Every week I see a handful of articles offering up the newest “insight” on Millennials. “7 Tricks for Marketing to Millennials.” “How to Keep Millennial Employees Happy.” “What Millennials Care About for Food.”
I read most of the articles I see. Partly because I am a brand strategist, and need to know as much as I can about important targets my clients want to reach. Partly because I am inherently curious, and love pulling apart differences. And partly because I’m a Millennial myself – and, well, it’s entertaining to see generalizations about my generation.
The takeaways on Millennials can get rather contradictory. Trophy kids, or people out to change the world? Entitled, or empowered? Lazy, or let down by older Americans who created a troubling economy? Most sources seem to agree that we like stories in our marketing, experiences over objects, and seek fulfillment from every bit of our lives.
I love picking apart data to understand the why and the how. When I read many of these articles, the insights feel off. I think some of these authors are so excited to share a click-worthy article, they forget to crouch their insights in context. Conclusions about generations are really best done longitudinally: showing shifts in behaviors and values over time, as different generations pass the same age mark. Otherwise, what you’re seeing is more of a snapshot about a particular generation at 1 point in time. That works just fine for most marketing purposes: e.g. knowing that Millennials would rather buy experiences is very helpful for a wedding registry company targeting Millennial couples. But when it comes to making conclusions about the generation as a whole, it’s misleading to do so within the context of a simple study that doesn’t control for life-stage, societal shift, etc. Many of the “trends” I read seem more about life-stage than generation. Others mark a general societal shift: people getting married later, easier access to international travel, etc.
There’s one other big difference with Millennials that really stands out to me. This is essentially the first generation that’s been subject to rapid-fire, widespread inspection by the Internet masses. Over the past several years we’ve seen a marked shift in the way “news” and “content” are produced and disseminated. We have more content than ever before- some of it amazing, some of it terrible. Everyday we see 10 more articles about Millennials… because we can. It’s possible there were just as many studies commissioned about Gen X or Boomers, but most people never saw them. A larger proportion of information gets spread around today. There’s a lower filter on what is published, there’s a lower bar for what counts as “news” and the need for content and clicks leads to hyperbolic headlines and a constant race to find something new.
We’re bombarded by news about Millennials in a way that’s evolving with our media landscape. But if you’re sick of hearing about Millennials, don’t worry – Gen Z is up next, and they’re already starting to steal headlines away from my sometimes loved, sometimes hated generation.