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.
Unpack the Millennial Demographic
The real picture of the millennial population is clearer once we look at the demographic makeup. Millennials are now the nation’s largest living generation, surpassing baby boomers by more than one and a half million. People who were born between 1981 and 1996 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. A few important statistics to keep in mind:
- Millennials fall between the ages of 24 and 40 (as of 2021).
- The average income for millennials in the U.S. is $35,592.
- Millennials and Gen Zers were more likely to have been unemployed during the COVID-19 crisis in 2020.
- 63% of millennial workers say they plan to look for a new job this year.
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.
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.
Tap into Millennial Buying Power
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.
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.
- “Resident population in the United States in 2020, by generation (in millions),” Statista, 2021.
- “Defining Generations: Where Millennials End and Generation Z Begins,” Pew Research, 2019.
- Hillary Hoffower, “Meet the average American millennial, who has an $8,000 net worth, is delaying life milestones because of student-loan debt, and still relies on parents for money,” Insider Inc., Feb 27, 2020.
- Sarah Foster, “Survey: 55% of Americans expect to search for a new job over the next 12 months,” Bankrate, Aug. 23, 2021.