The Millennial Stereotype: Tackling Generation Generalisation
The communications industry is very fond of generalisations, especially when it comes to the defining characteristics of a generation or demographic. Below, Strategy Manager Ben Thomas goes into bat for his fellow millennials and shakes up the stereotype.
It’s 3:30 in the office at any media agency; that time of day when the consumption of chocolate increases dramatically, as do vacant stares, and the number of screens showing obscure Buzzfeed quizzes.
Today’s quiz of choice – ‘How Big of a Millennial Stereotype are you?’
Working through the checklist of ‘Millennial’ stereotypes, I quickly began to realise that there were more unchecked than checked statements; I scored a pretty pathetic 57 out of a possible 145.
My blood went cold, as did my skinny soy latte in its biodegradable, eco-friendly cup.
Either I’m the worst Millennial ever (not likely – I’m blogging right now), or the stereotypes surrounding our much – maligned generation have gotten seriously out of hand.
Now, I know what you might be thinking – “Ben, Buzzfeed isn’t an exact science”.
Firstly, how dare you. Secondly, I do know that, but they do have a knack for being notoriously on point when it comes to cultural insights, and this list was no exception.
But what I really took from the quiz was less of an insight into Millennials themselves; it demonstrated just how far the millennial stereotype has wandered from reality, to the point of parody.
Don’t get me wrong, generational assumptions are helpful, up to a point. Generations, by definition, are shaped by shared trends, events, and the broader culture of people within a specific range, and these factors do influence a group’s collective consciousness.
The problem with defining a cohort of people made up of a collection of individuals, however, is that we run the risk of generalising these characteristics to absolutely everyone within that group.
“Take another selfie, you narcissistic, entitled millennial”, said any Boomer, ever.
The fact is times have changed from the era of Boomers and Gen X, when mindset and behaviours were influenced heavily by physical boundaries, like schools or places of employment.
Today, as ‘connected everything’ creates an exponential number of online communities, these barriers have been removed, making it possible for anyone, of any age, to connect with like-minded people.
The unifying characteristics of a generation are becoming less pronounced, blurring the boundaries between them. We know, for example, that Millennials now have more in common with baby boomers than any other demographic, much to the chagrin of both groups.
When we think about the influence of generations, however, one trend tends to hold true. Whether we’re talking about 1965 or 2015, people 15-35 generally have the most influence over the generations either side of them based on their perceived ability, financial means, and willingness to challenge the status quo.
These factors are not unique to Millennials, but they do assert the importance of developing a better understanding of them – one that does not ascribe to the ‘one size fits all, they’re all flighty dickheads’ approach. Sorry Boomers.
So, what does all this mean for marketers?
While we aren’t ready to do away with generations just yet – they exist for a reason and are an informative place to start – we need to evolve our thinking beyond taking generational assumptions as gospel.
We need to better understand the intricacies and nuances of the millennial mindset if we’re going to continue to create meaningful and profitable connections. This includes debunking some major millennial myths – not everyone is a hyper-connected, optimistic, extroverted entrepreneur with a vlog.
And thank God for that.