It seems everywhere you look nowadays you encounter the word Millennials. Whether it’s older generations calling them lazy, entitled job-hoppers or businesses eager to tap into the lucrative Millennial dollar, the term is everywhere.

But what exactly is a Millennial?

Also known as Generation Y or Digital Natives, Millennials represent a sprawling demographic of those born roughly between 1980 to 2000 (though no-one agrees exactly where the borders lie).

They are a generation who has grown up with technology. They have seen rapid change in the world and have come to represent a set of beliefs and expectations different from previous generations.

But how appropriate is it to group a whole generation under one word? And as marketers try and tap into the “Millennial Market”, are we running the risk of oversimplifying?

TALKING BOUT MY GENERATION

From Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and now the rise of Generation Z, it’s normal to generalise large groups. It helps us understand the broader cultural, social and technological influences of a time. But as we make these generalisations, we tend to forget the nuances within them.

Let’s get this clear… when it comes to marketing, Millennials are not a target group.

Neither are Baby Boomers or Generation Z for that matter.

They are broad stroke age based demographics, which help us understand fundamental differences between generations.

Any time you group a diverse range of people together, you are bound to lose important nuances, which are particularly important when it comes to effective marketing.

A LOT CAN HAPPEN IN 10 YEARS

Spanning a roughly 20 year age bracket, grouping Millennials together has obvious challenges. Especially when talking about those on either end of the scale.

For example, the interests, attitudes and habits of Katie, the 20 year old university student are going to be wildly different to Kevin, the 30 year old marketing manager who has just had his first child. Apart from their obvious gender and lifestyle differences, both have gone through key development periods in a different socio-technological context.

High school for Kevin and Katie would have been vastly different. Where Kevin had a monochrome Nokia 3210 that could play Snake, Katie had an iPhone with the world’s information at her fingertips.

Hyper connectivity, 3G, WiFi and social media were an entirely normal part of her key developmental years, but for Kevin, not so much.

Both of these characters fall under the category of Millennials, but there are fundamental differences between them. Apart from the obvious age and gender differences, their experience of key communication technologies contributes to a different outlook on the world.

So although in comparison to Baby Boomers, you may be able to lump both Katie and Kevin into the same group reasonably effectively, a closer look reveals important differences.

It is these differences that we tend to gloss over when we refer to Millennials.

THE RAPID RATE OF TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENT

Technology is shaping our future. And as that rate of change increases, generational labels are going to be even more problematic. Key communication technologies shape mindsets and those differences are going to become more pronounced in shorter periods of time.

This can even be seen in the way the younger scale of Millennials view social media vs those on the older side. Younger Millennials are accustomed to the social media celebrity, readily getting advice and guidance from social media personalities where older Millennials still remember a connection with the traditional mainstream celeb.

Influencer marketing is driven by social media personalities and though older Millennials are active social media users, it is the younger Millennials who aspire to be social media stars themselves. They see social media personalities as celebrities in their own right and this becomes a key driver of their influence.

With thousands of niches, various platforms and styles of engagement, influencer marketing is a great example of a Millennial focused industry that demonstrates the vast differences within the umbrella term.

People identify with influencers who are relevant to them, who appeal to their interests and personality. There is no unified Millennial voice, which is why targeting any marketing at Millennials is inherently problematic.

IT’S A START… BUT JUST THE BEGINNING

Generational labels are a great starting point. But they are just that – a starting point. They help us understand fundamental differences between generations but in themselves are not a demographic.

As we move ever more into a world driven by technology, customisation and choice, broad generalisations won’t cut it.

As more and more people look to express their unique individuality, they don’t want to be lumped into a group that doesn’t represent their own individual struggles. And as Generation Z moves more into the spotlight, this emergence of micro niches will become even more evident.

It’s important we recognise the differences and don’t get lost in generalisations.