"Millennial" is a Mindset, Not a Demographic

Posted March 17, 2016 by Cameron Hogan (@camhog21)

In recent years, few buzzwords have become as omnipresent as “millennial.” Revered as the most socially aware, authenticity-driven sector, millennials are shaping the economy and forcing companies to reevaluate the way they conduct business and will continue to do so for decades to come.

millennialMany may not realize, but millennials have become the U.S.’s largest living generation and have already surpassed Generation X to make up the largest share of the U.S. workforce. Yet, despite the sheer size and influence of this generation, the general attitude towards it feels both parts cold and warm. When used, millennial often carries a negative connotation as many Gen Y and Xers use it synonymously with self-absorbed and entitled or antisocialand social media + smartphone obsessed. And while some of these labels may be true for some, broad generalizations have no place in today’s society.

So how can we change our approach to and perception of the millennial population? During his talk at SXSWi, Refinery29 Co-Founder Philippe von Borries suggested dropping the term altogether stating “millennial” is really a mindset (not a demographic) comprised by individuality, global connectedness, and purpose:

“If you identify ‘millennial’ as a mindset, you create a culture and community of inclusion and empower everyone to be him or herself. To capture the imagination of the millennial mindset, you must recognize the power of niches. Find your niche, celebrate your individuality with passion — that’s embracing the Millennial mindset.”

To his point, this interconnected purpose-driven mindset extends well beyond millennials. They’re just the first generation to be raised in an always-on digital world of rapid change. This gives them a set of behaviors and experiences far different than their parents.


Brand Loyalty & Buying Behavior Their affinity for technology and wellness influences millennials’ lifestyle choices and buying behavior. They care about brands, but they generally don’t use them to navigate their choices. With endless streams of data and information at their fingertips (product information, comparisons tools, peer reviews, etc.), millennials seek out brands that offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost.

Media Consumption In reality this applies to society altogether but for the sake of this article, millennials largely consume content on mobile devices, obtain news via social networks, and watch series and movies on YouTube, Netflix and other online streaming services. If you’re still trying to target adolescents and young adults with TVCs and print ads, it might be time to take a step back and reevaluate where your ad dollars and resources are being allocated.

Influencers Millennials greatly favor Snapchat, YouTube, and Vine stars to celebs. Why? Because the prior is insanely authentic; those individuals look and talk like millennials. They care less about status and material items and more about experiences they can share with their fans and peers via social media platforms. Again — millennials care about brands, but they prefer suggestions from peers and influencers when making decisions. This is why many brands are ditching the :30s TV spots and investing heavily in “Vine-stars” and “Snapchat influencers.”

Access vs Ownership The early “must-haves” for previous generations (new car, music and luxury goods, TV or laptop, etc.) aren’t as important for millennials, who are putting off such purchases or skipping them altogether. Instead, millennials are turning to companies and apps that provide access to product without the commitment of ownership.

Life & Work Values Smaller salaries and larger debts mean less income to save, thus delaying long-term commitments like marriage and home-ownership. And as a result of these tighter margins, millennials are hyper-critical of the organizations they choose to work for and it’s changing the way(s) organizations position and view themselves — salary and an amazing benefits package, for many, are no longer top priority. The onus of millennials is on giving, changing, and creating purpose for their employers and on shifting perspectives from traditional ways of doing things.


From niche to movement to mainstream, this is how our culture has grown and evolved over time. Millennials are like all other humans; they just have different practices and preferences and there is nothing wrong with that. Rather than stereotype an audience, brands and marketers should focus their energy on serving a passionate group of individuals moving into their prime spending years. Millennials may be 18, 19, and 20 years old right now; but they become 27 and 30 very quickly (P.S. — Gen Z isn’t too far away). And for a generation where brand loyalty is essentially a non-factor, so many brands are passing up the opportunity to understand, embrace, and influence this group of individuals and their incredible buying power.