One of the lessons of growing up is coming to terms with the fact that you’re not unique.
To anyone in denial, the Internet and the data that it aggregates makes this reality difficult to avoid. As an Individual Who Did Not Experience the Eighties, I fully recognize that I have a great deal in common with my peers when it comes to my behaviors as a consumer, the marketing that resonates with me (or doesn’t), my interests, preferences and style.
I get it: as a university educated Caucasian woman under thirty living in a western European city and working in tech, I’m not exactly a singular snowflake. But call me a millennial again, and I’m installing this extension that replaces the term with “snake people."
Sure There are Similarities, But ...
I share Noreen Seebacher’s frustration with the marketing world’s seemingly endless fascination with millennials.
I agree with her point that chronological age should not be the dominant metric for marketers, certainly not at the cost of socio-economic status, gender, occupation or geo-location -- though it’s difficult not to notice the impact of growing up with the internet on my peers whether they’re in Brooklyn, Johannesburg, Warsaw or Tokyo.
The Internet’s brought a universality to youth and young adult culture, making its many facets accessible and replicable across the globe.
I don’t claim to speak for all people in my generation.
Even as a sample of my demographic, I’m not necessarily representative of the 20-somethings in the US or Europe.
This disclaimer aside, millennials are different from previous generations in ways that businesses vying for their expendable income should be aware of: many are facing the realities of entering the job market at a historically inopportune moment, student debt and the corresponding difficulties of buying or renting a home.
This is important context for understanding consumer behavior. It does not excuse, as Noreen rightly notes, “painting whole segments of the population with huge blurry brushes based on birth year.”
Snake People: Just a Passing Fad
To be fair, it’s great to be the center of marketers’ attention. In many ways, it’s empowering to feel like, whether successfully or not, most companies are spending large chunks of their budgets to cater to me and my nostalgia.
But the fervor with which advertising has obsessed over millennials, seemingly at the cost of most other demographics, reminds me that for marketers, I’m just a temporary fixation.
Generation Z is already coming to disrupt the workplace, and as digital natives, are better at coding than I’ll ever be. Generation Z founded a startup in high school, and has a much better curated personal brand on social media. Make way for Generation Z.
All those brands positioning fixed gear bikes against exposed brick walls to sell me lifestyle products will forget all about me in a few short years. Despite all these millennial-centric studies, it’s easy to feel disposable. A more diverse marketing focus is as much in my interest as it is in the interest of advertising’s current “flyover states.”
I'm More Than Venom and Scales
The biggest problem with the overwhelming dissection and analysis of millennials’ behavior (putting us, collectively, under a microscope like no previous generation) is that it risks giving the impression of understanding us as individuals.
In his April article for CMSWire, Hippo’s CMO Tjeerd Brenninkmeijer points to the challenge of locking personas. “As marketing teams develop personas,” Tjeerd writes, “those personas increasingly become ‘locked’ profiles of idealized people at a moment in time. These static lists of features and benefits to people are the business’s view of what people should be when they consume content.”
In my case “millennial” becomes a very well researched persona. But it’s reductionist, sometimes patronizing, and in certain contexts detrimental to me.
“Locking” individuals into demographic personas is short-sighted regardless of the age group in question. Tjeerd’s right when he says that there shouldn’t be “‘one category’ of consumers, or static definition.
A person can simultaneously be a sports enthusiast, a business owner, a car collector and a new mother. This means that our interests and what’s “relevant” will change given the context.” I can think of several adjectives dictating my spending habits beyond “millennial.” I’m sure I’ll continue to be defined by characteristics beyond age for the decades to come.
It’s never easy to be pigeonholed. But personal feelings on the matter aside, marketing can do better than reducing me to my generation.
Brands are more likely to earn my $200 billion in annual buying power if they take a more nuanced approach to me as a consumer. They’d be wise not to lose me as a customer once I’m out of my twenties and thirties. I’m more than my age bracket, as are “baby boomers.”
Now excuse me while I go tell Generation Z to get off my stoop before they scuff my fixed gear bike.