Millennials: why you're likely missing 58% of them

Marketers have spent the better part of a decade trying to wrap their heads around millennials, only to end up allowing stereotypes and generalizations to become the operating manual for communicating with them. By now, the accepted perceptions on the matter are all too familiar: They’re always connected – digital, social, mobile! They’re optimistic and self-obsessed! They over-share! But do they really? All of them?

Despite the hype surrounding this group, marketers have failed to ask themselves if they’re digging deep enough to truly understand a generation of individuals that number 85 million in the US alone. Eighty-five million! That’s a group of individuals that is larger than the population of Germany, UK and France. We would never target an entire country homogenously, so why have we been okay with targeting millennials as if they all behave the same way?

Some of the largest brands have struggled with this, recognizing as McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, recently remarked, they need to go further. McDonald’s had mistakenly targeted millennials as if they were one homogeneous group. Going forward, they will “focus on better listening, better segmentation; less sweeping talk to millennials as if they’re one single group with shared attitudes.”

This led us to we realize we needed a different and better approach. We needed to demonstrate the complexity and nuance of millennials. We needed something that was being missed despite the 43,764 articles written on millennials this year to date.

So, we put meaningful action-ability at the core of our work, and created The Millennial Disconnect. We surveyed more than 14,000 US millennials, representing the largest study of millennial media understanding to date. These millennials were asked about their media receptivity, technology adoption, purchasing behaviors as well as values and motivations. Additionally, we integrated robust behavioral data to further understand their actual media behaviors.

Our analysis revealed that the millennial stereotype, as described above, exists – but only for 42% of the millennial population. We believe that many marketers have spent years basing their efforts on this 42%. The oversimplified idea of millennials as a whole is hurting brands. Hence, the “Millennial Disconnect.” The good news is that now we have different and better insight into the other 58%.

For these remaining millennials, the picture is complex and we as marketers will need to work to connect with them. Our analysis yielded three additional groups within the millennial generation. These groups behave much differently than the 42% of our current generational understanding, and the implications will impact not only media investment strategies, but also messaging, packaging and, no doubt, product development.

 It breaks down like this:

 "Trend-Netters" -- 42% of Millennials

This is stereotypical millennial group that we are all know. They’re attuned to trends in fashion and culture, highly social and, digitally connected. Because their media habits are so easy to perceive and track, with endless amounts of social sharing and engagement, it’s not hard to see how this group became the stand-in for the identity of their entire generation. The challenge here is clutter. As an industry, we have the clearest understanding of this group.  As a result everyone is speaking to them.

 Alter-natives -- 23% of Millennials

This second largest group is not only overlooked, but also the polar opposite of Trend-Netters. Skewing younger than other segments, many still live at home with their parents and possess less purchasing power than others in their generation. While they grew up as digital natives and spend even more time online than their counterparts (29 hours a week compared to 24 hours), they tend to be introverted, hold non-conformist views, and highly value their privacy. The challenge here is complexity. They are difficult to understand because they are private and their habits are more under the radar; not easy to track with traditional methods. Retargeting may send them running.

 LYFprenuers -- 19% of Millennials

Ambitious and social, this group works to balance home life with their career, friends and a healthy lifestyle. They want it all but are much more traditional in their values and lifestyles than most millennials. This group is more reminiscent attitudinally of their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts than other people their age. Interestingly, while they are plugged-in digitally, they have a need to step away from technology and connect face-to-face, in the real world. The challenge here is understanding their boundaries and respecting those.

 BetaBlazers -- 16% of Millennials

Here’s where we discovered the real millennial trendsetters. This worldly and highly connected group values better things over more things, and gravitates towards authenticity and products with a backstory. As they are all about innovation and substance, we also think of them as the “Vice News Generation.” This group is genuinely mobile first. They go deep in everything that they do, with knowledge being a marker of success for them. The challenge here is sincerity in media and communications. When speaking to them, we need to be as genuine as possible. Given their disproportionate influence on others, winning them over will help us win over the others.

 Armed with a deeper knowledge of how different groups of millennials behave, what they want and how they can interact with each other and brands, we can now begin to build campaigns that truly connect with the consumers they are targeting. It’s about time.

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