August 30, 2018

No, this isn’t that article.

In a world where marketing has become incredibly sophisticated, our audience segmentation at a basic level has yet to come along for the ride. Millennials, once the next hottest target, still remain a popular audience segment among marketers. Originally touted because of their unique worldview, expectations of brands they interact with, and digital connectedness, they’ve outstayed their usefulness as a marketing concept. Rather than helping clarify a marketing approach, they have become a default go-to if you want to sell stuff.

A construct has to be useful to remain a construct. But three important things have happened to the millennial construct.

  1. Millennials have gotten diverse. Always a rough concept more than a strict guideline, the general consensus is that millennials are anywhere from those aged 18 - 35. Some wider definitions have them starting at age 13 or 14. There is a huge difference between those groups, and it shouldn’t take a lot of discussion as to why. Someone living at home finishing high school has very different needs than a suburban mother of three. And the brands they look for are widely divergent. In fact, I’m not the first to point this out. Others are already suggesting we have moved on to the next, greatest widespread demographic target based on age.
  2. Millennials have, indeed, changed. As the group moves into the workplace, has families, and changes in their phase of life, some of what made them unique has changed. They might assimilate into norms of other groups more. Anecdotally, I’m at the tail end of Generation X, but I have many friends that are categorized as millennials. Although I’m not a big believer in “the focus group of one,” there is very little difference in how those friends and I view brands. Part of this is also a blurring upward of these trends within other age brackets. The idea that millennials expect brands to converse with them, care about what they care about, be responsible, and share experiences with consumers isn’t confined to millennials anymore. We all expect this.
  3. Mostly though, marketing has become more sophisticated. We can do better. Millennials have become a relic of old-school thinking, when we had to define demographic groups in order to know what they watch on TV, read in magazines, or search for on the Internet. The rise of digital advertising, sponsored content, and social media targeting in some cases has rendered some of this “catch all” marketing moot. Instead of categorizing audiences into massive segments, we can use actual behaviors and actions as the basis for our approach.

Whenever I work with a company and see millennials as a target, the first thing I look to do is break that down. Who will actually buy the product? Who cares about it? Who needs it? That person is much narrower than a millennial.

Sometimes that can come by examining purchasing drivers. Other times it is a product that appeals to a certain age. And sometimes, we should just target them with advertising based on the profile of who is already buying.

Marketing is interesting in that it always evolves and changes. And it’s time to change our reliance on millennials as a target. It’s not helping them or us.


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