Why millennials defy generalisation

A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work with 18-35-year-olds: this is a diverse generation with very different outlooks depending on their circumstances

August 20, 2015

Millennials may be the must-have audience of the moment – but they are in actual fact a very tricky demographic to pin down. Far from the cohesive, group that they are often painted, millennials actually represent a huge demographic spread – and they exhibit significant differences in their attitudes and outlook depending on their circumstances.

Consider, for instance, the fact that the age-range most people think of when using the term millennials (18-35, or people born between 1980 and 1997) incorporates 5 years when the average person in the UK has settled down and had children – and 3 years when around 50% of us are still in education (at university), plus all the experiences of the 20s and early 30s in between. When you look at millennials from this perspective, it’s clear that any strategy based on a one-size-fits-all approach to their priorities, motivations and spending power could easily come off the rails. Millennials haven’t yet had time to settle down into a homogenous generation with common life experiences and characteristics. They may well never do. And it’s potentially dangerous for marketers to pretend otherwise.

Different circumstances = different attitudes

Awareness of this huge potential diversity amongst millennials is one of the reasons why we conducted an in-depth study comparing affluent millennials to the rest of their generation. We’ve been releasing several of the key findings from the research on this blog (check out our previous posts here and here). And in distinguishing between millennials with different levels of spending power, we’ve been able to shine a light on some important differences.

The wealthier millennials are, the more progressive their attitudes to managing money are likely to be. One in five affluent millennials anticipates social networks becoming the hub for their financial information in a social-based economy, whereas only 8% of other millennials have the same expectations. Over a third (37%) of affluent millennials don’t expect to use a credit card in the future as virtual wallets take over. This drops to 28% amongst millennials as a whole.

There are significant changes too, in how millennials with different levels of assets view the economic future. Affluent millennials (which we defined as people with £75,000 or more in investable assets) were markedly more upbeat than any other group. A third of them (35%) expressed confidence in the UK’s future economic growth. This confidence evaporates amongst millennials without this level of wealth. Only 16% express confidence, which is far more in line with members of Generation X. 

Insights like these are hugely valuable for brands looking to target those millennials with serious spending power. They’re important for the finance sector, but also for luxury brands and high-consideration consumer purchases from Auto to Fashion seeking to align with the right attitudes, outlook and emotions. Average data for millennials as a whole would be a poor guide for marketers in these sectors.

Millennials are determined not to be stereotypes

This isn’t to say though that there are no common characteristics of millennials at all. And when you find one that largely holds true across the age range and income levels, it’s a valuable insight indeed. If there’s one characteristic that appears to mark millennials out (and shines through in our research), it’s a determination to think independently. Millennials want to take control of their own future; they don’t want to simply let it happen.

Over a third of all millennials (35%) think that the decisions they take now will impact their future success – and 31% feel that the sacrifices they make will pay off in the future. Both of these figures are significantly higher than those for Generation X, and they are reflected in the very practical goals that millennials set themselves. Affluent millennials are significantly more focused on improving their credit score, owning a first home and starting a business, thanequivalent Gen-X’ers. They also save significantly more of their salary each month.

A determination to take responsibility is something we’ve become increasingly accustomed to seeing amongst millennials and even younger groups in the UK. The most obvious example recently was during the Scottish Referendum when a lowering of the age to vote to include more of this generation coincided with hugely raised levels of political engagement. It doesn’t make it any easier to adopt lazy one-size-fits-all approaches – since this is the type of thing an independent-minded individual looks straight through. But it does show what a fascinating business it will be connecting with this generation.