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A tale of three Millennials

I’d like to tell you about three Millennials I know.

I have two adult daughters who are a little over eight years apart in age. Both fall into the category of “Millennials,” although prior to that term being used, they were called “Gen Y” as they were the generation to follow “Gen X.”

Since the introduction of the term Millennial, the two terms have been used somewhat interchangeably to represent the group that was born between the early 1980s and roughly the year 2000. Because of the rapid pace of emerging culture and technology, however, I believe that older and younger Millennials represent two distinct generations, as I will attempt to illustrate here. 

The tale of the Millennial generation is a great example of why media companies need to tailor their products to an ever-changing audience that focuses on individual preferences. And, for the Millennial generation specifically, why they need to employ different strategies to attract both groups not only as readers, but as future leaders of the industry.

My older daughter will be 30 years old next month. When she was born in 1985, the Internet was not yet a common household word. She was a teenager before she visited her first Web site.

Landlines with wireless headsets were just coming on the market and rotary dial phones were actually still common. (Recall the early phone routing systems that stated, “If you’re using a rotary-dial phone, please stay on the line.”) 

Smartphones hadn’t even been thought of yet (or perhaps they existed as a gleam in the eye of Steve Jobs at that point).

Her first introduction to wireless communication technology was a pager and, when we wanted her to call home, she still had to find a landline to use as cell phones were not even a common item yet. In fact, she wouldn’t have her first cell phone until many years later when she was an adult.

Television was still 100% scheduled and the only on-demand programming existed down at the local video rental store. (I’m not sure that her children even know of or understand the concept of scheduled television viewing!)

Printed newspapers were still experiencing one of their best decades in history, and only a small handful of media companies offered anything electronically.

My other daughter, who will be 22 in January, grew up in a markedly different world. She doesn’t remember a time when there wasn’t a computer in the house. While she probably does remember the archaic nature of dial-up Internet, she doesn’t know a time when the World Wide Web didn’t exist. She grew up with unlimited information at her fingertips.

Even as a young child, virtually none of the information she received came in printed form (except for textbooks, which, interestingly, even now haven largely not made the jump to digital but are on their way).

By the time she was old enough to have her own phone, landlines were already on the way to becoming obsolete. Her first phone was a smartphone (I still had a flip phone at that point!).

By the time she had graduated high school, she rarely watched any television, instead getting the majority of her video content from YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix.  By this time, technology and the early stages of audience fragmentation had turned the newspaper industry on its head.

And all in less than a decade!

Most studies that I have found lump Millennials under the category of 18-32 year olds. Some studies, however, show striking differences between the older Millennials (26-33) and their younger counterparts (18-25).

For example, a study by the Pew Research Center shows that getting news on Facebook is higher for older Millennials, and that younger Millennials are much more likely to use Twitter and Tumblr for their news gathering. Older Millennials are also much more likely to use Google Plus and LinkedIn to get news (although LinkedIn is a very low news source for both groups).

Other studies suggest that, probably because they came of age during one of the worst recessions of the modern age, younger Millennials tend to be more frugal and have different purchasing patterns than their older siblings.

A study by MediaPost shows that those 25 and younger are less likely to own a home than older Millennials did at the same age, more likely to live with their parents, and less likely to make big-ticket purchases such as cars or houses at the same age as their older counterparts.

They are also more likely to save money than older Millennials. Again, this is possibly because their coming of age during the recession gave them a very different take on money matters than older Millennials who came of age during a globally prosperous time.

Still another study talks about Millennials in the workplace. A global study by Universum showed that 30% of younger Millennials felt their boss should be a role model in the workplace compared to 20% of older millennials.

Older Millennials are more likely to leave a company because they don’t feel it is innovative enough. Older Millennials are also more likely to be concerned about brand image and how it fits their personality than younger ones.

Finally, younger Millennials are less concerned about under-performing than their older counterparts. This is ironic, as studies of the first wave of Millennials used to portray them as hyper-underachievers.

One interesting observation about Gen Y is that older Millennials tend to be the children of young baby boomers, while those under 25 are the first generation of children born to Gen X. They grew up with a somewhat different set of values, further illustrating the changes that took place during the 20-year period between the early 1980s and the beginning of the 21st century.

So what about the third Millennial I mentioned? That is my nephew. He is an interesting case. He, like my older daughter, falls into the older category of Millennial as he is almost 30 years old. Demographically speaking, though, he acts more like a young baby boomer in many ways. He is still a believer in the classic “American Dream.” He has his own home, two cars, and a career that he plans to retire from in 20 or 30 years. 

He subscribes to the printed newspaper on all seven days and does very little, if any, interaction on social media. He does have a smartphone, but primarily uses it to find businesses and as a GPS. No doubt he does get some news and information from the Internet, but he is very different than his counterparts when it comes to online activities. 

He really does not fit into either “classic” Millennial group and many marketing techniques used to market to Millennials are largely ineffective when it comes to enticing him.

All of this speaks to the rapid pace of change, especially as it relates to media and advertising. It also serves to illustrate the need for media companies to segment audiences down to small groups and, in some cases, at the individual level.

While demographics are excellent tools, they need to get to the lowest level of breakout to be truly useful and effective. 

No doubt, the rapid advance of culture and technology will make this even more pronounced as the as-of-yet unnamed generation that are my grandchildren grow up and become readers and consumers.

About Dan Johnson

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