If I had one piece of advice to give marketers who are beginning a career in 2016, it would be this: Millennials are not a new species. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you they have the “secret” of marketing to Millennials, Gen Z, or whatever generation comes next.
There’s no “secret,” other than learning how to communicate better. The younger generations still have largely the same wants, needs, and dreams as those who came before. Granted, Millennials are likely to adopt new tech, crowd-source reviews to shop for products, cut cords, and embrace social media, but all of these habits are a reflection of the environment, rather than the generation. If you’re involved in the business world – or just the world in general – you probably share many of the same habits.
Somewhere along the way, the opinion that Millennials are somehow a different breed gained traction, but we should really know better at this point. The means for achieving goals may be new and different, but the goals themselves look much like they always have.
Want to Make Sense of Millennials? Try Looking in the Mirror
The biggest difference between Millennials and older generations? Age. I know, I know, but hear me out. There’s no doubt that Millennials have come of age in an era of incredibly rapid technological innovation, but the rest of us are also living through the same transitions. The biggest “differences” with Millennials really come from where they are in their life cycle, not some fundamental difference from the rest of us.
Millennials are largely young adults now (21-36), either beginning their careers or finishing school. Many of them are in their twenty-something years, so they are naturally in the heart of their social lives, online and off. They’re either hitting the home market for the first time, or establishing their careers as they work toward stability. They have responsibilities, but they’re also at an age where disposable income is more than just a dream. Still, they want to spend that disposable income on products they’ll actually enjoy, and do some good at the same time if possible.
So they read reviews of products, and shop around for the best deals online. They arrange real-world social events entirely online, and keep up with their far-flung friends through social sites. They stream TV because it’s more convenient and less expensive. They share pictures of their happiest moments on Instagram, and crack jokes on Twitter, and tells stories, and engage in the stories of others on Snapchat. And all of those things are part of their environment.
How the Millennial Environment Affects Us All
If the allegedly Millennial habits above sound familiar, they should. Every habit that gets tossed in the Millennial basket is something that a large portion of the rest of us do, as well. If you have a few friends and an internet connection, why wouldn’t you do a bit of crowd-sourced research before making an important purchase? If you want to watch your favorite shows, keep up with your favorite sports teams, and read your favorite authors, why not do it with tools that provide constant, low-cost access across multiple devices?
That’s not to say that Millennials and Gen Z are exactly the same as their predecessors. They may adapt to new tech more quickly as a group, simply because they’ve grown up in an age of innovation. Their view of the world – just like Baby Boomers and Gen X before them – is certainly informed by the news that flows into their devices each day and from all they hear from their friends… which is coming at them at a faster rate than ever before and from a larger universe. It’s a different world than it was 20 years ago, but it’s one we all inhabit, Millennial or not.
Deep down, however, we are all far more alike than we are different, regardless of generation. Millennials want to be treated with respect, feel like their voice carries weight, and do more than get by financially. They want to be social, and (to a point) keep their private lives private. How you connect with them matters, but it’s really just an introduction. The most important thing is how you treat them after you’ve made the initial connection.
My advice to new marketers is not to pigeon-hole your prospects, but pay attention to them, no matter what age group. Study them. Talk to them. And if anyone tries to tell you that they have the “secret” of marketing to millennials, just smile nod and remember they are just people, nothing genetically different. It’s the environment that is different, and it is affecting us all.