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Why we need to stop using the word ‘millennial’

|July 27, 2018

There is a word I would like to collective ban from every marketing and communications professional’s vocabulary. A word that has come to represent so many different things that it has become ineffective as a useful term. A word that has come to define—and stereotype—an entire generation of people. And that word is millennial.

Full disclosure. I am a millennial. That is, I happen to be born between a certain date range that makes me different from the generation before me (Gen X) and the one that comes after (Gen Z). But before you roll your eyes and chalk this up to another instance of a millennial just “being a millennial” hear me out.

What is a millennial?

The definition of who exactly falls into the category of being a millennial is somewhat debated. But generally speaking, millennials are anybody who was born from 1980ish to 1996ish. Give or take a year or two. That means the oldest millennials are creeping up on 38, while the youngest of us are around 22.

This is problematic. Want to feel the full effect of the term “generation gap”? Spend five minutes talking to somebody who is 10 years your junior (or senior, for that matter) about your life experiences and tell me how old that makes you feel.

At 33, I am a middle-of-the-road millennial. But I work with co-workers who, while technically part of my generation, might as well be from a different planet in terms of shared experiences, technological exposure, and yes, even values. Because of that, what appeals to them in terms of messaging won’t to me, and vice versa. So by lumping us all in one target audience, who are we really speaking to?

The number one golden rule of communications and marketing is to know your audience. And by making assumptions about such broad characteristics, we’re not really doing that. By painting an entire generation in this way, we’re not being thoughtful about how to best communicate our message to a specific audience.

So what?

‘Millennial’ has jumped the shark in terms of being in providing meaning, value, or context. And for that reason, we should drop it from our vocabulary.

As marketers and communicators, we need to be thoughtful about who we’re speaking to and start thinking beyond the confines of generations. It’s time to shift how we’re thinking about our audiences from an age and location perspective and start thinking about an experience and behaviour-based approach instead.

Brands like Netflix are already doing this. According to Netflix VP of product, Todd Yellin, “Geography, age, and gender? We put that in the garbage heap.” Instead, Netflix focuses on the types of content that their audiences respond to and builds audience profiles based on that.

And thanks to technology, you don’t have to be a juggernaut like Netflix to access tools to gain that information for your own company or brand. There is an entire industry being built around data and insight analysis to provide the kinds of information to brands to be able to know their customers based on their tastes and life experiences—not the standard A/S/L of yore. By having deeper insights about who we’re talking to, we can craft better messages. And that means better marketing for all.