Why Are Marketers so Obsessed on Millennials and What to Do about It

We love millennials! Millennials are different; they are sharp, open-minded, techy, digital, and the perfect fit for our brand, whatever brand we might own. In digital apps, books, consumer package goods, or alcoholic drinks, millennials are the magic solution to our marketing segmentation. Is this the myth of the last decade in Marketing? One that we fell so quickly into its trap. Because if you work in Marketing, there is a high chance that you are a millennial. Just remember, you are not the consumer.

The next two simple graphs should create an A-HA moment and convince you that the millennial opportunity is not that big. Two significant insights spring to mind: millennials are not the majority (duh), and second, they have the least disposable income to spend.

By targeting millennials, you are consciously deciding to ignore 80% of the population, maybe because you are a Pareto fan. Do you know accurately that 20% of your customers represent 80% of your revenue? Recheck your data. Unless you are active in the business of graduate recruitment or student debt repayment options, I would doubt it. 

Second, irrespective of the year, unemployment among millennials was higher than any other age group (that’s in the US, in Europe is even worse). Add to this the limited purchasing power of millennials, and your story starts to have legs. Don’t you think you should broaden your target?

3 simple insights to start your recovery journey:

  • Understand who buys your category – not just your brand.
  • Learn about your customers; know the revenue each age-group segment generates.
  • Study demographic trends for your market; in an aging population world, don’t be blind to your most valuable target group. 

Photo by Julián Gentilezza on Unsplash

Stop Using Marketing Research like a Drunk Uses a Lamppost

When I started working for Mars, one of my favorite onboarding reads I had to consume covered the dos and don’t of marketing research. Among excellent references to statistical significance, confidence intervals, and the role of probability, the highlight was the image shown below. It pictures a drunk man using a lamppost for support rather than its typical use: illumination. And that’s how we tend to use research with the wrong purpose in mind.

We often ask consumers what we want to hear and are overly enthusiastic when their answers match our needs. A concept validation is mistakenly seen as a sign of research success. We should be disappointed when the research outcome is clean; we should ask for new insights, not a confirmation. Research should be about learning something new. Let’s not forget: we are not the consumer. And if we think we could know in advance what they precisely want from our vantage point, we are maybe wrong.

So let’s start asking more from consumer research; let’s go beyond validation and into illumination. The role of a lamppost is to illuminate the way, even if you are drunk and can’t seem to find yours.

Photo by Sylvain Pitet on Unsplash

Discard the Surveys, Understand People’s Past Actions and Behaviors

Past behavior is a better predictor of future behavior in comparison with stated intent. To grow, understand people’s actions and behaviors, trust not what they claim in surveys

Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Nothing worth having comes easy.” I love this mantra and try to apply it always to decode people, or how we marketers like to call them: consumers or customers. Understanding what consumers do, how they behave, and what they deeply think is hard, asking them a couple of rushed questions is easy. The first approach is also much more expensive than the first, but it’s worth the $. The difference in how the two methods inform your marketing decisions is not even worth debating.

Over a decade ago, while working as a junior marketer for British American Tobacco, every month, I eagerly anticipated the arrival of the latest consumer equity tracker results for my brand. It landed in my inbox as a flood of numbers and graphs in all shapes and forms, which kept me busy for at least two days. Too young to question the source or quality of that data, I drank the kool-aid. I had to join another company, Mars, 9 years ago to understand the considerable limitations of asking random people what they think about a brand and more precisely if they will buy it in the future. Professional experiences shape profiles, and I have Mars to thank for helping me embrace behavioral-based research to such an extent.

At Mars, we measure what people do – mostly in-store or on digital commerce platforms, how they naturally react to our communication (attention, emotions, memory encoding) and not if they love our brand. Do you think they want to build a long-lasting loyalty relationship with our packaging or ads (more about loyalty in another post)? There is still a big role to play for surveys in people’s research, especially when combined with implicit reaction speed testing. But please take survey results with a grain of salt. In many instances, those answering surveys do it with little or no attention, are mostly interested in the financial reward, and are faced with known academic biases (considerable brand bias, last time purchased brand bias, etc.). The more the industry shifts from in-person surveys to digital surveys, I expect the quality of surveys to decline. It’s much easier to fool a machine than the researcher in front of you.

Robert Frost once said: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”. I am grateful to have spent the last nine years of my career, not looking at survey-based trackers. Quite the opposite 😊