What Millennials Want (hint: Stop using that word)
As a “Millennial”, it pains me to even use that word non-sarcastically. To me, categorizing generations has always been a trend that reeks of pseudo-science pushed by an excessive pile of catchy articles and entertaining news reports. Generation labelling is based on the idea that we can make roughly accurate generalizations about a billion or so people in the world based on which arbitrary time frame they were born in, rather than what country they grew up in, what socio-economic status they have, or what religion they were raised with—all of which influence a person’s behavior far more than whether they were born in 1980 (narcissistic Millennial) or in 1979 (aimless Generation X).
What’s a Millennial Anyways?
Comedian Adam Conover recently gave a hilarious, excellent talk where he explains to an audience of marketers why “millennials” don’t exist, and he points out all of the misconceptions we perpetuate by going along with age-old youth hating and generation labelling. Marketers buy into other marketers telling them things like “Millennials love trendy slang,” “Millennials love technology,” or “Millennials feel unique,” but like horoscopes, those sorts of descriptions have the miraculous quality of being applicable to almost any human, and they don’t actually mean anything substantial about real 20-35 year-old human beings. Selecting an arbitrary timeframe of years that people were born and making generalizations about that group you just made up is essentially useless for anyone except the magazines who make money off the idea.
One thing that young adults today do have in common is that most of us in the developed world grew up with the internet, we’re more educated than any previous generation, and most of us came of age in a sick economy that we had no hand in wrecking, then we started getting called selfish by the generations that did. Meanwhile, the world’s young adults are overthrowing dictators with the help of Twitter, brewing delicious beer on a level not seen since the 1870s and engaging in online activism en masse to stimulate progress on every issue from human rights to sustainable food. Do you see the point that I’m making here?
Of course, every new generation benefits from the progress made by every previous one (see: the internet, powered flight, and women’s suffrage), but none of us buy into the idea that an entire population of people born in one decade are inherently more self-involved than the people of other age groups who are arrogantly telling them that they’re self-involved. Yes, we take “selfies” and retweet things that we like, but that has more to do with the tools available to us than who we really are as individuals. You can’t market to 20-30-year-olds with shallow pandering today anymore than you could do so three decades ago, so don’t buy into any trendy marketing gimmick that suggests a guaranteed way to hook “millennials” on your product or service.
If I can make any sweeping generalization about what my generation wants for the sake of marketing, it’s this: We’re more diverse than any generation before, and we crave authenticity within that diversity. That means there is no cover-all marketing strategy for millennials; There is only a matter of finding your business’s niche, effectively building on that, and communicating your brand to your clientele both passionately and honestly. As I mentioned above, one true thing about millennials is that we do know the internet exceptionally well, considering very few can remember a time without it. Knowing how to create good web content and engage with people on social media is imperative for anyone wanting to reach out to young adults, but that should already be obvious unless your company has been frozen in carbonite since The Empire Strikes Back was released.