Millennials Still Mystify Many

Jul 28, 2015

I was at the Streaming Media East conference in New York last May, thinking about what my next column topic should be. (Yes, I was thinking that far ahead-blame the print production cycle.) As I sat through many interesting sessions, something became very clear to me: No one understands Millennials, but everyone wants to.

One panelist quoted a popular statistic that says 90 seconds is the sweet spot for videos aimed at Millennials. Not everyone was buying that, though. It's not that Millennials don't have an attention span-it's that they won't put up with your terrible content. If you don't capture their attention within 90 seconds, Millennials are going to bounce.

Another panelist told an anecdote about the CEO of a large cable company saying something to the effect of, "I'm so sick of Millennials!" I'd like to take the time to translate that for you. What he really means is, "Millennials see the inherent flaw in my business proposition and are not willing to give me their money-and I can't figure out how to win them over."

Dismissing an entire generation is not only lazy, it's bad business. However, I will admit this is a particularly perplexing generation. The same speaker who told the CEO story also told a tale about his own son. He gave the 20-something an old, flat panel TV, only to visit the son's apartment to find the TV dusty and covered with laundry. While the son sometimes played games on the big screen, he watched TV (or whatever you want to call it) on his smaller screens (smartphone and tablet, etc.). Even I found myself wondering why he would do this. I mean, I'm not advocating that he run out and get a big, fat cable package to go along with the big screen TV, but why not get a Chromecast or Roku box and give his poor eyes a rest?

Adweek tried to answer the question, "What do Millennials want?" Its poll found that only 49% of this generation has TVs, and a slim majority (51%) does not. Thrift stores are popular, and Millennials prefer print books. A whopping 91% of them are on Facebook-despite all the warnings you heard about them leaving in droves-but 56% are on Snapchat, while 73% are on Instagram. They are pretty skeptical about Tinder. I don't think these numbers tell us anything new, and I'm not sure anyone is ever going to truly answer this question.

Generalizations are always kind of silly. That hasn't stopped marketers-and researchers of all types-from trying to figure out what makes people tick. Human beings are individuals, and none more so than Millennials. Growing up with the internet has allowed Digital Natives to connect on unprecedented levels and has also enabled them to develop interests, passions, friendships, and more that would never have been open to them before the internet.

Here's Pew Research Center's take on it: "Generations, like people, have personalities, and Millennials-the American teens and twenty-somethings currently making the passage into adulthood-have begun to forge theirs: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living." (Incidentally, I took Pew's "How Millennial Are You?" quiz and am, apparently, 73% Millennial. I think my lack of piercings really brought down my score.)

Millennials are more sophisticated than people their age have been in the past. They are not going to keep on doing things the way they have always been done just because it's easy. They are immune to your marketing and see through your attempts to sell them something they don't need. This is why the secret to reaching this coveted generation is not about figuring out what they want-it's about delivering what they need.

Millennials want what we all want and need what we all need: value. And please don't mistake my use of the word "value" as a euphemism for "cheap" or even "inexpensive." They want quality products that meet their needs, and they don't want to pay too much for them. They are just better than the rest of us at figuring out how to get it. And if you can't figure out how to give them that, it's on you.