Millennials are dead. Long live the Millennials!

Yahoo!, Tumblr, Razorfish and Digitas recently published their Content Marketing for Millennials Best Practices document, and I was dumbfounded. Not by the revelations in the document, of which I felt there were few, but rather by the fact that these respected names in digital marketing would go so far as to perpetuate the mythology of generational cohorts that first surfaced in the 1920’s. Specifically that, despite the data trove that the internet offers to marketers and advertisers when it comes to targeting of consumers, the industry is still peddling the idea of the Millennial at all.

While I will concede that demographic stereotyping may have made sense during the early years of advertising, when the metrics for audience segmentation were limited and costly, what’s the excuse for it now? Sure, we need shorthand descriptors to talk about target demographics for our content – and Millennial seems as good as any – but in the digital age, when we’re talking about best practices marketers should be using to target consumers, I believe that the whole notion of Millennials as a group is misguided.

“Millennials are the first generation to be truly open to not just receiving ads, but engaging with them and sharing them.”

The authors aren’t the first, and they most definitely won’t be the last, to view the “young people of today” as completely alien. In this case, going so far as to claim that the actual brains of Millennials have, “been rewired to organize and consume data differently.” That falls pretty much right in the aliens wheelhouse, in my book. The problem, of course, is that there is a substitution of bias-informed stereotyping for fact.

Consider, for example, the assertion that 18-34 year olds are the only people “truly open” to engaging and sharing. Am I the only one who finds this absurd? Haven’t we all suffered countless instances of over-34 year olds clogging our Facebook feeds with marketing content they felt was compelling enough to warrant a share and an “LOL”. I couldn’t help reading the document and wondering if anyone bothered to ask the same questions of other demographic cohorts (GenXers, Boomers, etc) in order to learn if those groups, “are willing to share good advertising, but dislike when advertising feels deceptive. Create native content that is relevant to the environment it’s hosted in, but does not mislead the viewer.” I suspect we already know the answer to my question.

Now, I’m certain that the authors, or their defenders, would argue that they’re just speaking generally, and that, of course, this isn’t meant to be applied to every Millennial consumer. That, in fact, the whole concept of the Millennial is simply an artificially defined market segmentation used to make generalized inferences that may or may not actually have any correlation to an actual group of people.

So, if we all know that it is a simple generalization, if we all know that there are better and more accurate ways of segmenting customers, then why are they doing it at all? And that’s the whole point of this post, and the reason why the so-called Best Practices document is just wrong in its approach. I know, or at least have read, that Yahoo! (at the very least) understands the analytic possibilities of big data. And, I would bet money that none of the big data scientists working there were consulted prior to publication of this document.

As everyone from Target to President Obama’s re-election campaign understand, the technology for pinpointing customers (or voters) is there. It just depends upon the marketing and advertising worlds stopping thinking about their customers as generational cohorts and focusing instead on the actual segmentation that can lead to consumer conversion. And that begins with ignoring best practices for Millennials and focusing on best practices for your customers. Because the truth is, the marketers who transact on that data are the ones who are going to be converting more efficiently in the market.

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line and let me know!

advertising, marketing