Grabbing the attention of Millennials -- now officially the largest generation in the U.S. -- has been fretted over by nearly every industry, in every channel, by every "expert." This generation, defined by several as individuals between the ages of 18-34, have been labeled many things: lazy, entitled, too invested in technology, etc. Take a look at what Saturday Night Live had to say about this demographic.
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs outlined what its analysts found to be valued most by Millennials: social media, instant gratification, and authenticity. But what does that actually mean? Does this only apply to Millennials or might Gen X also fit into this mold? Is it even possible to tie down the largest demographic with just a few characteristics?
Let's explore this together, from the viewpoint of a Millennial: me.
While there are some defining characteristics, it's important to note that we are talking about an incredibly diverse and individual generation of people. How much sense does it make to lump together college freshmen and new parents in their early 30s, when their priorities are in completely different places? Isn't this type-casting, in which we ignore obvious characteristics -- something marketers stopped doing decades ago?
So if no one can sum up what it means to be a Millennial, let alone the age group to be considered a Millennial, how can companies successfully target us as their main demographic?
Here's the thing -- there's no formula. The traditional methods of advertising won't be as effective because we don't consume media the same as the previous generations. Before, networks and stations were in charge of how and when we got our information due to scheduled programming, but now it's all available at the click of a button. So without the control over the information, companies must now learn about our interests and habits. It all comes down to our definition of value. What is it that we value the most?
The biggest difference between Millennials and the generations before us is that we find value in experiences and moments. According to a report by ZenithOptimedia, what Millennials want the most is to be happy and to feel fulfilled. This could mean anything from earning a six-figure salary, or working odd jobs and using our income to travel the world. It all comes down to what each individual find to be most important to them and how they can achieve that happiness. But this idea of value is also highly influenced by age because what an 18-year-old finds important will be hugely different from the interests of a 34-year-old.
- From the ages of 18-25, your main focus is on yourself. You probably just left home for the first time, and you're learning about what your interests are and the type of future you want to have for yourself.
- From 26-34 is when people normally have their careers set, they start getting married with the shift of their focus now towards what's best for their significant other and/or kids. Very few people in their 30s and beyond look at their early 20s and think, "Yeah, I'm the same person with the same goals as I was then." Which brings up another big point: nothing during this period is constant. This is the time where we're trying to find the constant in our lives and really hone in on who we are as individuals. Advertisers who think they can pinpoint which constants we should identify with are sure to miss the mark.
Now I'm not saying that connecting with Millennials is a hopeless task; I'm just saying that there needs to be a change in approach by focusing on what's in front of you. Yes, we are always on our mobile devices, but that's great news! We're essentially handing you all the information you'll need to better target and understand this complicated group. We don't mind advertisements as long as we feel that they are personal and genuine. A recent report by Moosylvania called Hashtag Nation found that Millennials are fine with native ads as long as they aren't "deceptive." Plus, 51 percent of those surveyed said they would actually share those ads. Another report found that 46 percent of Millennials say branded content would work on them as long as it was "relevant to who they are." Intrigued by these findings, I conducted my own informal survey of Millennials and discovered that the majority enjoyed watching ads that they considered funny, simple, and genuine. Again, highlighting our love for transparency and different interests, here are some of the responses:
- The Guinness' wheelchair ad was thoughtful and really brought a sense of humanity.
- The State Farm ads are funny.
- Apple commercials have an ability to get the necessary information across in a very simple and chic way.
So enough of the articles lecturing Millennials on their entitlement, and enough of the parodied TV shows and movies. It's time to stop focusing on what everyone believes to be the negatives and start looking at the potential we Millennials have. We are incredibly driven and are aware of our self-worth and capabilities. In 2015 alone, we helped raise $115 million for ALS research by making the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge a viral sensation and helped charge the social movement of #BlackLivesMatter. We are the first generation to partake in such a rapidly changing world during such an unstable time in our lives. Let us figure out who we are before we start limiting ourselves due to what others believe us to be.