Ignore articles about millennials (except this one)

Posted on Jun 13th, 2016 | Running a business

What do bald people want?

Well, they want a “an interesting, varied lifestyle”. They want “a life worth living and sharing and a career to fit into that”. Any company that hires them “has to be adaptive in order to engage and retain them”.

Sound like patronising codswallop? That’s because it is. Surely everybody wants those things, not just folically challenged people?

But simply replace ‘bald people’ with the word ‘millennials’, and you’ve apparently got yourself a perfectly acceptable article.

What’s a ‘millennial’?

Remember the term ‘baby boomers’? That’s what marketers and commentators called people born between 1946 and 1964. Similarly, ‘Generation X’ has been used to describe anyone born between the early 1960s and 1980s.

Bringing us up to date, ‘millennial’ is said to have been coined by American authors William Strauss and Neil Howe in their book ‘Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation’, where they use the term to describe people born at any time between 1982- 2004 (including myself).

That’s everyone from Mark Zuckerberg or Kate Middleton to your little niece who’s just about to start secondary school.

Why do people keep using the term?

Most notably, younger millennials will have trouble remembering a pre-internet world, and the most junior among us will have just started primary school when both the smartphone and social media booms began.

Studies highlighting the effects these technological advances have on the public’s opinions, motivations and buying habits can make for interesting reading, particularly for market researchers or business owners.

Inevitably though, with ‘millennial’ currently being such a popular buzzword for headlines, many journalists and content producers relish in hacking together any old schpiel about how today’s youngsters are idle, feckless and entitled. They know an effective way to achieve strong audience engagement is to write an article so controversial that even the people who disagree with it will share it (those keeping score will see that I’ve done exactly that already in this article!)


You millennials are offended by everything

I personally find the assertion that I have all have the same aspirations, interests or sensitivities as every other so-called millennial frustrating; if not for its condescension then absolutely for its blinding inaccuracy. Neuroscientist Dean Burnett seems to agree in an excellent rant in the Guardian:

“Can you realistically expect someone still in school and someone on their second marriage with a mortgage to have comparable shopping habits, or views on the government?”

Granted, studies on millennials are useful when they’re compared to studies on previous generations – giving us an idea of the direction the world is heading in. Case in point: us millennials are statistically more likely than our predecessors to support same-sex marriage. Sure, that’s encouraging, but it unfortunately doesn’t mean the same thing as ‘Millennials support same sex marriage’ – over a quarter of my peers in the UK have a more traditional outlook.

Likewise, the finding that “62% of Millennials are saving more than 5% of their income” doesn’t equate to the related headline ‘Millennials Remain Avid Savers’ any more than “millennials’ savings rate has dipped to negative 2%” means ‘Millennials aren’t saving a dime’.

For every scurrilous supposition about millennials, there seems to be a completely opposite judgement just a quick Google away:

millennials money

Stop being so lazy

One of the media’s favourite stereotypes is that millennials are lazy, and writers seem to be seriously tantalised by any flimsy evidence they can find to support this theory. For example, the Washington Post reported in their article ‘The baffling reason many millennials don’t eat cereal’ that “for today’s youth, cereal isn’t easy enough”.

This nonsense was based on a 2015 survey where 40 percent of millennials said cereal was an inconvenient breakfast choice because they had to clean up after eating it. Indeed, there was no evidence to suggest they didn’t eat it anyway regardless of the perceived inconvenience, and even Amanda Topper, senior food analyst of Mintel (the company who commissioned the survey) told GQ Magazine:

“I don’t think it’s that millennials are lazy… Consumers are increasingly pressed for time, so for breakfast specifically we’re not necessarily sitting down at the breakfast table each day, so when it comes to finding products that are going to satisfy those needs, we need convenient, portable food.”

The irony of lazily judging an entire generation of people as ‘lazy’ seems to have been lost on marketing agencies and the vast majority of the media. What appears to be laziness may in some cases be streamlined labour; why work hard if you can work smart? Why waste time on a task if a mobile device can do it for you? And in this case, why wash up a bowl when your favourite cereals are available in portable bar form?

Down with the kids

The generalising gets even more ridiculous. Data was released just last week stating that one in five 18 to 25 year olds store PINs for credit or debit cards on their smartphones, tablets or laptops. Notwithstanding the good sense in storing sensitive data on a password protected device, published an article with the perplexing headline “Idiot millennials are saving credit card PINs on their mobile phones”.

The stats and the headlines fail to synchronise, again and again. A recent poll reveals that 40% of millennials think government should step in to ban speech that might be offensive to others. Despite a clear majority disagreeing with the statement, this headline reads: “Poll: Millennials Want To Ban Offensive Speech”.

Even for someone with a media degree, it’s somehow still baffling that publications get away with taking such liberties with the way they report on statistics.

The perilous issue at hand is that business owners paying attention to these arbitrary statistics and bogus headlines are in a real danger of tarring younger folks with the same brush, therefore alienating potentially enthusiastic staff and / or customers. If you don’t want to appear out of touch, there’s no substitute for actually engaging with your audience in real life.

A plea to anyone running a business: don’t base your opinions of an entire generation on some silly ‘millennial’ clickbait. Contrary to popular belief, what appeals to Joey Essex might not interest Mhari Black MP. What makes Kim-Jong Un tick probably doesn’t motivate Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai. And I can assure you, my buying habits differ quite significantly from Cristiano Ronaldo’s.

So, what do Millennials really want?

Probably to be treated as individual humans. Cheers for asking.

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Written by Tom West

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