Monday and yesterday, I argued that many of the so-called Millennial attributes aren’t unique to Millennials and, in fact, that the dynamics among generations are overblown.
I should stipulate here that it seems obvious that people who have significant events at formative times in their lives may have similar reactions. Those who lived through the Great Depression were more likely to save as a result. Similarly, many from this generation don’t like to have extended long-distance phone calls because they used to be very expensive.
Ironically, for me, it’s this belief in formative events that makes me less likely to buy into generational dynamics. It seems odd to me that for whom 9/11 happened while in college will likely think the same way about security issues on average than someone for whom 9/11 happened while in utero. Further, to say that their reactions would be preordained seems even more implausible.
All of this could be excused, perhaps, if it led to a usable schema. After all, if something works in practice but not in theory, it simply begs for better theory.
However, looking at Millennials and saying they act one way or the other as a group is not reliable. In fact, it would likely be better to look at any other factor than age to get an idea of a person.
This sounds controversial, but let’s take this chart as an example. While a simple example, President Obama’s appeal among younger voters was a significant part of the narrative in the 2008 election.
As you can see, white Millennial’s approval rating of President Obama is between white Gen Xers and white Boomers. Non-white Millennial approval is slightly higher than non-white Boomers, but within the margin of error.
So if you wanted to predict whether someone supports President Obama, it would be far more instructive to know someone’s race than their age. Or, put another way, a 25-year-old white person is more likely to be like a 65-year-old white person than a 25-year-old non-white person.
Let’s look at more actionable variables for us as direct marketers. One thing we do know for sure is that Millennials own social media, right?
Sort of. They use social media more than other age groups. However, 11% have no Facebook accounts and 27% use it less than once per week. And that’s the most used social network.
And, not a surprise, it’s not the same by sex:
And there’s significant age variation within Millennials. About a quarter (27%) of 31-35 year olds use Snapchat, compared with almost two-thirds (65%) of 21-25 year olds. I should mention that some of the more enlightened generational theorists of my acquaintance talk about how people on the border of generational categories are tweeners and these are spectra, rather than hard dividing lines. This warms my heart in part because I’m an Xer and my wife is a Millennial despite only a two-year age gap.
This is something for-profit marketers have caught on to. The Hotwire PR study of communications trends proclaimed the end of trying to talk to Millennials as a monolithic group and more toward addressable media and direct marketing (including print!) to address as individuals.
So the big question I would have is why would you want a strategy for Millennials, when you could have strategies to acquire online advocates as warm leads, renew lapsed donors, and everything else that is actually related to your organization. I think you’ll find that your walkers look very much like your walkers, your advocates like your advocates, and so on, than your Millennials like your Millennials.
This brings up another question: is it worthwhile to target far younger constituents as a way to get gifts? My answer is no, with caveats, and I’ll hit the details tomorrow.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments.