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How Millennials Killed Demographics

Type the words “How Millennials Killed” into any web browser and you’ll find at least 100 articles, blogs and other editorials claiming millennials are now responsible for the demise of just about everything – from newspapers to paper napkins.  Go ahead: Google it.  I’ll wait.

Comic book style man with city on fire

So, who’s on the obit page today?  Breakfast cereal?  Big name beer?  Beyoncé?  It could be almost anything or anyone.  Because everyone who’s failed to make their product or service or brand relevant in today’s market automatically blames it on those pesky millennials.

Sorry.  I call “bullshit.”

It’s Not About Age.

Depending upon the source, the Millennial generation has been roughly defined as those adults born after 1976 (just remember America’s Bicentennial).  In other words, everyone who’s currently aged 18-41.  That’s not a marketing demographic; that’s a family reunion.  Take away seniors over 65, and we’re talking about half the adult population.

If you haven’t found a way to make your brand interesting to anyone under 40, I hope that’s on purpose – and you’re not planning to be in business 10 years from now. Because all the consumer habits today’s 30-year olds are developing will surely follow them across the decades and become increasingly more sophisticated with new technology.

Which means the “millennial issue” isn’t really about age at all.

It’s Not About Affluence.

Ask any marketer to describe the typical millennial and you’re likely to hear terms like impatient, indecisive or self-directed.  They want options, hate limitations and are slow to commit.  They demand transparency, despise dishonesty and care just as much about a brand’s values as its products or services. But they’re also more skeptical, almost cynical and resist traditional advertising in all its forms.

Sound at least a little like the millennials you know?  Sure.  But it also sounds a lot like my 83-year old father.  The internet, the smartphone and all the technology that’s followed have empowered him (and every other consumer) in ways many marketers never imagined.

Old man with text bubbles over his eyes

Not actually Robert’s father, this is a dramatization for dramatic purposes.

Last fall, Advertising Age published the results of one agency’s five-year survey of 15,000 millennials (age 17-37) and their favorite brands.  Can you guess the Top 10?  Apple, Nike, Samsung, Target, Amazon, Sony, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Coke and Google.

Wow. What a coincidence. Those are some of my favorite brands, too – but I’m almost 60.  I guess we’re not that different after all.

Except when it comes to that famous sense of entitlement and frivolous overspending.  Not by millennials, mind you, but by their parents.  According to a recent Bankrate study, millennials are spending significantly less on vacations and more on bills than previous generations. They’re far more likely to spend their money on groceries, gas or other necessities than they are on entertainment.

There are a variety of drivers behind these spending attitudes, including less financial stability and memories of growing up during the recession. But the cumulative result is the same underlying mood of fiscal conservativism and debt aversion most other Americans are feeling these days.

It’s About Attitude.

To be fair, millennials do spend more on restaurants and phone bills – but don’t we all?  And the combination of those two expenditures has also precipitated a significant shift in the consumer landscape.  While millennials have been accused of killing sit-down restaurants like Applebee’s and Buffalo Wild Wings, they’ve also given new life to quick service shops like Chipotle and takeout delivery services like BiteSquad.

In fact, “fast casual” might be the perfect way to describe our whole society.  Much of today’s consumer behavior seems based on the nexus of mobile connectivity and outright activity.  We’re a world that can’t sit still.  Can’t focus.  Can’t commit.  We’re unwilling to watch a video any longer than :15 or read a headline with more than four words.

It’s About Access.

In other words, if you have a problem with everybody under 40, you have a problem with everybody, period.  We’re all millennials now.

Unfortunately, too many marketers are still using 20th Century tactics or employing new technology with primitive intent.  Millennials aren’t the ones to blame for ad blocking software; poor marketers are.

Ad blocked banner

Today’s programmatic media platforms weren’t invented just so you could sneak a message in front of the people you really want to reach, but to help you craft the kind of personalized, evolved, engaging message they really want to see.

Truly sophisticated systems (like the ModernImpact Intelligent Pixel®) also leverage cognitive algorithms to measure real-time response, identify online behaviors and then build market-expanding look-alike audiences that transcend mere demographics.

The days of forcing or badgering or tricking anyone (of any age) into noticing you are over.  The digital consumer is in control and that means you’ll have to earn your access.

Of course, the quickest way into their hearts and minds is to open yours.  Stop stereotyping and start hyper-profiling.  Stop thinking in terms of categories and start tracking individual behavior.  Forget everything you know about demo-based advertising and start focusing on people-based marketing.

Robert Paul

Author Robert Paul

As a seasoned veteran with three first names, RAP (as we call him) brings 30+ years of brand strategy expertise to the clients of Modern Impact. Having lived on all three sides of the agency-media-client equation, he provides a unique, universal perspective on the branding process. His talent for building strong brands spans Real Estate, Insurance, Health and Fitness, CPG, Automotive, Travel and several other categories. That radio voice and razor-sharp tongue mean there’s never a dull moment with RAP in the room. Then you realize you’re walking out smarter (or at least more sarcastic) than when you walked in. Read RAP’s blog posts and you’ll see what we mean.

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