Generational generalising

Millenial bollocks

We read a lot these days about Millennials.  My HR team say they’re revolutionising the world of employment because they have different hopes and dreams to other cohorts.  I say bollocks.

Millennials are in a younger cohort.  But mostly, they’re just younger.

Cohort generalisations are seductive.  They allow us to make sweeping generalisations which lend themselves to neat stories.  Boomers were the first generation to enjoy contraception and they gave us the swinging sixties.  They carried those hedonistic values through and now they refuse to grow old gracefully.  Their children – Generation X – rebelled against this rebellion and adopted values which are more staid and rigid.  Their children are Gen Y who…. blah blah blah. I’m not buying it.

Why?  Because twenty years ago, we were saying exactly the same things about Generation X, when they were in that pre-family lifestage.  They too appeared to value authenticity.  They were less materialistic.  They would save humanity.  They wanted experiences over possessions.  Simple pleasures.  They sought control over their lives.  They were getting used to the idea there were no jobs for life and embracing a future of self-determination.  Climate change hadn’t hit the headlines, but if it had, they’d be in the vanguard of fighting it.  They had ideals.  It’s called being young.

So why are Millennials more accepting of their ageing looks?  Because they’re not ageing.  They’re young.

Worse, this whole conversation betrays a misunderstanding of how segmentation works.  When we use consumer segments in marketing the idea is to start with a behaviour we want to explain – say who does or doesn’t buy our brand – and then relate this back to the various dynamics that influence it.  Could be demographics, psychographics, generational cohort, whatever.  It doesn’t work the other way around.  Define a group which may or may not be meaningful and then try to describe how they’re different to another group.  This can be interesting, but it’s always likely to lead to this kind of spurious analysis which doesn’t help much.

It also flies in the face of all the evidence that age is increasingly a very poor predictor of behaviour.  We really don’t act our age any more.

Add to that the now unfashionable idea of need-states, which reminds us that we drift in and out of our various roles, making generalisations misleading.  In the parlance…the same person is more different on two occasions than two individuals are on the same occasion.

So after this eminently balanced and reasonable piece, I say to you:  “Millennials, my arse”.







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