Fred Jacobs of Jacobs Media Strategies recently posted on his blog [link] a reality check about stereotyping people by their age cohort. In his post Jacobs said:
“The stereotypes, misconceptions, and overall media coverage of Millennials conveniently and often incorrectly pigeon holes these young consumers. No generation likes to be lumped together and discussed, parsed, and analyzed like cattle. There [are] very distinct age and lifestyle groups within the years marketers define as the Millennial group. In fact, they are as different and hard to label as we were, whether you are an Xer or a Boomer.
Jacobs knows what he is talking about. His company has taken the lead in examining media usage, lifestyle traits and consumer preferences of Millennial age folks and other demographic and psychographic groups. Jacobs’ research was the centerpiece of the recent PRPD Content Conference in Phoenix.
Maybe enough is enough. To me, the PRPD may be overly obsessed with Millennials. I (joking) wondered if they would have a few Millennials on display, perhaps in dioramas, like they were from another planet. Are Millennials really so different from other generations?
On the right is a chart we published last month showing media device and platform usage by various cohorts from Jacobs’ Public Radio Tech Survey 8 (PRTS 8). The data shows that Millennial-age respondents do tend to exceed other cohorts in the consumption of podcasts, use of streaming video and participation in social networks. But Millennials also hear a lot of radio and watch quite a bit of TV.
When I look at the PRTS 8 results, I see the many more similarities than differences in the various cohorts. Millennials are just beginning their lives. Just as Millennials will bury us Boomers, their children and grandchildren will bury them. We are all on the wheel of life. Our wants, needs, desires and dreams are the same.
In his blog post, Jacobs observes that Millennials aren’t the first generation to be classified by stereotypes:
“I remember all too well how the Greatest Generation stereotyped us. And they were just as wrong-headed about it. Not all kids who were born in the late 40’s, 50’s, and early 60’s turned out to be hippies. Some went into the army, some never smoked weed, and many didn’t “drop out” or run away to “go find themselves.”
“But we were grouped together in much the same way that analysts and marketers generationally stereotype Millennials.”
"The next time you hear someone raving about “those entitled Millennials,” remind them about the foolhardiness of generational grouping, and how it can obscure a true understanding of trends, cultures, and....people.”
LOOK AT THE PSYCHOGRAPHICS
Kurt Salmon is a researcher and blogger who specializes in retail consumer behavior [link]. He believes it is vital to look deeper than age demographics. Salmon recommends looking at psychographics to help explain motivations, interests, attitudes and lifestyle:
In reality, Millennials are not a monolith. Beneath the surface of this huge demographic cohort, there are massively different drivers and behaviors at work. As such, retailers and consumer brands that treat Millennials as a homogeneous group are missing out on the ability to forge more genuine connections with their consumers and drive not only short-term sales, but also lifetime value and long-term loyalty.
As an example, Salmon cites a recent study about retail clothing customers. As the chart on the left shows, psychographic segmentation does a better job of explaining the differences in shopping than age demographics.
Salmon does believe that the age of shoppers is an important variable because use of media devices and platforms varies by age. However, the messages delivered by whatever media source are the most effective when they are shaped by consumer psychographics. Salmon cautions:
Clearly, Millennials should not be targeted as a homogeneous group. Understand their behavioral and attitudinal differences. Don’t make the mistake of treating the 75 million individuals in the United States… as if they were all the same.
The takeaway for those of us working in public media, particularly in public radio, is not to be obsessed with age differences. Focus on the shared points of view and common needs of the people you want to reach. The core attributes of public radio listeners and supporters are defined more by education and experience than the age of the listener. Same as it ever was...