Marketers: Don’t You Dare Call Us Millennials…

The word “millennial” occupies an odd space for us. As a business in the marketing sector we end up using it – and other terms such as Generation Y – with our clients out of necessity, but most of us wouldn’t answer to it in the street.

Part of this is because of the negative associations around our generation. Often, a sentence starting with the word “millennials” is about to either expand at length on how lazy, naive and entitled we are or paint us as social media obsessed aliens from the future. A study conducted by the Pew Research Centre last year found this rang true:

“[…] Millennials, in particular, stand out in their willingness to ascribe negative stereotypes to their own generation: 59% say the term “self-absorbed” describes their generation, compared with 30% among Gen Xers, 20% of Boomers and just 7% of Silents.”

The other part is that we’re the most diverse and individualistic generation; tribes and subcultures aren’t as important to us, and we can belong to several at once. Gone are the days of being a punk for life or the Quadrophenian clan wars between mods and rockers. Thanks to the internet we construct our identities from a universally accessible cultural buffet, making us increasingly harder to classify into neat demographics.

In fact, if the newspaper headlines are to be believed, then the only thing us “millennials” have in common is how bad things are for us:

Whether they’re a Redditor or a Tumblrite, liberal or conservative, activist or entrepreneur, under-35s can all agree on one thing: it’s not looking good for us. However, unless you’re selling a solution to climate change or the housing crisis this isn’t particularly useful.

While generational markers are a godsend for marketers when it comes to communicating with their industry peers in a common language, they’re not really useful beyond the broadest trends. For practical applications, targeting “millennials” without further qualification is about as useful as targeting “humans”.

At Alcmy we’ve committed this sin in the past and still do sometimes; the word’s a convenient shorthand you can use at a networking event without having to explain a new theoretical framework in your 60-second pitch.

In our early days, it also led to us trying to make our content platform appeal to an audience that was way too broad – “Jack of all trades, master of none.” Now when it comes to conceiving our own content, we try to strike a middle ground between being too general and being too specific; we use the term “New Urban” instead.

The New Urban is a specific segment of the millennial population that we characterise as:

  • City dwellers
  • Creatives and entrepreneurs
  • Future-minded.
  • Experimenters and innovators.

You’ll notice that most of these are the aspects that are already generalised as belonging to the demographic; when somebody tells you they want to be hip with “millennials”, this is the type of person they really mean. Unlike the other term though, this allows us to target specific influencers and communities that share these ideals.

There’s another thing about that list though: they’re all positive qualities, and they’re based on personality rather than economic markers like average salary or home ownership. This is important when it comes to writing content to an anonymous audience; you can’t tell what they really have in their bank accounts, but you can tailor your content to connect with their personalities.