Many marketers these days are focusing a lot of energy on Millennials (aka Generation Y) – it seems like every day there’s a new article, or new book or a new product about or for this generation segment. The once popular, cash-cow Baby Boomers seem to have been dismissed now that all of them are eligible for AARP. Also cast aside in the rush to get to those desirable, hip Millennials are the men and women of Generation X (remember them?). Once mocked as slackers, they have quietly become respectable, adult middle-aged members of their communities.
Stepping back to the big picture, just how many of these prized Millennial individuals are there in the U.S.? First of all, it depends on how they are defined by age, and it varies. As a refresher, here are the generally accepted definitions of the various generations as defined by Pew Research:
- The Greatest Generation, also known as the G.I. Generation, is the generation that includes the veterans who fought in World War II. They were born from around 1901 through 1924, coming of age during the Great Depression.
- The Silent Generation, also known as the “Lucky Few,” were born 1925 through 1942. It includes most of those who fought the Korean War and many during the Vietnam War.
- The Baby Boomers are the generation that was born following World War II, generally from 1943 up to the early 1960s, a time that was marked by an increase in birth rates. The term “baby boomer” is sometimes used in a cultural context, and is impossible to achieve broad consensus of a precise date definition.
- Generation X, or Gen X, is the generation born after the Western Post–World War II baby boom. Demographers, historians and commentators use beginning birth dates from the early 1960s to the early 1980s.
- Millennials, also known as the Millennial Generation, and Generation Y, are the demographic cohort following Generation X. Commentators use birth dates ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.
- Generation Z is one name used for the cohort of people born after the Millennial Generation. There is no agreement on the exact dates of the generation, with some sources starting it at the mid or late 1990s or from the mid 2000s to the present day. This is the generation that is currently being born.
Pew’s recent report concludes that “Generational analysis… is not an exact science… there are as many differences in attitudes, values, behaviors and lifestyles within a generation as there are between generations… but (it) does not diminish the value of generational analysis… it adds to its richness and complexity.”
Okay, we all get that, so just how many Millennials are there? Estimates put them around 80 million individuals, or approximately 25% of the U.S. population and one-third of the U.S. workforce. But there is no consensus definition of a Millennial; while 18-34 seems to be the most commonly used bracket (and which doesn’t appear to change with each passing year!), other studies might use a 14-31 range.
Whoa, so with 75% of the population falling to the other generation brackets, why all the focus on Millennials? Because having grown up in a digital world where they are constantly connected, Millennials are viewed as the most influential generation. According to “Marketing to Millennials,” they prize “transparency and authenticity, but when it comes to brand loyalty, marketers can’t count on it. Millennials will talk about brands online and expect a reply.”
So while they are certainly a large and an important audience, don’t just jump on the Millennial bandwagon at the expense of other generations, especially the Gen-Xers and the Baby Boomers. Make sure you know who your target is by the products they purchase, their lifestyle, their attitudes and motivations and their media consumption habits, both offline and online.
Isn’t the challenge in marketing to various generations the same as marketing to various user audiences and delivering the segmented approach marketers have always used? Generation is one differentiating factor, but there are so many other ways to understand your audience as people.