We’ve all seen it, businesses, politicians, advertising agencies, magazines are completely adamant on the stereotypical portrayal of millennials. Many claim millennials are rude, self absorbed, lazy, entitled, and obsessed with their phone.
As growth hackers, marketing is a big chunk of our daily work. However, one common pitfall I see a lot of marketers make is segmenting through stereotyping. Things such as buying personas, using unnatural language used in communication only encourage this stereotype. However, this mentality has a totally different effect on expected outcome, further disconnect with your audience.
Millennials are defined by those who are born after 1980, the term was coined by Neil Howe and William Strauss. The theory is nothing but snake oil, helping the two sell books about a management system of these millennials to HR departments. The truth is, that generations just don’t exist. The term exists to comfort marketers, HR departments, and businesses alike, and confirm that it is not they who are ‘out of touch’.
Marketers love creating buying personas to better explain an audience to their clients. It creates an approachable identity and shapes communication. In theory, you would expect better aligned companies with their audience. In fact, generational labels are only a means for older people to talk in a condescending way, and have existed way before the 20th century. Here is a quote by Peter The Hermit back in 1274.
The world is passing through troublesome times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.
Of course, some generalisation can be made depending on what year you were born in. But these factors have a global influence, things such as new technology, war, economic crises, and others. For example, those raised through World War 2 have most likely experienced loss, poverty and influenced their view on life.
Understanding these causes to behaviours already brings you closer to your audience, applying our most basic human behaviour, empathy.
You know who else is on their phone? EVERYONE. And why shouldn’t we be, phones are great. They are one of the most revolutionary pieces of technology that were invented in our time.
But you’re probably thinking, “I’ve been on the Stockholm metro, all I see is people looking down on their phones being anti-social”.
And guess what? this isn’t something new. Here is a photo from the 1940’s subway in New York, there’s a pretty striking resemblance to today’s world, no? The only difference is that we’re now more connected, we have more access to different sources of information and have apps to enhance our lifestyle.
Frankly, technology and innovation introduced past a certain age has had the same effect on people before our lifetime. When the ‘moving pictures’ or cinema (in today’s lingo) was popularised, existing media was quick to hop on the bandwagon claiming children were robbed of their childhood. How about radio? That was even more terrifying because it was in the home, ‘corrupting’ children. Here is a quote from Azriel L. Eisenberg, writing in the American Journal of Psychiatry about the radio:
This new invader of the privacy of the home has brought many a disturbing influence in its wake. Parents have become aware of a puzzling change in the behavior patterns of their children. They are bewildered by a host of new problems, and find themselves unprepared, frightened, resentful, helpless. They cannot lock out this intruder because it has gained an invincible hold of their children.
This is a great piece of stereotype that you see marketers use. They believe that using emojis brings them closer to their audience, and suddenly become comprehensible to millennials.
In fact, this trend is so popular, reddit, an online forum and community have a dedicated subreddit only for marketers attempting millennial lingo. You will be surprised by the poor quality and misuse of memes in communication as a cheap attempt to empathise.
And my personal favourite:
How about 💵⤵🚽 ? Or perhaps 💸☁️?
In truth, emojis aren’t really a millennial thing. Much like the popularity of phones, it is not really restricted by age. According to a report by Emogi, 92% of online consumers use emojis. And on top of that, age has very little effect on the frequency of emoji use.
One of the biggest arguments to dispute this stereotype is the increase of unfair internships. With more and more young people getting access to college, university, and higher education the value of degrees when it comes to getting hired has fallen drastically. Mix this in with the recession of 2008, internships have become one of the only ways of earning a career.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that, from the mid-1980s to the mid-2000s, the share of college graduates in the US participating in at least one internship rose from less than 10 percent to over 80 percent.
Not only are graduates now required to go through an internship, Ross Perlin reported a worrying statistic to USA Today. Out of 1.5 million reported internships in 2012, nearly half were unpaid. The figure is probably even higher due to illegal work, and there are very few incentives for reporting so.
What sort of entitled person would give their time and education to gain experience in hopes of earning a job. Oh, and by the way, only 37% of unpaid interns were offered a job by the company post internship.
Generational labels aren’t something new, this has been happening for centuries, with the only difference is that people are trying to make money on it. On the surface, it seems like a harmless attempt of understanding the youth and trends, but in reality we’re creating a greater separation between age groups.
The world is becoming more diverse with every census made. It’s impossible to compare a millennial born from a gen X-er (born 1960 -1980) from that born from another millennial. The stereotype has to end, along with godawful pieces such as the one written by TIME magazine.
It is time to get rid of labels on groups of people, stop seeing millennials as these strange beings who are inseparable from technology. (and no, we don’t usually sit around a table and sketch on a piece of paper ‘social media’)
And start seeing them as people instead.