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How and Why Brands Need to Change Their Conversation with Millennials

09 Jul 2019 Elizabeth McHugh

in Strategy

The largest generation within the U.S. is now Millennials. With a count of 80.2 million people, this segment consists of 25 to 42-year-olds, a tremendous range. Though now softening, the media portrayal of this generation has been harsh. Defined as high-maintenance and lazy, accused of killing a multitude of markets, and oft-represented as financially irresponsible inhabitants of their parents’ basements, millennials are frequently viewed by older generations with a disparaging eye. Despite new research and data, brands have incorporated those negative categorizations into their marketing efforts. As a result, some companies are missing the mark, which, by 2020, is projected to be $1.4T in U.S. sales. As with Boomers before them, we expect the language used to describe Millennials to change when companies fully realize this generation’s true reality—and their enormous spending power.


Most Millennials are now in their thirties; the majority are also married and beginning families. Decidedly grown up, Millennials wait longer for their larger moments. The average age of a mother at her first birth has climbed steadily since 1990; in 2017, that age was 26.8 years-old. Marriage typically happens around the age of 30 and later. Those statistics illuminate a cautionary, sensible group that wishes to make career and financial strides prior to lifelong commitments. 2019 resolutions further emphasize Millennials’ serious nature: in a survey, 68% of respondents determined to improve their finances this year, followed by 52% who want to improve their physical health.*  The reason for this is clear: in late 2018, the Federal Reserve concluded that Millennials—when compared to prior generations at the same age—have lower earnings and less wealth. Furthermore, healthcare and college tuition costs have increased faster than the general inflation rate. Whether due to this reality—or the copious media lectures about irresponsible spending—money worries Millennials most, with 51% most stressed by their financial situation.


Driven by financial concern and a host of other, psychological factors, Millennials work hard. According to Mintel, “More than 70% of Millennial men and women are employed. Half say they will keep working as long as they are able for financial reasons, and one quarter say they also have a “side gig” to make extra money. Beyond working for a paycheck, Millennials may see their jobs as something that defines them.” This last point hit mainstream via a now-viral New York Times article. In it, author Erin Griffith writes, “Welcome to the hustle culture,” and considers: “An entire generation was raised to expect that good grades and extracurricular overachievement would reward them with fulfilling jobs that feed their passions. Instead, they wound up with precarious, meaningless work and a mountain of student loan debt. And so posing as a rise-and-grinder, lusty for Monday mornings, starts to make sense as a defense mechanism.” This insight explains why brands that message condescension instead of empathy gravely misunderstand their audience.


When asked about their favorite activities, 44% of Millennials surveyed selected hanging out with friends in person. Pair this with the fact that 26% ranked spending time with their parents—a preference higher than that of older generations—and one can conclude that Millennials like to connect. In the same study, 40% of younger Millennials (ages 25 to 32) and 34% of older Millennials (ages 33 to 42) strongly agreed that their friends were like family. These relationships doubtless support them through their current life stage, which they view as difficult. The brands that capitalize on supportive messaging and connection (whether through marketing or through community) will resound with this generation. Further to this point, Millennials find balancing to be hard—47% of Millennial women are most stressed about keeping up with everything on the to-do list. Brands should work to make life easier.

Having already evolved tremendously, Millennials will continue to do so. As they are a disruptor generation, understanding where Millennials are headed next will be key. At Stella Rising, we have deep experience in consumer insights, powered in part by our proprietary research community. Reach out to us to ensure that your brand is properly aligned and prepared to make the most of this critical audience.


*Participants ranked multiple categories, and these percentages reflect the net choice in any category.

Source: Mintel, Marketing to Millennials—US—June 2019