First, an admission: I myself am on the furthest edges of the Millennial (AKA Generation Y) demographic, on the border with Generation X.
That the range of ages to which the term ‘Millennial’ has been applied is so large, encompassing those born in the early 1980s to 2000 or even 2004 by some estimates and even up to the present by others starts to show how problematic the ‘Millennial’ label itself is. This means that at the time of writing, the oldest Millennials are in their mid-30s whilst the youngest are in their mid-teens or even younger.
I, for example, only used the internet for the first time just after having left school (and recall my initial experiences of using it underwhelming in the extreme) whereas teenagers today will only have known a world where mobile phones and internet connectivity and the instant access to information, communications and entertainment these afford is the norm (even if their socio-economic and/or geographical circumstances have prevented them from fully engaging with it).
1. Homogenizing Millennials
This brings us to our first and probably most glaring mistake: marketing to all Millennials in the same way. This is such a diverse group in terms of age, to whom you may be selling mortgages and pension plans and nappies, text books, university courses and games consoles, as well as those goods which most of us buy regardless of age: toilet paper, bread, mobile phones…
Further, gender, class, ethnic background, religion and geographical area are there to complicate simple generalisations, as they are for the whole population, though these are likely to play out in different ways for Millennials. Is where you live as important for Millennials when they can tap into interest groups and causes nationally and internationally? This point is especially important because their looser ties and economic pressures both enable and force them to move around more.
As of 2015, the ONS estimated there would be over 17 million people in the UK alone between 16 and 35. The chances of all of these people having the same tastes, wants and needs is slim at best. Clearly you are going to have to do some more work to further segment this group, depending on the product or service you are selling.
Millennials conduct a large part of their lives online, which you would expect to sprinkle collectable data across the internet like fairy-dust which can be followed to build a fine-grained picture of their lives. This would provide them with the most accurate, relevant marketing messages which they would love. But in reality this does not go down well with our Millennials. Whilst sharing incessantly, Millennials are also a lot more privacy-conscious than other generations might expect, both capable and willing to make complex trade-offs in how to give away their data and to whom.
Research from Intersperience shows that Millennials will even go so far as to lay false trails and provide inaccurate information in order to get what they want from companies at minimal ‘data cost’.
This is not to say that Millennials do not want to be personalisation at all — just if you’re doing it, make sure the benefits to your target audience at least appear to outweigh the data costs. Be subtle. Be smart.
3. Not Being Human
This is a tricky one. Whilst simultaneously giving Millennials space, you simultaneously need to provide a human face to your brand, providing authenticity and warmth. This is hard to pitch right — there is a fine line between providing the human touch in marketing communications and being a bit… yucky. Even better than a public face from the brand itself is getting brand advocates to help provide that face for you. This may be about carefully courting influencers who would themselves be customers of your brand and striking up a conversation with them.
4. Misunderstanding Mobile
Millennials don’t really ‘go online’. They use their phone with the assumption of always-on connectivity through apps and mobile-optimised websites. This is a million miles away from plugging a wire from your phone line into your desktop PC and waiting for the modem to stop making silly noises so that you can ‘go online’. In fact, if you’re thinking desktop, or even laptop and tablet first in terms of millennials, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Think bite-size, sharable content which can and will be consumed anywhere through different channels and devices.
5. Assuming Millennials are Different
Just as not all Millennials are alike, ultimately, one of your biggest mistakes may be assuming that Millennials are not, well… pretty much like everyone else. How many people of 40 are all the same as each other? How many want their data to be used in ways they don’t’ understand to market to them? Why would any generation not want to read interesting, well thought-through content? Did previous generations not desire to connect? How many people are not more than a bit attached to their mobiles these days? What we see with Millennials is not a cut-and-dried distinction between people but a set of trends across all consumers, which some consumers are more likely to be in the vanguard of.
Do you market to Millennials differently to other consumers? If so, what are you experiences of this? Tell us in the comments below.