different parts of their lives. Brands that segment millennials not by age but by these core life cycles will find more success than those that don’t.
Here’s a look at standard life stages and what consumers at these stages are thinking about, prioritizing and dealing with.
Stage 1: Educated and Dependent (18 - 23)
Still living at home, still dependent on their parents for support but knowledge of the “real world” has begun to settle in. For the first time, these young adults are managing money, a car payment and, of course, a job. They are also still in exploration mode: trying new experiences, meeting new friends and ingesting a wide range of media. They aren’t very brand loyal yet because they’ve never really had to be, which means there’s an easy opportunity for brands to win them over.
Take Mic, a media company specifically for millennials. They partnered with Discover to launch a new channel called The Payoff, aimed at helping millennials manage and control their personal finances. “Whether embarking on a new career, building credit or sizing up a big purchase, there is a lot to learn and to navigate for young consumers when it comes to their finances," said Jennifer Murillo, Discover's VP of brand communications in a press release. And of course, knowing their audience well, the Payoff launched with a multichannel approach—allowing their audience access through a video series, a podcast, interactive online experiences and even a newsletter.
Stage 2: Independent and
Empowered (24 - 29)
Freedom! Millennials in this group are living on their own and their career is off and running. With room to grow financially and personally, they are starting to form some long-term media habits and brand choices. They have also dabbled in every media avenue presented to them — social, traditional, and digital — decided which ones best suit them. That doesn’t mean they won’t be up for trying new experiences—if the brand is fresh and relevant.
Take Audi, for example. This century-old brand knew that combining brand experiences would be a smart route. As part of its Emmy Awards sponsorship, Audi and Airbnb offered fans the chance to book three-day getaways at a residence in Death Valley, Nev. The guests could drive a 2017 Audi R8 during their stay, which also included chauffeur service from the airport, meals prepared by a personal chef and, of course, nightly entertainment. The experience, Audi VP of Marketing Loren Angelo said, sold out in seven seconds.
Stage 3: Settled and Responsible (30 - 35)
With a career hitting its stride, a first home purchased, and maybe even a family in the picture, this stage calls for more stability. Most millennials at this phase are settled both personally and in their brand choices, which of course doesn’t mean that companies should expect to retain their love indefinitely.Positive brand and customer service experiences are crucial to this group. Fail to evolve with your audience’s needs? You could find a competitor swoops in all too easily.
Viacom, a company whose major channels like MTV and VH1 have reinvented themselves more than once, continued its evolution with a renewed focus on millennial moms. In 2016, Viacom and YouTube parenting channel “What's Up Moms” joined forces to create relevant parenting content. Together, they produced a video series that aired both on Viacom’s traditional TV networks and on their digital platforms. By delivering desired content in the format that fit their target audience, it was an obvious win for Viacom.
There you have it. Brands must find ways to target millennials at their core stages, as their demographics, and media consumption habits evolve. Consumers are forever in the driver’s seat, and millennials won’t hesitate to change course when a brand misses their mark.