“Millennials” is a marketing buzzword these days, with companies trying to understand them, market to them, and often blame them for failures. Marketers tend to segment into generations, like Baby Boomers, Gen X, millennials (Gen Y) and Gen Z. Let’s break down this strategy. Is organizing your targets by generation the best form of market segmentation for your business?
Segmenting by Age
Labeling people in a general sense is not typically a good idea. It may help with our innate instinct to categorize, but it ends up marginalizing people. Age is one of those labels.
Ignoring the hot topic of gender, let’s look at, say, adult diapers. When marketers target only a segment of elderly people, they leave out people of all ages with digestive or excretory problems from diseases, disorders or surgeries. They probably feel embarrassed that they’d be wearing a diaper because they’re not old enough, according to society. When marketers limit their view of the market, they also limit their ability to innovate.
Ageism shows its colors not just in movies but in marketing. Marketers tend to target older people when adult diapers, life insurance, and healthcare is concerned. But older people have lives, including needs and desires. They’re still active in the marketplace, especially those who are recently retired. They’ve hit peak spending while millennials don’t quite have the budget to spare on things after being in post-collegiate debt. While Baby Boomers, around 80% of the world’s wealth, may not have the longevity that Millennials do in terms of a long-term marketing strategy, they still have plenty of years in them and plenty of influence on the next generations.
Millennials are all the rage, and companies are scrambling to try to market to them and get the money they owe college loan agencies. However, discarding older generations to appeal to the market powerhouse of millennials is costly.
A Quick Turnaround
Applebee’s rebranded to appeal to millennials with dishes that seemingly would make hipsters jump for joy in conglomerate plates of avocados, sriracha, and all of the pork products into one stockpiling in your digestive tract. The problem is that the dishes sounded gross and they left their largest base in the dust. In the end, Applebee’s had to close hundreds of restaurants. Scion went out of business because it rebranded to millennials. A company can’t ignore groups based on demographics.
Individuality vs Bandwagon
Companies and critics often blame millennials for ruining the market that previous generations made and kept the same, despite the changes around them. They try to understand them, but it’s impossible when they’re so different from each other and typically don’t conform to expectations and norms. They are individuals, as is everyone else. Brand loyalty is still existent; it just shows up in different ways. Millennials might have brand loyalty to a company that reduces its carbon footprint and donates to an environmental cause. But so might a 60-year-old emergency responder whose seen the damage climate change has done first-hand.
If there’s one thing we can blame millennials for, it’s breaking the mold of traditional and stale marketing. It’s a generation that recognizes diversity and is diverse. In turn, it challenges marketers to look at existing customers as individuals and not lumped into demographics.
Diversify Your Portfolio
In the end, it’s probably best to group by common interests and present your product or service with honesty and clarity. Samuel Scott puts it best at The Drum: “A demographic segment is a group of people who share one or more attributes such as age, race, sex, or level of education. A market segment is a group of people who have the same behaviours, needs, attitudes or desires. The two are completely different things.”
Everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to feel safe. It doesn’t matter what age. If anything, we need to include more age groups in our marketing strategies. Rebecca Onion criticizes in aeon, “It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities’, rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life.” Let’s help generations find common ground!