The Problem with Millennials (It’s Not What You Think)

The Problem with Millennials (It’s Not What You Think)

Millennials are a difficult group to pin down, but that’s largely the fault of marketers.

If you were to survey marketers around the world about what they thought the hottest demographic was at the moment (based on their experiences, work, and client/organizational discussions) I can all but guarantee that the vast majority (if not all) would say ‘millennials’.

Problem with marketing to millennials

Why do I say this? Well, to give you some perspective, I know of at least a half-dozen agencies or derivatives that have started up in the last year to focus solely on millennials, and the last three events where I spoke I was asked to cover millennials. What’s more, I don’t the last time we put together a pitch that didn’t focus heavily on the ‘millennial demographic’, and it somehow always makes its way into conversations with clients and prospects. Put simply, they’re the most coveted group of consumers across the globe, but there’s a problem with millennials, and it’s not what you think.

What makes millennials so great?

It’s facts and figures time!

What makes this group so valuable and sought after by corporations big and small? Well, let’s start with their growth. Millennials, when defined purely by their age demographics (we’ll get to that after) are now the largest demographic in the United States, edging out Boomers by about a half million. And, naturally, that’s expected to grow, as seen in the Pew graph below.

The growth of millennials and other demographics - Pew

The group is also hugely diverse (thanks in large part to waves of immigration), considered to be exceptional multi-taskers, highly engaged on social platforms (over 75% of U.S.-based millennials have a social profile), educated (over 72% have at least a high school education) and, most importantly, they are wealthy. Estimates from comScore suggest that by 2017, millennials will be spending $200 billion a year. That’s a lot of money; and therein lies the desperation on the part of brands, organizations, governments and, of course, marketers of all kinds to capture their attention and loyalty.

The Problem with Millennials

There are a lot of good guesses out there as to what the problem with millennials might be: they’re too price sensitive, they’re experience-seekers, they’re risk-averse, buying cycles are too long (or too short), they’re too smart (which can easily be a problem when it comes to your advertising and marketing) and the list goes on and on. But that’s not the problem that I believe is the biggest when it comes to marketing.

The problem is with us, as marketers: we’re thinking about millennials all wrong.

If you ask most marketers to define the term ‘millennial’, they’ll almost unanimously state that a millennial is someone born between 1980 and 2000. And that’s more or less where the definition will end. To properly market to this group we call millennials, we need to start by first defining who it is we’re marketing to. That means understanding them on a level that stretches beyond age brackets and really starts to examine tastes, preferences, and behaviors.

While it might be true that a large majority of consumers born within the year span assigned to millennials fit a certain archetype, they are by no means the same. What’s more, the criteria that define these consumers might stretch far beyond the age confines. Let’s take the Las Vegas problem. The millennial issue is one that has baffled the casino industry in Las Vegas, and it’s now looking like a growing concern. But, again, there’s simply a shift in behaviors spearheaded by this group of millennials.

As noted above, they’re risk averse and price sensitive. They’re also educated, so they can recognize that a hold advantage (house advantage) on a slot machine is anywhere from three to twenty times higher than certain table games (if you know what you’re doing). They’re also seeking experiences. While this definition of a consumer is most prevalent with those born between 1980 and 2000, there are plenty of other consumers who fall far beyond that age bracket who need to be marketed to in the same way if they are to be converted.

Ultimately, buying power might vary from one age range to the next, but behaviors transcend age. Until that becomes the dominant mindset among marketers (not just in Las Vegas, but across most, if not all industries) then the ‘millennial’ market will never be fully tapped.


Even with a new, broader definition and a better understanding of the market, will we have cracked the millennial paradox? Probably not. But one thing we can say for certain is that we won’t get anywhere with regards to building relationships and driving results in the millennial market until we dive further into behaviors and personalities, and stop focusing so narrowly on age.

The following two tabs change content below.
Corey Padveen is a data-oriented marketing professional with a focus on statistical analyses of human behavior. This specialization has led him to speak and present at dozens of conferences around the world, to write for a variety of reputable online and print publications, and recently, to publish ‘Marketing to Millennials For Dummies’ as part of the world-renowned ‘For Dummies’ series. He regularly shares real world examples and findings from his research, and discusses how members of society are evolving as consumers, communicators, and a global network as a whole.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with Millennials (It’s Not What You Think)

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.