Understanding the Real Millennials: Facts and Statistics

The millennial generation is unique, diverse, and often, can be difficult for businesses to understand and market to. Numerous factors, ranging from age, to demographics, location, political and social views, can make the category difficult to pin down and have a catch-all messaging approach. To complicate things, old-school thinking sometimes mislabels millennials as entitled or lazy because they value experiences over financial security.
To effectively communicate and serve millennial customers, business owners should understand the unique characteristics, motivations and behaviors that drive them. In this article, we’ll parse millennials into two groups (by age) in order to examine differences and similarities across a number of factors. While the full breadth of this group is much more complex than differences in age alone, this example will demonstrate the need to consider custom-tailored content, whether digital or physical, and marketing strategy, to your specific target customer.

Unpack the Demographics

The real picture of the millennial population is clearer once we look at the demographic makeup. Millennials are the nation’s largest living generation1, surpassing baby boomers by half a million. People who were between 18 and 34 years old in 2015 define this generation. They’re more ethnically and racially diverse than past generations and account for one in five same-sex couples. They marry later and are the most educated generation in history, with nearly a quarter of them having at least a bachelor’s degree.

Nielsen2 sorts millennials into two categories: younger (ages 18 to 26) and older (ages 27 to 34). The median income for a younger millennial is $25,000, while an older millennial makes nearly $48,000. According to a Zogby Analytics poll3, only 48% of millennials ages 18 to 24 are employed, compared to 69% of millennials 25-34 who report working full or part-time.


Who Are the Real Millennials?

Reaching this target population requires an understanding of who millennials are—and aren’t. They aren’t entitled, self-absorbed or unfocused, but their work ethic is different from generations past. Work-life balance from them is crucial. They aren’t living to work, but working to live. They’re products of the digital age, and as such, they expect expedience and self-service.

At the same time, millennials crave authenticity, transparency and personalization from the businesses they patronize. They view commerce as opportunity, not obligation. They swear loyalty to brands based on the experiences the brand provides and the principles they value. It takes more than a good sale to bring a millennial to your door—they’re more likely to set foot in your store for a good cause. Consider The Odyssey article4 on the success of some charitable companies, which operate using a “buy one, give one” model. When they buy something, millennials want their purchases to contribute to the greater good.

“…millennials want their purchases to contribute to the greater good.”

This generation loves activism, sharing and self-expression. They believe that the buying choices they and their peers make say a lot about them. Some apparel and footwear manufacturers today have taken advantage of personalization, with customers being able to customize everything from colors and fits to adding their own text.

According to research by The NPD Group5, which analyzed the buying tendencies for these two age groups, the results are unsurprising: older millennials spend more on child care, home improvement and appliances. While younger millennials are far less likely to be married with children, both age groups contend with student loan debt, which impacts their spending habits.

Tap into Millennial Buying Power

Millennials represent a large sector of the market, and they’re expected to account for about $200 billion in purchasing power by 20176.

Reaching these purse strings requires a basic understanding of their attitudes. Millennials want to feel connected, both emotionally and digitally. Many of them have grown up with social media and want to be “in the know.” They adopt technological innovations more quickly than past generations, and they expect you not only to keep up, but to also dazzle them. But again, those that are in their teens have different priorities than those over 30, and they consume media differently. Their employment, family or income situations may greatly differ, as well. So while there is content and messaging that may be engaging and relevant to a wider audience, consider a more bespoke approach in terms of identifying purchase motivators or behaviors, in order to strike the right chords.

“Millennials want to feel connected, both emotionally and digitally.”

If companies want to reach millennials, they may need to keep both overall similarities across the board and unique differences across a number of factors in mind when addressing a sales or marketing strategy. These efforts should be driven and supported by the latest data and trends, as the landscape constantly evolves. A one-size-fits-all approach isn’t likely to work, and as tastes and behaviors shift over time, having a pulse on what’s relevant right now can effectively help keep your messaging and business results.

Why Personalization May Help You Win with Millennials

Personalization is the act of leveraging data and personal information to deliver individualized messages to prospects and current customers. As a marketing tool, it’s obviously not new; it’s been a driving force in promotion for years. However, millennials are changing the way we think about personalized marketing.

Personalization can be an effective method for drawing in and retaining millennials. This generation grew up in the digital age, curating its own content on social media platforms. They love DIY curation websites, where they can scour the web for ideas and contact a merchant to help them bring custom creations to life.

For millennials, personalized marketing can help drive loyalty and purchasing decisions. In fact, a survey by Access Development1 found only 12 percent of millennial respondents had an active dislike for marketing communications, which is unlike previous generations of buyers. An NPD Group survey2 showed that while older millennials use more loyalty apps and shop at big-box national retailers, younger millennials prefer specialty stores and buying wholesale.

Millennials are also more open to giving out personal information—especially if they get something in return. According to research from Aimia3, half of millennials would share personal details to join a rewards program, while 36 percent of millennials would do so to gain access to a website.


The information age makes personalization even more personal. It seems a fair trade-off; if someone offers a business their personal info, the business should use it with care and specificity. Here’s what marketers should keep in mind to meet millennials where they are—and where they’d like to be:

Market with Personalization in Mind

Personalizing goods and services for the millennial crowd takes more than just attaching a name to an email or a direct mail flier. If we examine the rise of customizable menus in fast-casual restaurants, which allow its patrons to craft their own custom food creations, we see that many customers enjoy having more personalized options. A survey from Bond4 found that 55 percent of U.S. millennials would like access to personalized experiences and services that huge companies don’t have the bandwidth to provide.

Small and medium-sized businesses can take these lessons and apply the strategies to their own marketing campaigns. To entice the millennial consumer, customization may be the key. Companies can present options, though not too many, to appeal to the principles this value-driven generation loves. This is a shared trait between younger and older millennials; a Cone Communications poll5 showed that 92 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 91 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds would be willing to switch to brands associated with good causes.

The rise in popularity of curated subscription box services – from makeup to collectibles to pet supplies – is a perfect example of successful personalization in marketing. A beauty company has subscribers fill out a profile that asks basic questions about skin tone, type, and personal style. Based on the answers, it mails out five samples on a monthly basis. Subscribers try them out and have the option to buy full sizes of items they love.

Enhance Your Strategy

Small and medium-sized businesses should consider weaving personalization into their marketing, from the services they offer to their direct mail campaigns. Remember, what worked in the past may still be effective, but you may have to rethink your strategy and focus on tailored, individualized content for a crowd that expects customization and big value.

Consider what happened not too long along when a late night comedy host was taking potshots at politicians who sent mass emails with the respondent’s name in the tag. It pretended to be personal, but once you read a line or two, it was obviously just another form letter. Don’t fall into the trap of pretending to be personal—it’s important to actually engage with your consumer on a personal level.

Are you ready to personalize your direct mail for millennials? Check out “Reaching Millennials: The Role of DM.” It’s an informative guide that may help businesses bridge the communication gap—and generation gap—with millennial consumers.