What’s in a Name? Defining the Millennial Generation

Whenever the word “millennial” is dropped in a conversation, it evokes a  strong reaction ranging anywhere from excitement to disdain. However, with approximately 80 million Millennials spending $600 billion in the United States every year, many brands are shifting their focus to Gen Y and its staggering spending power.

There continues to be an ongoing debate over what being a Millennial actually means and a significant amount of research has been done to identify emerging themes within this group. As someone who falls into the Gen Y cohort myself, it’s very interesting to see how my peers and I are being both viewed and defined. To kick off our Millennial blog post series, here are my findings on what makes up the Millennial persona and how this persona impacts the market on a host of levels.

Millennials 101

First, the big question: When were Millennials born? Though the exact dates vary depending on whom you ask, most agree that a Millennial is someone born after 1979 but before the early 2000s. (Many marketers are specifically zeroing in on the 18-34 year olds within this group.)

Demographically speaking, Millennials as a whole are more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations. We’re also more educated than other generations and more of us have gone to college than ever before. Also, we’re waiting longer than our parents and grandparents to get married and have children.

Along with these demographic trends, there are some key psychographic themes that have emerged to define Gen Y:

  • staying connected;
  • open to change;
  • me, me, and more me;
  • … but we care about others, too;
  • and we boomerang back to mom and dad’s place.

We are the “always connected” generation.

Millennials are truly the first generation to grow up in the age of technology–it’s what my peers say separates us from other generations. We’ve seen the invention of the smartphone, the tablet, the iPod, etc. The infatuation that we have for these devices runs deep. One study amongst Millennials shows that half of them would rather lose their sense of smell as opposed to their critical device. (As much as I really do love my smartphone, I would have to disagree here and side with my sense of smell.)

What this means for marketers:

When shopping, Millennials like to utilize several different types of channels and sometimes all at once. (You’ve probably seen us on our phones while perusing a store.) 68% of Millennials say they want an integrated, seamless experience from channel to channel. While that may sound like a tall order, enlisting tools such as mobile apps, social media, responsive design, etc. can help create that memorable total brand experience from store to home. Retail brands like Best Buy and Walgreens have developed impressive mobile apps that allow users to enhance their in-store experience while also allowing users to order products through the app.


We’re liberal, open to change…and a bit skeptical.

Research has shown that Millennials are by far more open-minded and accepting of change than previous generations. However, we’ve lived through and grown from  defining historical moments such as September 11th, Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession. While these monumental events did create some positive in terms of shaping our character and demonstrating the resilience of our country, these events in turn created a bunch of skeptics. Two-thirds of Millennials say, “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with others. The same thought applies to brands.

What this means for marketers:

Sorry, but you’ll have to throw your traditional sales pitch out the window. Instead, try crafting a more authentic, straightforward voice. Even though it’s been a while since they first launched their brutally honest marketing strategy, Domino’s has done a fantastic job of being upfront with consumers about their shortcomings while also improving their brand and product. To promote their online ordering system, Domino’s latest commercials acknowledge that ordering their pizza over the phone isn’t the easiest process, so they are encouraging online orders to better serve their customers.


They don’t call us the “Me, Me, Me” generation for nothing.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, the idea that my generation is a bit narcissistic isn’t completely unfounded. You could probably gather that from the amount of “selfies” posted on a daily basis on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. According to a study done by Accenture, 95% of the Millennial respondents say they want their brands to court them actively. We want it to be all about us.

What this means for marketers:

Brands, we want your love and attention. Start a conversation with us. Show us that you’re interested in what we have to say about your products. REI did a great job last holiday season, proving to their customers that they were listening through their #GiftPicks hashtag. Customers tweeted at their company Twitter handle, @REI, asking for holiday gift recommendations. REI responded with custom-made videos showing their employees giving specific gift suggestions based on those tweets. This is a prime example of a company paying close attention to the Millennial cry.


While we care a lot about ourselves, we also care a lot about others.

I know that this seems contradictory to my previous statements, but there is more depth to Millennials despite the narcissistic perception. Statistics show that Millennials are more likely to donate to a charity and are more likely to volunteer than other generations. This giving mentality also carries over into purchase decisions. 37% of Millennials are receptive to cause marketing and are more likely to purchase items associated with a particular cause.

What this means for marketers:

You’re a brand with a cause—so tell us about it! Warby Parker is doing just that and demonstrating how effective this method can be. Their product—trendy, affordable eyeglasses geared towards Millennials. For each pair that is sold, Warby Parker gives funding or a pair of eyeglasses to someone in need. Their business model has gained a lot of buzz and they’ve given away 500,000 pairs of glasses to date.


Many of us have “boomeranged” right back to our parents’ homes.

Aside from the “Me, Me, Me” nickname, we have also earned the title, “the Boomerang generation.” Why? Because many of us left home, went to college, graduated and landed right back in our childhood bedrooms. For some, high unemployment rates, crushing student loans and other unforeseeable circumstances have left them with little choice. Some, however, just didn’t see the need to ever leave.

What this means for marketers:

Though this trend doesn’t seem quite as impactful on marketing strategy as the others, it’s still a key theme prevalent throughout my generation. It’s always humorous to see brands acknowledge the “boomerang” trend in their ads (remember Toyota’s Venza commercial?). It shows they truly understand what’s going on with our generation, which in turn helps Millennials relate to you. We want brands that understand us on all levels (the good, the bad, and the comedic).


Are you targeting Millennials? What are some trends that you’ve seen among this generation? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Keep reading in Strategy