In your opinion, over the next six months do you think the economy will: be better, stay the same or get worse? Once you’ve answered for yourself, try asking someone sitting nearby. Now how do you think Millennials would respond? Do you think the entire cohort would have the same answer?

Before I get to the results, I’ll share a bit of background.

First, I am a millennial myself. My sister, seven years younger, is also a millennial. It’s always seemed strange to me that anyone would put the two of us in the same demographic “bucket.” In that short, seemingly insignificant, seven-year gap that separates us, I was well into my career in marketing, had gotten married, and started a family in the big city – while my sister was living in a university town, in the throes of finishing her second master’s degree (yes, second master’s degree at age 26. She’s incredible.). So, while on paper we’re both categorized as “millennials”, grouping us together is akin to saying a quarter and a dime are both coins. Yes, they’re both money, but there are several fundamental characteristics (such as buying power) that make them notably different from each other.

The second point is that I’m fortunate to have landed in a career that allows me to ponder, and attempt to answer questions, both big and small. So, when the routine topic of “millennials” came up again this spring, the team and I at IMI decided to really commit, building on years of homework to officially launch a pillar of our business dedicated to the topics of youth, emerging trends, and innovative technologies called NextWave. In April 2018, funded by our new venture, we talked to more than 3,500 people aged 13+ across North America, the UK, Australia, and Singapore. We asked each one of them where they think the economy will go, along with other critical topics including who they trust, how they communicate, what’s driving their purchasing behavior and the important issues of the day. All insights shared below came to light in that study. I’ve summarized a few snippets focused on the North American market, but for anyone who would like more detailed information, please feel free to reach out.

Lastly, we knew that if we truly wanted to understand the young people “we” are all trying to connect with, it would be essential that we go further than lumping them altogether by age range and labeling them “millennials.” Common generalizations like millennials are lazy, selfish, and entitled, aren’t constructive either. Instead, we chose to dig deeper, to draw a clearer picture of the subsets which reside within the highly coveted group of “18-34-year-olds”. Millennials were actually born between 1981 – 1996 and now range in age from 22 through 37, so yes, they too are getting older. We’re invested in getting to know them better, to uncover just how different (or similar) someone is at the bottom or top of that age range.

With my marketing hat on I wondered how much more effective brands could be if they actually understood the people buying their products? How many resources are currently being wasted trying to seduce the wrong audience? Reality is that the implications of this knowledge go far beyond marketing. A better understanding of this diverse cohort would benefit everyone from innovators to educators to policymakers and yes, of course, marketers. Wouldn’t it be amazing if companies could avoid wasting money advertising to the wrong people and instead refocus those dollars on making their products better, their employees healthier, and the world a better place by giving more back? One day perhaps….

Now, back to our study. We challenged ourselves to look beyond the fallback of AGE, asking: what about gender? Are we still on different planets? What about life-stage – those in the trenches still completing their education vs. those who have already graduated? What about the vast differences in those just starting a family vs. those living the single life? Each of these variables shapes the way millennials see the world, and – spoiler alert – there are few “one-size fits all” examples. This is a BIG rabbit hole, so here’s a snapshot of what we’ve uncovered so far:

  • Economy: Age being equal, gender and parenthood significantly impact optimism.
    • Coming back to our original question on the state of economy six months from now, men aged 27-34 were nearly 12X more likely to say “better in the next six months” than their female counterparts. Among both women and men 18-34 with children, 1 in 2 said “better” versus 1 in 100 of the same age group without kids. Those are staggering differences. So, do kids make us more optimistic or are we more confident once we have kids? Does this positivity extend into other areas? Trust? Purchasing behavior? Engagement?

  • Trust: Millennial women rely on their friends most, while men trust multiple sources equally.
    • When we dig into trusted sources, women aged 25-29 rank their friends #1 (25% higher than product information they find online). However, males of the same age place equal trust in their friends’ recommendations, online reviews, and product information they find online. This is big news for brands and a powerful incentive for e-commerce platforms to devote resources toward the generation of authentic user reviews.
  • Driving Purchase: Life stage matters. Social media drives significantly higher purchase rates among parents vs. non-parents.
    • That’s not just diapers – it’s across categories and platforms. When we asked about purchases made after learning about/seeing something on a social networking site, 65% of 18-34-year-old parents put their hands up saying they’d bought more than once. Among non-parents in the same age range only 48% reported being influenced to make at least one purchase. It’s even more pronounced when we dig into specific platforms (see the chart below). So, is it that we’re buying for more people? Or that because we have more people in the house, we need more stuff? It certainly appears that parents are relying more on their communities for discovering new products and advice on what to buy!

  • Technology: Nearly twice as many men in their early 20’s strongly agree that technology makes everything better compared to their female counterparts.
    • Continuing down the road of Mars and Venus, from 13 years old to 35+, men of all ages were more positive about the role of technology today. Spiking between 19-24 where 43% of men strongly agreed with the statement, “technology makes everything better.” Given the same question, only half (22%) of women the same age agreed. Could that knowledge explain any recent successes? Shed light on why a tech solution didn’t resonate as much as you hoped it would?
  • Communication: Snapchat continues to engage young(er) much more than old(er).
    • Communication styles and engagement levels are continuing to evolve. The same 12-17-year-old’s who jumped on SnapChat back in 2011 are now 19-24 and 1.5X more likely to use the platform today than older millennials in the 25-34 bucket, 43% vs. 28%. When we ask what social network they’ll be using more in the future, all ages point to YouTube.
  • Top Issues: There are some things we agree on. Mental health ranks #1 among today’s top issues.
    • Mental health ranks even higher than the environment as one of today’s top problems. Whether you ask 19-29-year-olds (both students and non-students), or those 18-34 (both with kids or without), 80% of them agree that mental health is a top concern. This is one of the rare instances where millions of millennials are walking around seeing both sides of the same coin. Head’s up, if you’re talking to teenagers their #1 issue is bullying.

At NextWave, we’re continuing to dig into the broad and relatively unexplored territory of “youth” subgroups – using in-depth studies to better segment and understand this group. It might be easy to say, “well, of course, men are different than women.” or “of course, age matters and life-stages matter,” but it’s another level altogether to understand the macro opportunities encapsulated in this nuanced data. How could your next conversation, outreach, or campaign be modified by applying some of these truths? The insights we’ve gleaned, and will continue to uncover, make a compelling case that just as a quarter and a dime are similar but distinct, so too are us, “Millennials.”

Please share your thoughts and reach out to chat about ideas for areas of future exploration, and/or best practices for marketing to millennials.