A nice clickbait headline for this piece would been “The trouble with Millennials” but then it would have been as meaningless as brands targeting millennials.
Millennials are the generation that came after the Baby Boomers – those born in the post World War II era 1946 – 1960. Unfortunately, they are perceived as just another group that emerged after the baby boomers. Millennials are the most diverse, globalized, technologically advanced and culturally lucid generation ever. They don’t just stand for a group, they signify evolution.
But having your audience as millennials without factoring in anything more is a lazy attempt at defining your target group. It is waste of marketing dollars, human resources, share of voice and shelf space. It leads to generic communication that is irrelevant to everyone. And the only way to cater to a large heterogeneous group is to identify the lowest common denominator, an approach that signals the extinction of truly differentiated ideas. “It’s like saying everything living in the ocean is ‘fish,’” said David Measer, Senior Vice President, Planning for agency RPA. A segmentation approach relying on demographics alone is extremely limited in what it can deliver. Another thing marketers are guilty of forgetting – your product isn’t for everyone, why should your communication be. And with the kind of data that marketers have access to nowadays, personalization is the way forward.
The “millennial” label also doesn’t allow for empathy, instantly throwing up the image of a Pokémon-catching, selfie-clicking, bad-at-saving, always-on-his-phone, entitled young person who’s had it “too easy”.
The only example of a company that has been successful in targeting all millennials with one stroke is AdBlock. With over 40% of it’s users being millennials. That line we’re taught in statistics class ‘Correlation does not imply causation’ could tell us a whole new story altogether though. Perhaps the lazy targeting is what drove millennials to install AdBlock in the first place 😉
From MySpace to High School Musical, Crocs, Wristbands for a cause, to Flash Mobs, FarmVille, Candy Crush and Angry Birds, we’re the most fickle generation there’s ever been. And as a brand, if you think you know what we want, I’ve got news – we’re yet to figure out what we want ourselves.
“Here’s a shocker for you: there are actually 19-year-old guys who watch ‘Dance Moms’ and there are 73-year-old women who are watching ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Avengers’,” said Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of Product Innovation. “What we’ve learned over time is: it’s not who they are in a superficial sense—like gender, age, even geography. It’s not even what they tell you. It’s what they do.” In behavioural economics, this is called Revealed Preference.
The young graduate searching for his first job, the single mom balancing life with 3 kids, the couple that’s just about to buy their first condo, the travel enthusiasts, the culinary explorers, the quarter life crisis millennials. They might all fall in the same age range but their needs, motivations, desires, lifestyles and experiences are completely different.
Which begs the question: Is age becoming an archaic, obsolete factor to target?
Author Jonathan Crowl has this to say about Age-obsolescence “Age-obsolescence isn’t only caused by the sizable Millennial generation. Young adults are approaching their lives in more diverse ways than ever before, eschewing the traditional life stage evolutions of education-career-marriage-children for more eclectic paths that differ even from the choices of their friends. What that means is that age no longer serves as a blueprint for determining a consumer’s place in society. Today’s marketers can less reliably point to a 30-year-old male and posit that he is likely in his career, married, and a parent.”
The solution is not to view millennials as one homogenous group but as sub-cultures or sub-segments defined by more insightful criteria and more relevant and significant variables.
In my time at Ogilvy & Mather, working on the IBM account, I learnt about customer journey maps and buyer personas. Journey maps help you identify where in the purchase funnel your customers are and how you can enhance their experience and give them that nudge to purchase. Buyer Personas, as IBM defines it, are iconic representations of one’s ideal customer; that are research based, grounded in data, stats and interviews. What these do is reveal a lot about your customer’s priorities, whether that’s a feature they don’t really care too much about which you can then afford to leave out of your marketing communication or a very trivial but important insight that might help you identify a potential competitive threat. So what personas essentially do is help you tailor content and make your marketing messages and activities more targeted.
Creating personas using geographic, demographic, psychographic and behavioural insights is one way brands can better target millennials.
A second way could be by championing a particular cause or movement or creating a personal identity through emotional branding – and you automatically attract all segments that are even remotely interested in those. P&G is a proud sponsor of moms and their ‘Thank You Mom’ campaigns appeal to all mothers, brands like Nike and Under Armour draw all segments of youth with their inspiring advertising communication, KitKat wants to get everyone to take a break (and who doesn’t want to take a break!)
Brands that effectively manage to create an experience for their consumers most often are the ones that win. American Express through cardholder bonuses, member exclusive events et al creates an experience. Nike through it’s NikeID, allows customers to personalize and design their own Nike merchandise. Trader Joe’s acknowledges millennials’ demand for diverse tastes and healthy ingredients by marking all of their products with clear indicators denoting the absence of artificial preservatives, gluten, or trans fat.
What’s also important is to not over-target. P&G recently reduced it’s spend on targeted Facebook advertising. For a mass brand like P&G, putting itself in front of as many consumers as possible, so as to drive trials and influence purchase, is key. Targeting needs to be balanced and relevant to each brand carrying out the exercise. And bundling an entire generation into a single group is neither of the two. Whole Foods learnt this the hard way, when it opened millennial exclusive stores, a move that backfired with stock prices falling and negative word of mouth. As Robyn Bolton points out here, “Whole Foods is essentially saying that Gen X and Baby Boomer shoppers are fine with old, cluttered stores that sell a confusing array of stuff at high prices.”
To recollect that age old saying, when you try and target everyone, you really end up targeting no one.