Who Are Millennials And How Do You Market To Them?


BY Sam Davies


9 October 2018

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I have never thought of myself as a Millennial. Aren’t they those younger people? The ones raised indoors with the internet and iPads? The generation that usually gets summed up as:

  • Entitled
  • Selfish
  • Vain
  • Lazy
  • The ME Generation (iGen)

Is that fair though? Can we really lump a whole generation into one box? And who are these ‘Millennials’ anyhow? I decided to take a deeper look.



Firstly, it turns out that I am one after all!

The Millennial Generation is also known as Generation Y because it comes after Generation X, those people born between the early 1960s to the late 70’s. The publication Ad Age [source] was one of the first to coin the term “Generation Y” in an editorial in August 1993. But the term didn’t age well, and “Millennials” has largely overtaken it. The common consensus (and this is not an empirical definition) puts the generation roughly as being born between the start of the 1980’s and the late 90’s, early 00’s. It is an interesting period in time and one of great change in the Western World. Just as our Baby Boomer parents, we are a massive generation – the largest in western history. As of today the Millennials make up the largest portion of the Australian population and workforce and will continue to do so for the next few decades. So it is important that, as marketers, we understand how these people think, behave and consume.

Given that I get the call up to the plate and employ a largely Gen Y team I thought rather than spout off a list of what the ‘experts’ think we are I’ll dish it out straight from the horse’s mouth.

Millennials want to be ‘Authentic’

YES, YES I know. I hate that word too. In marketing circles, it has been thrashed to death. But in this sense, it rings true. We were raised with a strong sense of independence “You can do whatever you want, darling’. From that stems a desire to be unique, to be real (at least in our own minds). Western Millennials want to stay true to who they are, their values and individuality. They want their employers to respect their individual differences and embrace the potential that these unique qualities can bring. They want companies to talk TO them, not at them. We see through that corporate shill, maaaaan.

Millennials are critical consumers

We were raised in the era of the disintegration of the mainstream press/media. Some of us remember the ‘good old days’ of Murdoch and Packer serving up our 5 channels on TV and one paper in the morning, but most of us chose to forget it a long time ago. What we know now is an infinite choice of media and the ability to curate what we see. Traditional advertising seems like a dinosaur to us, network television something our parents and grandparents still talk about but leaves us confused. With so much choice and research power at our fingertips, we have become incredibly critical with where we spend our money. We research, we read reviews, we read forums, we mostly distrust salespeople. Off the back of feeling authentic, we want our purchasing decisions to reflect who we are. I would not go to JB Hi-Fi and let the sales assistant sell me a pair of headphones. I KNOW which headphones I want, I know the tech specs and I know WHY they are right for my unique purpose. This trait alone will change the way retailers need to communicate over the next 20 years (if they have not already!)

Millennials are wary of big business

In a recent global Deloitte survey, they found that less than half (45%) of millennials believe business has a positive impact on society. When we are making our ‘authentic’ and ‘critical’ decisions we are holding business up to a high standard. Even if our intentions are shallow our ideals demand that we do business with companies that are out to do good. Millennials are often referred to as conscious capitalists, which means that they look up to businesses that serve the interests of all major stakeholders — customers, employees, investors, communities, suppliers, and the environment. In fact, a whopping 81% of us expect companies to show their commitment to corporate responsibility.

Millennials are Entrepreneurial

We want to do things for ourselves. From a very young age, I always thought I would be my own boss. I never once dreamt of a life on the corporate ladder. I didn’t know how I would make it happen, but I felt instinctively that it would. Either that or I would be in a punk band. In a recent survey, only 13% of respondents said their career goal involved climbing the corporate ladder to become a CEO or president. By contrast, almost two-thirds (67%) said their goal involved starting their own business. Sure we might be idealistic (bordering on naive) but this generation (and even more the Z’s under us) believe they can take matters into their own hands.

Millennials are Team-Oriented

We grew up collaborating. Team sports, group projects and later (for me) the internet. We like working in groups and we highly prefer a sense of unity and collaboration over division and competition. Contrary to previous generations, Millennials were brought up in an atmosphere of equal relationships and co-decision-making, and they have a community-oriented “we can fix it together” mindset. I see this a lot with my team at DN. There is very little of the ‘I am doing this for me’ attitude, which goes against the contrary belief that we are just brats only in it for ourselves.

But are we spoilt brats?

Probably. Our Baby Boomer parents wanted the best for us. They took their pseudo ‘Free Love’ ideals and merged them with a desire for us to have it better than them (and an economy that allowed this to happen in most places) and gave us a pretty cruisey ride as kids, for the most part. I think this has left a certain sense of entitlement amongst middle-class westerners, born in this period anyway. That being said, all around me I see young people doing amazing things. This sense of self-belief has propelled a generation of rule changers and innovation. It might be hard for boomers or Gen X to stomach the enthusiasm and confidence of the younger millennials especially but when they are switched on they know how to achieve what they want. The way in which many of us were raised does tend to breed a need for constant re-enforcement. I always remember my Dad telling me his folks’ philosophy was ‘Love em and leave em’, whereas we were given constant positive feedback, which many of us have taken into adulthood and the workplace. Again this can be both a positive and a negative – seeking help is great and I think that this generation is much better at asking for help than previous ones, but it can become overbearing at times. You can imagine your grandparents yelling ‘Stop whining and just bloody get on with it’. Fair enough!

If I think about how I like to be marketed to, and how my upbringing and intersection of the analogue and digital worlds has shaped me as an individual I would sum it up as follows.

  • I want a business to talk TO me not AT me.
  • I want them to understand that I will do my research and the wool can’t be pulled over my eyes.
  • I am looking for brands that have a strong sense of purpose and drive.  That believe in something greater than making money and put the time and effort into creating unique experiences.

Which is exactly what I have tried to do with Digital Noir. So it turns out I am a self-serving, authenticity craving, selfie-taking Millennial after all! Oh and one more stat I just read…

“Millennials drink 30% more alcohol in their 20’s than the previous two generations.” Damn it, how did they know!

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Sam Davies

Sam has been running a Digital Agency in some form or another for almost a decade. He loves the internet and the positive changes it has brought to the world but still loves time away from the glowing cubes. Surf, Fish, Drink, Cook, Laugh….Drink! You can follow him on Instagram @samdaviesdn and on Snapchat @digitalnoir