The millennial generation is unique, diverse, and often, can be difficult for businesses to understand and market to. Numerous factors, ranging from age, to demographics, location, political and social views, can make the category difficult to pin down and have a catch-all messaging approach. To complicate things, old-school thinking sometimes mislabels millennials as entitled or lazy because they value experiences over financial security.
To effectively communicate and serve millennial customers, business owners should understand the unique characteristics, motivations and behaviors that drive them. In this article, we’ll parse millennials into two groups (by age) in order to examine differences and similarities across a number of factors. While the full breadth of this group is much more complex than differences in age alone, this example will demonstrate the need to consider custom-tailored content, whether digital or physical, and marketing strategy, to your specific target customer.

Unpack the Demographics

The real picture of the millennial population is clearer once we look at the demographic makeup. Millennials are the nation’s largest living generation1, surpassing baby boomers by half a million. People who were between 18 and 34 years old in 2015 define this generation. They’re more ethnically and racially diverse than past generations and account for one in five same-sex couples. They marry later and are the most educated generation in history, with nearly a quarter of them having at least a bachelor’s degree.

Nielsen2 sorts millennials into two categories: younger (ages 18 to 26) and older (ages 27 to 34). The median income for a younger millennial is $25,000, while an older millennial makes nearly $48,000. According to a Zogby Analytics poll3, only 48% of millennials ages 18 to 24 are employed, compared to 69% of millennials 25-34 who report working full or part-time.


Who Are the Real Millennials?

Reaching this target population requires an understanding of who millennials are—and aren’t. They aren’t entitled, self-absorbed or unfocused, but their work ethic is different from generations past. Work-life balance from them is crucial. They aren’t living to work, but working to live. They’re products of the digital age, and as such, they expect expedience and self-service.

At the same time, millennials crave authenticity, transparency and personalization from the businesses they patronize. They view commerce as opportunity, not obligation. They swear loyalty to brands based on the experiences the brand provides and the principles they value. It takes more than a good sale to bring a millennial to your door—they’re more likely to set foot in your store for a good cause. Consider The Odyssey article4 on the success of some charitable companies, which operate using a “buy one, give one” model. When they buy something, millennials want their purchases to contribute to the greater good.

“…millennials want their purchases to contribute to the greater good.”

This generation loves activism, sharing and self-expression. They believe that the buying choices they and their peers make say a lot about them. Some apparel and footwear manufacturers today have taken advantage of personalization, with customers being able to customize everything from colors and fits to adding their own text.

According to research by The NPD Group5, which analyzed the buying tendencies for these two age groups, the results are unsurprising: older millennials spend more on child care, home improvement and appliances. While younger millennials are far less likely to be married with children, both age groups contend with student loan debt, which impacts their spending habits.

Tap into Millennial Buying Power

Millennials represent a large sector of the market, and they’re expected to account for about $200 billion in purchasing power by 20176.

Reaching these purse strings requires a basic understanding of their attitudes. Millennials want to feel connected, both emotionally and digitally. Many of them have grown up with social media and want to be “in the know.” They adopt technological innovations more quickly than past generations, and they expect you not only to keep up, but to also dazzle them. But again, those that are in their teens have different priorities than those over 30, and they consume media differently. Their employment, family or income situations may greatly differ, as well. So while there is content and messaging that may be engaging and relevant to a wider audience, consider a more bespoke approach in terms of identifying purchase motivators or behaviors, in order to strike the right chords.

“Millennials want to feel connected, both emotionally and digitally.”

If companies want to reach millennials, they may need to keep both overall similarities across the board and unique differences across a number of factors in mind when addressing a sales or marketing strategy. These efforts should be driven and supported by the latest data and trends, as the landscape constantly evolves. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t likely to work, and as tastes and behaviors shift over time, having a pulse on what’s relevant right now can effectively help keep your messaging and business results.

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