Targeted Marketing: Millennials are Moving Targets, Part 1

Stephen DeAngelis

March 18, 2014

“With the constant use of social media and digital outlets by the millennial generation (born 1980 to the early 2000s),” writes Heather Grossmuller, “marketing has shifted in a way that presents a broad range of challenges and opportunities alike for today’s marketers. This age group is one of the most informed segments out there, and is likely to make increasingly more-sound buying decisions each day as new outlets for consumer research continue to emerge. The question is simple: are businesses up for the challenge of tailoring campaigns to this savvy demographic?” [“The Truth About Marketing to Millennials,” The Strategic Sourceror, 4 December 2013] Despite the fact that Grossmuller promises to deliver the “truth” about marketing to Millennials (also referred to as Gen Y), the real truth is that members of this generation are still young enough that it’s hard to pin down them down with stereotypes. Even at a young age, however, analysts at Pew Research believe that the Millennial generation is developing a distinct personality. “Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials — the American teens and twenty-somethings who are making the passage into adulthood at the start of a new millennium — have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.” [“Millennials: Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” Pew Research Social & Demographic Trends, 24 February 2010]

So why is so much attention being given to this generation? Jon Mertz notes, “Millennials [are] the largest generation standing at 14% of the population.” [“The Impact of Millennials: Big and Bold,” Thin Difference, 14 October 2013] When looking for consumers, retailers are interested in two things: large numbers and money. Ryan Donegan reports, “[Millennials make up] a generation of consumers 86 million strong — that’s 7 percent more than baby boomers — and they’re ready to spend money.” [“5 Tips for Marketing to Millennials From a Millennial,” Huffington Post The Blog, 7 October 2014] How much money are they ready to spend? According to Donegan, Millennials are expected to exercise “$2.45 trillion [worth of] annual spending power by 2015; and that figure will surpass boomers’ spending by 2018.” As he puts it, “Businesses that don’t start tailoring their marketing to Millennials soon are missing out on a major consumer opportunity.” Lohith Ramachandra, calls Millennials, “The most important customers right now for brands and will be for many years.” [“Millennials have changed the game of marketing today. Brands – Have you changed yours?90 Day Entrepreneur, 5 November 2013]

So who exactly are these Millennials? A number of studies have been conducted trying to nail down an answer to that question. Below are a few “facts” that have been garnered about this generation.

From Pew Research:

  • “They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults.”
  • “Their entry into careers and first jobs has been badly set back by the Great Recession, but they are more upbeat than their elders about their own economic futures as well as about the overall state of the nation.”
  • “They embrace multiple modes of self-expression.”
  • “They are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times.”
  • “Millennials (like older adults) place parenthood and marriage far above career and financial success. But they aren’t rushing to the altar.”
  • “Millennials are on course to become the most educated generation in American history.”
  • “They get along well with their parents.”
  • “They respect their elders.”
  • “Millennials remain the most likely of any generation to self-identify as liberals.”
  • “Most Millennials (61%) … say their generation has a unique and distinctive identity.”

From the Urban Land Institute [“New Gen Y Shopping Preferences Revealed,” Consumer Goods Technology (CGT), 20 May 2013]

  • They have not “forsaken shopping in stores for online purchasing — as long as retailers keep their offerings “fresh” and interesting.”
  • They “place a high value on living close to retail.” (“62 percent of Gen Yers prefer developments offering a mix of shopping, dining and office space.”)
  • 85% of them either “love” or “enjoy” shopping. (Half of the men surveyed and 70 percent of the women consider shopping a form of entertainment and something to share with friends and family.)
  • Gen Yers tend to spread their dollars around generously, … with more than half visiting a variety of retail centers at least once a month. (At the same time, 91 percent of respondents said that they had made online purchases over the previous six months, with 45 percent spending more than an hour a day looking at retail-oriented web sites.)
  • Discount department stores are “the retail type most frequently visited by Gen Y.”
  • “Survey respondents’ median income is more than $47,000, even though many are in school and are working only part-time. More than a third of Gen Yers receive financial assistance from their parents.”

From the Boston Consulting Group [“How Millennials Are Changing the Face of Marketing Forever,” by Christine Barton, Lara Koslow, and Christine Beauchamp, bcg.perspectives, 15 January 2014]

  • “Millennials expect a two-way, mutual relationship with companies and their brands.”
  • “Millennials are leading indicators of large-scale changes in future consumer behavior.”
  • “Millennials are also leading indicators of the new ‘status currency’ — the status and values that consumers wish to project through their purchasing decisions and their brand affiliations.”
  • “Millennials are digital natives.”
  • “Millennials, whose values differ from those of older generations, are distributed among a wide range of life’s stages.”
  • “U.S. Millennials are hardly a homogeneous population.”
  • “U.S. Millennials are also more likely to use portable media devices on the go.”
  • “Millennials are also influenced by different types of people.” (“U.S. Millennials reported that they are most influenced by family, friends, and strangers” not experts.”)
  • “U.S. Millennials display levels of egocentrism that exceed what may be expected considering their youth.”

From Ryan Donegan (a Millennial):

  • “We’re a generation that can barely remember a world without the Internet, smart-phones, Google… hell, MySpace is a fading memory in our minds.”
  • “We have no reservations, whatsoever, about purchasing online; in fact, we prefer it.”

From a link to the Nonprofit Colleges Online infographic [from Jon Mertz]

  • “Millennials are more tolerant than any other generation by 2 to 1.”
  • “Millennials are optimistic, even with rising college costs and college debt, which quadrupled to $1 trillion 59% of Millennials want to or have already started a business.”
  • “Millennials are tech savvy but it is more than this: They use technology to create and innovate.”

From exponential advertising [“Marketing to self-absorbed selfie takers, hashtag obsessors – the Millennial generation,” by Krystine Dinh, 30 September 2013 — click to enlarge the infographic]

  • Millennials are “more likely to be interested in world cuisine than other generations (excluding French).”
  • Millennials are “6.7 more likely to be interested in international travel.”

Millennials 04

It should be clear from those bits of information that trying to develop a stereotype for a member of Gen Y would be very difficult. And, because they are so young, Millennials remain moving targets. There is no guarantee that what Millennials prefer today will be what they like tomorrow. In the second part of this post, I’ll provide some suggestions offered by the pundits cited above about how to market to Millennials given that they are not a homogeneous group.