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The Future of Work

Debunking The Myth That All Millennials Are The Same

As the latest marketable, targetable demographic, they're easy to stereotype. But that doesn't mean they should be.

[Image: iordani via Shutterstock]

If you’re like me, you’ve probably consumed more than your fair share of media reports, research, and write-ups aimed at deciphering the millennial mindset.

As marketers and advertisers, we may once again be guilty of overanalyzing the heck out of any and all available data points, the goal being to put everything into neat buckets for our paying clients and prospects.

In our industry, so many thoughtful insights have been published that it’s reasonable to think we’re dangerously close to, once and for all, cracking the code on this elusive species, right? Maybe not.

Recently, ad agency Pinta commissioned a research team of graduate business school students—all millennials—from Florida International University to do some cultural detective work, scour through third-party research on the popular segment, and conduct some of their own proprietary research. Here’s what they found:

The Myth

millennials, in general, have been negatively stereotyped as an entitled, self-centered, apathetic bunch with short attention spans and a questionable work ethic.

The gross generalizations should raise eyebrows because millennials currently represent 60% of our workforce.

On a positive note, the segment seems to care about the environment. Also, they’re said to be real wizards when it comes to technology including social media.

Ironically though, the tech-savvy millennial set may be inadvertently exacerbating the negative stereotypes via what many construe as a propensity for digital oversharing. It’s as if they want the entire world to know what they’re thinking, eating, drinking, liking, and not liking. And for better or worse opinions about our companies and beloved brands aren’t off limits.

The Reality

As it turns out, millennials are not a static, homogenous group blindly making suspect decisions.

They’re actually multifaceted, savvy super-consumers, who happen to be the most educated generation in history.

And yes, maybe they’re a bit skeptical, but you would be too if you grew up in a commercial snake pit with an army of industries hell bent on selling you their products, services, and ideas. Translation: They’re onto us, guys! We need to rethink our approach to hawking our wares.

By now, we all understand that the commercial communications game has changed. We’ve learned that listening is as important as being heard. We’ve learned that communications and messaging are no longer one-sided. We’ve learned that opinions, and more importantly perspectives, matter more than ever. An individual’s unique experiences and outlook on the world will subconsciously influence how, why, when, and where they allow themselves to be engaged.

While it could be argued that this has always been the case, the difference is that we're now dealing with a generation of consumers who better understand the conversion game and are armed with useful information and doubts about corporate America's tactics and motives. Our on-demand, segmented media landscape makes it easy for prospects to tune you in or tune you out altogether.

Conversely, if brands are willing to make the effort, the new media reality provides an opportunity for them to establish deeper, more meaningful, cultural-based connections with the individuals they wish to engage.

Recently, a lot of great research has been published suggesting that communications strategies built around meaningful cultural insights are the way to go. Historically, we have been trained to identify similarities in opinion or perspective in a target audience and speak directly to those broad considerations. What I posit is that identifying and addressing individual cultural nuances may be more effective.

This probably sounds inconvenient and ultimately time consuming, but I assure you it’ll be worth the effort. For perspective, consider the impact of an email inviting you to download a free track on iTunes versus an email inviting you to download a free, unreleased Enrique Iglesias track because I happen to know that you're a huge fan.

Yes, we're back to the days of door-to-door selling, albeit virtually. Meaningful, one-on-one exchanges should be the ultimate goal of your outreach efforts.

Brands don't win by broadly targeting millennials; they win by micro-targeting sub-segments of the millennial audience through strong, individual cultural associations.

For example, let's consider some of the unique attributes of Hispanic millennials, who currently represent 20% of the millennial universe. Their current numbers and future growth projections make them an especially attractive target for marketers. Furthermore, there is strong evidence that they are more likely to be pop culture trendsetters, whose interests and purchase decisions influence future product design and even the broader millennial set.

What This Means For Marketers

A one-size-fits-all communications strategy is convenient, but not always effective. Here are a few things that make a difference:

  • Language

    Spanish-language television ratings are at an all-time high. 40 percent of Hispanic millennials claim to consume both English and Spanish equally. Furthermore, there’s evidence that Spanish does a better job of connecting beyond simply communicating.

  • Geography

    There is strength in numbers. High-density Hispanic DMAs make it easier for people to continue living in and connecting with their Latino culture.

  • Approach

    millennials are, first and foremost, real people, who are happy to engage with brands if they are approached in a transparent, mutually-beneficial, and respectful manner.

  • Finances

    While the recent focus has been on how millennials are changing the system, consider how time, maturity, and the financial realities of the new world order may actually change them.

As for the broader, negative stereotypes about millennials, consider that individuals are products of their environment. Some feel that millennials lack a strong work ethic, in part, because they were raised by elitist Baby Boomers, who coddled them into helplessness.

Conversely, consider that the Boomer-aged parents that raised Hispanic millennials are significantly more likely to be foreign born and less affluent. For perspective, a recent survey found that 22% of Hispanic millennials contribute to the household's finances compared to only 9% of non-Hispanic millennials.

Many boomer-aged Hispanics came to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their family. They’re still optimistic about the possibility of achieving the American dream.

I’d venture to guess that when the dream seems out of reach, these parents take great comfort in knowing that their educated, responsible, tech savvy, millennial children may actually be the ones to turn the dream into a reality, regardless of what stereotypes the media may have imposed on them.

Joe Gutierrez is a 20-year marketing and advertising veteran with experience helping Fortune 500 companies find and refine their voice within the General and Hispanic markets. He is currently managing director and head of strategic planning for Pinta, a full-service, cross-cultural advertising agency with offices in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles. Pinta works with an array of clients including: American Express, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Facebook, Flipboard, Miami Marlins, Terra, TD Bank, and T-Mobile.