They are liberal, highly educated, and far more likely to have shared selfies on Facebook than their predecessors. There are also a lot of them. Millennials are taking over the world, and companies would do well to follow their lead.
This age group, which nonpartisan research think tank Pew Research defines as aged 18-35, is the largest of all four generations. Its predecessors are generation X, aged 36-50, the baby boomers (51-69), and older citizens, which it calls the silent generation. In 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau identified 75.4 million millennials in the US, compared to 74.9 million boomers, who were the next largest generation.
How to talk to millennials
One signal that comes through loud and clear from the research is that members of this 18-35 age group are more liberal than others. They skew Democrat in their voting habits. They want bigger government, with more services. They are for same-sex marriage. Tolerance and inclusiveness are key.
They are also more educated: 38% of men and 48% have at least a bachelor degree, compared to 31% and 34% of gen Xers when they were of millennial age. Colloquial, humor-inflected language is a winner, but don’t confuse that with condescension. Talking down to this group is not a good idea.
Where to find them
To reach this audience, go digital. One in four millennials defines technology usage as the thing that makes their generation unique, compared to just one in eight gen Xers.
85% of those aged between 18-29 are smartphone users, beating every other age bracket. They also use their phones in different ways, tending to consume more video, music and podcasts. That’s a potential opportunity for marketers.
Companies wanting millennial customers must court them on social media. Eight in 10 of them are on Facebook, and those that are have more Facebook friends on average (250 each) than prior generations.
Their technology focus is also changing their communication. While email is still prevalent, Pew research shows that 42% of smart phone users aged 18-29 use messaging apps, compared to a 29% average. Also, 56% of them use messaging apps that automatically delete sent messages, like Snapchat or Wickr, compared to a 24% average.
How are we doing?
The numbers suggest that companies could do better at engaging these younger customers. A Gallup poll shows that just one in four millennials are emotionally attached to a brand, product or company. That makes them the least engaged of all generations. In fact, Gallup describes a large proportion of millennials as ‘actively disengaged,’ meaning that they deliberately condemn a brand.
The problem? Companies are getting digital experiences wrong and ostracizing younger audiences, who then use their extensive digital networks to complain about them. The omnichannel experiences that companies need to court younger users can be their downfall if not implemented properly. Gallup found that if customers give a less-than-perfect satisfaction score to even one channel, engagement levels dropped 40% to just 15%. This is a very unforgiving audience.
Omnichannel experiences spanning digital and physical communications are the future, but there is little margin for error. How can they use multiple digital and physical channels to create a cohesive customer experience? Check out Office Depot’s Ideas Center article on blending online and offline retail experiences for examples.
Even newer kids on the block
There’s another generation that companies should also pay attention to, and it’s the one after millennials. Commonly known as generation Z, this is the teen generation, which grew up with the Internet.
These digital natives are already largely smartphone owners, with 91% of them going online from a mobile device. In fact, 94% of teens do this each day, with one in four of them describing their online mobile activity as ‘almost constant.’
They are also even heavier users of text and messaging apps, with 91% using them in some form. The average smartphone-wielding teen sends 30 texts each day, according to Pew’s 2015 research.
This new set of digital natives blurs physical and digital life even more than the one before it, which leaves us with an important call to action: Get your omnichannel strategy right now, because the pressure to succeed — and the punishment for failure — is set to increase.