If there is a top-ten list of business article click-bait words used today, “Millennial” is on it. Millennials have been over-discussed, over-hyped, and stereotyped to the point of folk lore. The New York Times published an article last week that sums up our cultural obsession with these roughly 19-35 year-olds: Corporate America Chases the Mythical Millennial. The article touches on two truths those of us using demographics need to heed. The first is that we have taken an entire cohort and homogenized them into a stereotype that 7 million individual people cannot possibly represent or replicate. The second point is that we forget about the impact of universal milestones and influence of cultural movements on all ages – what we often refer to as a “mindset.”
The phrase “Millennial Mindset” is being used more as 2016 marches on, showing us that the cultural tides are greater than a single demographic. Hilton refers to its new Tru Hotel concept as “millennial minded” focusing on basics like “a great bed and technology integration, done well and at an affordable price point.” Dana Goodyear’s New Yorker article on the new Whole Foods ‘365’ value grocery concept sums it up as deliberately targeting millennials with its pared back selection and tech focused service but aware it will catch older consumers who share this “millennial mindset.”
“Mindset Marketing” is as old as the hills. It’s the idea that all ages can share an ideal, a value, a need, and it cannot be solely possessed by an age. But with an obsession over who the “real Millennial” is and how to capture their attention, timeless values and specific demographic traits cross-pollinated and created stereotypes to the point that we’re now talking about target strategies as “Millennial minded.” I think we can go deeper, and do a little better than that, especially when the Pew Research Center has data supporting that most Millennials resist the ‘Millennial’ label.
To back up, demographics were created to speak to high-level differences between specific age groups, typically defined by great social events. The Silent Generation is marked by the Great Depression and World Wars, Boomers by the spike in childbirths and Gen X by the dip in childbirths. Millennials were marked by the advent of technology but has yet to reconcile the divide between Millennials who graduated college ahead of the Great Recession, and those still feeling its effects. Generation Z is entering college and are our first ‘digital natives’ — kids who picked up a magazine and tried to swipe its cover or asked what an answering machine is. There are, of course, important factors that shape the mentality of each group but by and large, the majority of society lives their life and make decisions by value sets that are not determined by age.
So how, in a business world that relies on target audiences and consumer insights, do we target groups more specifically than the fact that they have a pulse or are part of a demographic group with broad shared traits? There are several approaches, but here are three that begin to dig deeper. You can work within the specific context your shopper makes decisions and make a consumer model from there. For example, AdWeek published an Infographic based on shopper marketing research by Y&R late last year on the six personalities of shoppers. Each context – online shopping, car shopping, retail shopping all likely produce different shopper personalities that would be beneficial for brands to consider, given their context. An alternative approach is to use what Hershey calls “mind modeling” (it sounds very similar to Benefits Laddering, or Laddering method) to uncover category-specific consumer values the brand can then use to elicit an emotional response. A third approach is to consider the milestones your brand or product speaks to. Johnson & Johnson’s ‘Having a Baby Changes Everything‘ campaign was built on providing go-to products for the new parent for whom this classic mantra resonates with. Luvs diaper brand used the milestone of a second baby in their campaign ‘Live, Learn, and Get Luvs‘. Consider the ageless milestones (starting a family, getting married, walking into a new job) or situations (losing weight, winning a contest, meeting new people) that speak across time and age, and build a meaningful consumer mindset from there.