A lot has been written about the fact that Millennials have recently overtaken Generation X as the largest segment of the US workforce. For the first time in history, a generation that has grown up with, and is entirely comfortable using technology makes up the greatest portion of the consumer population. In fact, many would go so far as to say Millennials are dependent on technology, and that any strategy to market to them should be firmly digital-first. Many marketing departments have extrapolated this mindset out and put together digital strategies that, no matter how effective, fail to recognise the diversity of the population they’re targeting.
According to KPCB, Millennials make up 35% of the workforce - i.e. those with disposable income and most companies’ target audience - with Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers coming in at 31% each. These numbers are significant. They highlight the fact that, though the dominant demographic, a Millennial-centric approach is far too limited to cater for the still incredibly diverse consumer pool. But this kind of approach is all too often the norm in companies with a majority Millennial workforce.
What many companies strive for is a varied digital strategy, one that incorporates Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and Millennials. To ignore one is to ignore potential revenue, close the business of potential areas of the market and, ultimately, damage the image of the brand. Many, though, are now suggesting that technology has changed the landscape to the point where generations are no longer an effective way of segmenting the population.
Ad Age points to the fact that on ‘newer platforms like Instagram, Twitter, eBay, Etsy and Yelp, users’ ages are often not obvious, allowing people to lead with other characteristics.’ When this is conflated with the idea that Gen Z has ‘no major world history event like war to tie them together,’ it’s reasonable that groups can form based on passions and brands that fit their projection of themselves, rather than of their place in time or history. The piece goes on to suggest that a 16-year-old fan of anime is arguably more similar to, and connected with, a 32-year-old anime fan than a 16-year-old football fan. The digital-first world of Gen-Z allows for greater integration between age groups based on interests, rather than when they were born or their familiarity with and reliance on technology.
So, rather than segmenting target audiences into rigid generations, brands need to take a more nuanced approach and focus on cultivating strong values and a clear brand mission that Ad Age’s ‘tribes’ can identify with. This may require multiple digital marketing approaches across a number of different channels. More and more, brands are being forced to react to changes in the digital landscape led by groups from across the generational spectrum. It makes more sense, then, to create a digital strategy that focuses less on how to target the Millennial generation in particular, or how to market to Gen-Xers. Instead, now more than ever it’s essential that a digital strategy by flexible, agile, and ready to follow different ‘tribes’ wherever they move. No, generations aren’t dead, and Millennial influence in the workforce will only grow as more reach senior positions, but obsessing over age means companies are in danger of ignoring the things that really define their target groups.