It's not all about millennials or Generation Z, people

Age is just a number; needs, passions and goals are what brands should be focusing on, writes Rachel Hatton, chief strategy officer, Oliver UK.

I’m a sucker for a talent show, so in our house, we’re currently glued to The Voice. The premise of this show is, of course, that the judges don’t get to see who’s performing. So very often, they’re confounded when the contestant is younger or older than they’d expected.

We all know that people don’t conform to age stereotypes – on reality shows or in real life – and that it’s impossible to understand someone just by knowing which age cohort they belong to. This is why I’m puzzled by the continuing obsession with, and stereotyping of, millennials.

Let’s stop the obsession with millennials and let's stop assuming that they're a single, homogeneous group who share the same values

As I write, my inbox contains hundreds of emails offering advice on how to market to millennials, covering everything from financial services to handbags. They talk about the importance of "being transparent", of recognising the importance of friends, and "prioritising positive brand experience", as if these are things that the rest of us couldn’t possibly want.

With smartphone and broadband penetration in the UK at more than 80%, and the ubiquity of search, social media, online shopping, online banking and music- and video-streaming across all ages, it no longer makes sense to single out millennials when it comes to all things digital. A digital experience that’s simple, easy, friction-free and enjoyable will work for everyone.

And in fact it’s sometimes misleading to think that millennials want everything ‘digital first’. Our research has shown us that when it comes to making a big financial decision like applying for a mortgage, young people appreciate a ‘people first’ approach more than older generations, who’ll happily apply online.

Follow the money

In any case, for many businesses, millennials probably aren’t where the money is. We all know that they’re under huge financial pressure; saddled with student debt and struggling to get on the housing ladder. Not surprisingly, it’s people in their later 30s and 40s who are the UK’s most frequent online shoppers. And if you’re looking to target SMEs, the average age of a person starting their first business is 40.

So let’s stop the obsession with millennials. And let’s stop assuming that they’re a single, homogeneous group who all share the same values and preoccupations. Even for a brand with a young audience, a fixation on the ‘millennial mindset’ is unlikely to be productive.

A more helpful approach is to look at people’s needs, passions and goals, and design experiences to meet these. Needs, passions and goals unite people of different ages. You can be a music tech-head, for instance, at the age of 27 or 47 (as proven by one mum I know). But you’re likely to share a common set of needs, passions and goals when it comes to buying equipment – whether it’s knowing which kit musicians are recommending or being inspired by how they’re using it.

Play to the emotions

If brands can get to the heart of the needs, passions and goals of their audiences, that’s the springboard to creating compelling experiences. Brands should be uncovering the deeper emotional truths about people’s relationship with the category, the tensions that stand in their way, and the subconscious factors that have an impact on their behaviour. Brands should also define the role they intend to play in people’s lives: for instance, are you here to help people explore, are you a coach, do you steam in and take the pain away? Defining a clear role and clear behavioural principles helps to create experiences that are unique to the brand in question.

For example, in the tech sector we’ve found that it was much more helpful to think about people’s relationship with their devices than to segment people by age. And by doing this we’ve been able to define a clear role for clients to help consumers get the best out of their technology.

So when it comes to thinking about how to step change your customer experience, millennials are not the marketer’s Holy Grail. There are better ways to segment audiences. And as The Voice shows, a common dream or goal cuts across and even confounds age stereotypes.

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