6 min read

Marketing to “Millennials”? You’re Doing It Wrong (Part 4)

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This is the fourth (and final) part of the series, “Marketing to ‘Millennials’? You’re Doing It Wrong.” While not required, we recommend reading Parts One, Two, and Three for maximum value.

As a marketer, it’s pretty much impossible to get through a day without seeing content about “Millennials.”

Be it through articles, ebooks, infographics, or the occasional four-part series, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the incessant buzz about “marketing to ‘Millennials’” without considering the vagueness of this as an objective:

  • First, there are multiple ways to define “Millennials” THAT’S confusing.
  • Even when you pick a specific definition for “Millennials,” you’re left with a massive group of people (totaling more than 83 million, by some accounts)
  • Oh, and that massive group 83 million people...guess what? They’re NOT all the same!

Now don’t get me wrong -- as a marketer, I totally get it. There’s just something alluring about the word “Millennials” that gets me to click on a headline. (True confession: “Millennials” is one of my Google Alert terms).

In fact, there was one particular headline I saw a few weeks ago that led me to write this series in the first place.

The Mini-Survey Behind This Series

I’d been thinking about the issues with “Marketing to ‘Millennials’” for some time but could never seem to cohesively nail down my thoughts. Then a couple of weeks ago, this instant-click headline came through my Google Alerts: 100 Brands Millennials Love

I scanned down the list of brands and kept a tally of which of the 100 I would actually claim to “love.” Much to my dismay, I counted only 12.

I thought, “Hey, maybe my Millennial meter is just off today.” So, I asked a few other Millennials in our company to take the same quick survey.

With a total of 6 responses (Small sample size, I know - but it was what I had to work with) the results were all over the map.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The initial survey the article is based on asked Millennials to list their 3 favorite brands without a prompt, so our mini-survey isn’t exactly a 1:1 comparison. However, it further validated my desire to challenge the assumptions marketers might make based on the article’s headline alone.

Key Insights From Our Mini-Surveymillennials_survey-results

  • Across the list of 100 brands, there was only 1 brand that all 6 of us selected as a brand we “love.” (Hardly enough to warrant the potential assumption that these 100 brands are universally loved by Millennials).
  • The number of brands selected by any one person in our survey ranged from only 3 brands, all the way up to 54 brands. (Even with a small sample size, we Millennials use the word “love” very differently when it comes to brands...some much more sparingly than others. And does “loving” a brand mean we spend money on that brand? Not necessarily.)
  • There were 27 brands that were not selected by any of our survey respondents. (Does that mean these brands aren’t actually loved by Millennials? No. They're just not loved by the Millennials who took our survey.)

It’s also worth noting that all 6 of the Millennials who took our mini-survey vary in age, background, ethnicity, and lifestyle, as well as many other socio- and psycho-graphic characteristics. This ties back to Problem #3, which asked how many people we alienate when marketing to “Millennials.” Even though all 6 of us are “Millennials in Dallas,” we had widely varied responses to a very simple survey.

Which leads to Problem 4...

Problem 4: Are We Reading Too Much Into Headlines?

If I had just read the headline “100 Brands Millennials Love” and briefly scanned the list of brands, I may have made some inaccurate assumptions about the research being presented and the content of the article itself.

In fact, this fourth, final, and most important issue I have with “marketing to ‘Millennials’” relates more to the way we marketers act as content consumers. By that, I mean that we’re BUSY, and it’s very easy to draw conclusions based on quick headlines. The content we read is becoming increasingly more bite-sized...but so, too, is the information we internalize.

Here are a few recent “Millennials”-related headlines from our own newsletter archive:

...all of these are well-written articles, produced by skilled journalists at respected publications. Yet, even here, they blend together if you just read one headline after the other.

Now my hope is not that we all go spend hours of our day pouring over each and every word in these kinds of articles. (Ain’t nobody got time for that.) Instead, we should become more cognizant of the way we digest these headlines. We may be making more assumptions based on headlines than we realize…and, over time, this could ultimately lead to misinformed marketing decisions (in the form of wasted effort, misdirected resources, inaccurate messaging, etc.)

Summary of Problems (And How to Get Around Them…)

As a quick summary, here are the biggest problems marketers face when “Marketing to ‘Millennials’” is the goal:

Problem 1: Do We Even Know Who We’re Talking About?

  • Why It’s a Problem: The term, “Millennials” isn’t clearly defined. You can’t market to people if you can’t even define who they are.
  • How To Get Around It: Pick a definition you’re comfortable using, and then stick with it.

Problem 2: Are We Really Trying To Stereotype 83 Million People?

  • Why It’s a Problem: Even with a narrowed definition, the group we call “Millennials” is way too large to be considered a true marketing segment.
  • How To Get Around It: Look beyond a range of birth years when defining your audience-- while it is one way to segment your audience, it should never be the only way.

Problem 3: How Many People Are We Alienating With Assumptions?

  • Why It’s a Problem: When we continue to focus on an arbitrarily dictated term like “Millennials” we make assumptions that neglect to address the diverse characteristics of the individuals who make up this group.
  • How To Get Around It: Dig deeper into who your target audience is -- what they value, how they spend their time, what makes them tick. Use this information to craft authentic messages that naturally fit into their lives.

Problem 4: Are We Reading Too Much Into Headlines?

  • Why It’s a Problem: Headlines are intended to be concise. But as marketers, we need to be aware of this fact and realize that we may be making inaccurate assumptions based on bite-sized pieces of information.
  • How To Get Around It: Don’t take headlines at face value. Be aware of the potential to assume too much from a headline, and always look for the underlying data that supports any conclusions you’re making.


Marketing to Millennials is uncomfortably vague. The term “Millennials” means different things to different people, and it’s become a buzzword that perpetuates stereotypes and assumptions, rather than being a true consumer group.

So, while I’m not saying that “Millennials” should be abolished from our segmenting considerations altogether, I am saying that it shouldn’t be our sole focus.

With countless consumer data points now available, marketers leave money on the table when they stop at “Millennials,” especially when glanced-over headlines slowly warp our perceptions of this group.

Headlines don’t always tell the full story. If you’re marketing to “Millennials,” you’re not necessarily doing it wrong, but you could probably be doing it more right.

Take Our Mini-Survey

Are you a Millennial, or know one of the 83 million? We’d love for you to take our “100 Brands Millennials Love” mini-survey (just tally up how many of the 100 brands YOU “love”) and tell us your number in the comments below.

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