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OK, I get it, millennials are a big deal.

Born between 1982 and 1993, there are over 80 million of them, larger than any other generation to date. About one in three American workers today are millenials. They are growing, learning, earning, and rapidly becoming our future leaders. They are coming to power and will be running the show when Boomers are long out to pasture.

But although millennials continue to receive lavish media coverage, there seems to be little agreement about how to approach them in terms of marketing and media strategy. A quick look at Google Trends shows searches for millennials outpacing Gen X and Baby Boomers, without adding in Gen Y, another term for millennials.

marketing to millennials In some reports, millennials are described as a mysterious and marketing-proof generation with mercurial demands and preferences. Other times they are portrayed as easy marks, a generation of drunken leprechauns who might be easily parted from their gold with a few well-placed marketing campaigns.As a group, millennials are described as tech savvy, independent, connected and activists for social justice issues. But some marketers are calling BS on these broad generalizations.The problem? Millennials are not a target market. The group is too big and diverse to to draw meaningful conclusions and insights. Digital marketers love to talk about cohorts — groups of people sharing a common characteristic over a certain time period.

But targeting everyone born during an 11-year span is only slightly better than “anyone with a pulse” targeting. Identifying someone as a millennial provides little information marketers can use to create relevance and value. The needs and interests of the older millennials (this segment is called “Geezer Millennials” in our office), nearing the ripe old age of 33 this year, are far different than those who are 22 and perhaps still in college.

So, what are the issues here?

1. Limited reach – marketing analytics virtuoso Avinash Kaushik makes a useful distinction between the Largest Addressable Qualified Audience and the subset of those folks who have strong commercial intent — those potentially in the market for your product. Smaller still is the the group of these qualified folks who actually become your customers. No marketer has the resources to address 80 million prospects, so some savvy segmentation is needed.

Besides, any company with the resources to target 80 million people is too smart to target 80 million people.

2. Intent – Search marketers and those using predictive analytics will tell you that demographic data can be useful, but on its own it says little about user intent. Focusing on audience size without considering commercial intent is a costly marketing mistake. Lots of millennials doesn’t always equal lots of revenue.

Years ago, knowing the age, gender and location of your ideal customers was considered advanced marketing. Today, marketers are more accountable than ever to gather customer insights and turn those insights into measureable results. Analyzing cohorts can certainly help identify the links between a population’s characteristics and its behavior. But trying to discern how millions of people will act depending on when they were born is a big leap.

3. Priorities – Depending on your goals, it may not matter much if your customers are millennials.  Knowing whether or not your prospect is a millennial may be useful, but it’s not a key data point that helps your organization deliver a truly valuable product or service. In creating a product-to-market fit, every question below is potentially more important than “Are you a millennial?”

  • What is the problem or challenge we can help with?
  • Are you currently considering a purchase?
  • Are you aware of our products and services?
  • How did you become aware of our company?
  • What information sources do you use in purchase decisions?
  • How do you use PCs, mobile devices and tablets in your buying process?
  • Do our prices seem reasonable?
  • What comparable products are you considering?
  • What search terms did you use to find us?

Non-actionable data Infographics about millennials as a group of texting, sexting and selfie-taking digital natives are interesting, but data without an action plan is just trivial pursuit. For example, I have read that millennial men spend twice as much on clothing previous generations.

Interesting, but it’s just the beginning of the testing cycle. Now you have to figure out if that relates to your business, create and evaluate a hypothesis, create digital marketing assets and launch a campaign. Anyone buy your custom personalized men’s yoga gear? Why or why not? Then you start the testing cycle again.

It’s labor-intensive…but maybe you can hire some hard-working millennials to do it.