While there seems to be no universally acknowledged definition of 'Millennials', it is typically agreed that they are currently a relatively young demographic which follows Generation X. For purposes of this post, we will talk about Adult Millennials and define them as anyone currently aged between 18-35 years.
So, are Millennials that different to their older non-Millennial counterparts? In a word, yes. Looking at this through the lens of a marketer, there are three key things we should highlight about this generation:
1) Digital/Life integration
While many adult Millennials are not true 'digital natives' (that is, they can remember a pre-internet world and a world before smartphones and tablets), they typically have a much more seamless integration of digital/life than their older counterparts.
According to the 'Gen Wi-Fi Report', 54% of 18-35's, never switch their phone off and 41% overtly claim that they are "addicted" to their mobiles. For Millennials, the phone is not just a piece of technology – it is a communications appendage that enables connection to others, self-expression, and a myriad of app-enabled 'life utility'.
For marketers, the key thing to understand here is the sheer affinity this group has for their mobile devices. Their mobiles contain personal photos, music, messages and these devices provide the means to connect with others.
Additionally, behavioral crumbs available to marketers from these devices enable a possibility of personalization like we have never seen before. It is true that the digital advertising industry is still figuring out the optimal balance between privacy and personalization – but we also know that Millennials expect personalized brand and content experiences more than any other group.
2) Neurological differences
There is a mounting slate of literature demonstrating that Millennials are neurologically wired differently to older generations. They key thing to note here is the different demands placed on neurological processes today compared to the past. Twenty years ago or more, schooling systems were set-up to require a lot of memorization (e.g. facts such as State capitals, the names of oceans and periodic tables). However, more recently, with almost constant connection to the mass of information found online – memorizing such things becomes less important. What is more important is being able to navigate large amounts of information quickly and efficiently.
Several studies have shown that younger cohorts of today's Western society tend to dedicate more of their finite cognitive resources toward real-time cognition of information rather than to memory function. In English, this may mean that your typically 18-year-old might not have the same memory skills that her mother did at the same age, but she can probably multi-task more efficiently and evaluate several information sources with greater speed and effect than mom ever has. They are literally wired differently to their parents and this means marketers need to lean more on real-time engagement rather than the pure 'recall' tactics that were common in the past.
3) Increasing complexity of society and adulthood
As society evolves, so do the ways in which people behave and connect. For Millennials in their early adulthood, one of the key differences they display compared to non-Millennials is an increased willingness to consult their network to help with major life decisions. In fact, according to research conducted in the US by Ogilvy, almost 7 out of 10 Millennials simply will not make a major life-decision without running it past their network first. This is a much more tribal approach than was typically observed in the past and very likely is a manifestation of the access which technology provides, not only to their friends but also experts in a variety of fields.
Being able to tap the opinions of people that are better versed in the intricacies of specific decisions is both an example of skill specialization and a 'hive' style of thinking. While things like word of mouth have always been powerful and important elements of a brand's success, for marketers today the hive effect is more important than we have ever seen before and the potential massive amplification of online 'shares', 'likes' and 'reposts' explains in-part why marketers are seemingly always seeking the next viral sensation.
So there you have it, while this short post is far from exhaustive, there are three key things to provide food-for-thought around Millennials, please share your thoughts, comments and additions below.