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They’re Not Millennials. They’re Your Audience.

As an industry, we constantly refer to millennials as a special group or subset of our audience. Gotta cater to the millennials, because they’re an up-and-coming audience! Can’t forget the buying power of millennials, the generation who treat their pets like children! We certainly talk about it here at Woodruff constantly.

Because it’s all true. We do need to cater to millennials, no matter the industry but especially in the pet industry. However, it is becoming increasingly clear (due to those pesky, uh, facts) that millennials aren’t a special audience any more. They’re the audience. All the other generations are the subsets, the outliers, the special interests. Because starting in 2019, the millennial generation is our official greatest generation. From a size standpoint, anyway.

By mid 2019, it’s expected that the number of millennials in the U.S. (73 million) will exceed our passel of baby boomers (72 million) for the first time ever, making our never-had-to-use-a-rotary-phone generation the biggest of them all. Generation X lags way behind at a mere 65 million Nirvana diehards.

Breaking the generational chains

Millennials are people aged 18 to 36, give or take a year on either end depending on who you ask.  That slams millennials firmly into the coveted “adults with spending power” demo, otherwise known as “18- to 34-year-olds,” or, more tellingly, the “Netflix and YouTube targets.” Sometime this year, our most populous generation will also be the most sought-after market in most industries, when it comes to the eyeballs we want on our advertising. Those two facts are not exclusive.

So the big question now is this: Is it even possible to target millennials as a whole? Does a male college junior have anything in common with a 34-year-old working mother of three? If you remove the generational label from the equation, you likely wouldn’t target those demographics with the same messages. So why do we talk about the entire generation as if we could target them as one? Even if they do have commonality in your business’s specific wheelhouse (say, both demos treat their pets like family members), you’d still shape messages to each differently, right?

It’s time to stop labeling millennials and start treating them like what they are: a vast sea of potential audiences for our products and services, each with its own needs and desires. In short: they’re people. Millennials are people. People with buying power.

We know how to talk to people. No labels required.

An audience is an audience is an audience

What this blog presupposes is that if we move on from vast generational labeling, we’ll be better able to focus on what we’re good at focusing on: audience segmentation and targeted messaging. There are two ways this could go. First, you get very specific from an audience standpoint. “Recent college graduates with entry-level jobs who treat pets as starter children,” or “Property owners with multiple children, loved pets and mid-level corporate positions.” Both groups could easily be labeled as millennials with a specific commonality: Pets are part of the family. But you wouldn’t speak to them the same way, would you? The recent college graduate might be more concerned with cost than the property owner, for one example.

The second way you can tackle communicating with these distinct audiences is to go broad and ignore generational context altogether, but in the exact opposite direction. If your product is, say, therapeutic dog chow, does it matter if the buyer is a 28-year-old millennial with a great job or a 75-year-old retired boomer on a pension? If it helps the arthritic pet, the caring owner will buy what you’re selling. Focus on the ultimate benefit, and everything else could fall into place.

Obviously, these are simplified looks at messaging methods. True targeted messaging (broad or specific) requires in-depth analysis and research of audience personas. The point we’re making here is that generational labels make no sense for thorough marketing. Whether your target is 36 years old (millennial) or 37 (Gen X), you either reach them the same way or you don’t; if a line exists, it’s not because of some arbitrary tag.

Backtracking is the spice of life

However. (There’s always a sentence fragment!) When it comes to how we reach millennials, we may be able to talk about the entire generation as a unit. There’s no doubt that millennials are online more than Generation X and baby boomers, whether it’s for social media, e-commerce or just plain old information consumption.

The one differentiation that makes it worth talking about millennials as a whole is that they’re just easier to get to than older generations. And now that they are the premier buying force in the world, that’s great for marketers. There are so many ways to talk to them! It’s also terrifying, because there are so many ways to reach them. So even while we can finally support painting with a broad brush, that brush has to be dipped in many colors to get our messages out there. It’s a lot of vehicles shuttling a lot of specific messages.

However (another however!), even though we’re back on the millennial label train, the tracks are leading us to say that this is the exception that proves the rule. The reason millennials are online more is because they’ve embraced technology more than their forebearers. This means that it won’t be too long before millennials aren’t the most online generation. Once Generation Z starts coming into its own, the single factor that makes it make sense to talk about millennials as a whole is nullified.

Chew on that for a while.

Labeling this blog over

When we get right down to it, money doesn’t care how old its spender is. If an audience is made up of “most people” and they are in positions to spend money on your products, why not just focus on the eggs in that basket? Yes, there are times when age and generation come into play. The hipster set likely has no interest in adult diapers or trifocals (unless their love of irony goes a little too far).

But knowing that distinction is just good marketing.