Why Young Millenials Matter, and Why I Wish They Didn't

May 07, 2015

There are over 100 universities and colleges in the Boston area, a city that is only 86 square miles. That means, as a Boston resident, at any given time or location, I am always within a half-mile of a college student. It's kind of like that statistic that says at any given moment you are always within 6 feet of a spider. And now that it is springtime in Boston, it seems that the city's hundreds of thousands of college students have emerged from their dorm rooms and have taken to the streets-frolicking, texting, and Instagraming their selfies.

Right now, the last thing I want to be reminded of are early twenty-somethings. I know I sound like a curmudgeon, but I'm sick of young Millenials. It's not that I have anything against them in particular; it's just that I am so tired of thinking about them, and more specifically, how to engage with them, and I can't be the only one. It seems that for years the biggest question in boardrooms, conferences, and department meetings throughout the media industry has been: how do we connect with the Millenial generation? It's exhausting.  

And the worst part is Millenials are notoriously hard to pin down. In fact, sometimes it feels like there just isn't any rhyme or reason to their spending and consuming behaviors. Because I work in publishing, I devote a decent amount of time following print media trends-who buys what and why-and young Millenials, those in their early twenties, continue to baffle me.

For example, according to Publishing Technology, print is still king for Millenials, and they prefer to browse a brick and mortar bookshop than an online library to find their books, yet they also consume digital media like no one's business, getting their news from social media and online publications. So, they like print books, but not printed magazines, and they like reading on their device, as long as what they are reading isn't book-length. Sigh . . . there's just so many nuances to keep track of.

Furthermore, what's most frustrating to me is how willingly major companies bend over backwards to please this generation. I recently read an article about cable companies like Comcast now offering "skinnier" cable packages to entice younger media consumers. Apparently, this isn't enough for young Millenials, though. As noted by the Denver Post, young Millenials want more options, such as having the ability to handpick which channels they get as a part of their cable package. Just a few years ago if you didn't like the cable options from your provider, you either sucked it up and paid or didn't have cable.

Why are major companies even willing to consider altering their business models for this generation? Because Millenials are the driving force behind retail at this point. According to Philly.com, "The demographic of individuals between 18 and 34 is now the largest consumer group in the United States, numbering about 85 million." Or, as Forbes puts it, this generation currently spends an annual $600 billion. "By 2020, they could account for $1.4 trillion in spending, or 30% of total retail sales." That's a lot of zeroes.

There's no escaping. So now I'm back to square one: Googling "how to connect with Millenials," hoping to crack the code. More often than not, I come across the same pieces of advice: start a dialogue, keep the dialogue going, and always be present and ready to engage. Recently, though, an article from Ad Adage mentioned a tactic for reaching young Millenails I had yet to consider. See, as an editor, I spend my days writing and rewriting content until it is perfect, but according to Ad Adage, one way to connect with Millenials might be to let them in on your process, and show your flaws.

When analyzing how Twitch, a gaming platform, engaged with Millenails, Ad Adage found that users enjoyed seeing unfiltered, non-final content. "Authenticity is increasingly becoming the benchmark for which Millennials are judging brands," notes Ad Adage. For a media company, is there anything more authentic or vulnerable than revealing your errors? It's something to think about, especially as we all continue to plug away at the Millenial quandary.

While I sit here and bemoan young Millenials and how difficult it is to reach them, part of me actually admires them for their creativity and refusal to be quantified by statistical analysis. Maybe this is exactly what the media industry needs. After all, the reason I get so frustrated with young Millenials is because they are making me work harder. Is demanding uniqueness really such a bad thing?