We tend to assume that the way we see things is the way they are. You gather a few pieces of information from a person's appearance or circumstances, creating a mental picture that may not reflect reality.
When it comes to marketing, businesses spend billions of dollars marketing to groups of people who share characteristics. Generation cohorts (or “groups”) such as Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (originally Generation Y), and Generation Z are widely acknowledged among social scientists and marketers alike.
But here’s the rub: time doesn’t stand still, and so the observations that were made in the past about a single generation may no longer be accurate. In the last 10 years, at least half of Millennials moved from their 20s to their 30s and face a new set of life decisions and financial conundrums.
In order to keep your demographic knowledge sharp, you need to seek out the latest research. How are the youngest Baby Boomers thinking about retirement? What do the oldest members of Generation Z, who are entering adulthood, think about finance and banking? How are the oldest Millennials addressing the challenge of homeownership?
Where are Millennials in life
Before we dive into some more specific millennial traits, let's take a look at where this generation is in life as of 2019.
In 2019, Millennials fall in the age range of 25 to 39.
40% of Millennials are parents
88% of Millennials live in metropolitan areas
63% of Millennials are carrying more than $10,000 in student debt
Only 35.8% of Millennials own homes - which is lower than the Baby Boomers at the same age (48.3%)
21% of Millennials report switching jobs within the past year
The millennial unemployment rate, when adjusted for those still in school, is on par with other generations.
If your mental model of a Millennials was that of a college kid, then you are actually thinking of Gen Z. Millennials in 2019 are making up a growing majority of the workforce and have already begun making families of their own. They are several years into their career and have likely held more than one position and/or been at more than one organization.
That said, as a whole, millennials are slightly behind where other generations were at the same age. A smaller percentage of millennials have achieved the major milestones of marriage, home ownership, or parenthood.
Millennials' relationship with cash
4x more millennials use cash than top mobile payment platforms. In fact, almost 3x more millennials use checks than use mobile payment platforms.
How is your mobile deposit interface? Do you make it easy for account holders to re-order checks? How about encouraging online bill pay usage? The first thing to recognize is that Millennials use checks. The second thing you need to do is find out if there’s anything you can do to make life easier for people who do write checks. (Here’s a secret: few people enjoy writing checks, they’re just a necessity).
Suggesting that account holders use online bill pay may help ease the burden of remembering to write checks for regular expenses. Maybe you could even run a contest to incentivize people to set up online bill pay, or hold information sessions at local branches where people can bring their laptops and you can walk them through the process.
However, if your bill pay service is difficult to use, or the customer service is poor, people won’t use it. If in doubt, try the service for yourself to uncover the sticking points.
Millennials are living paycheck-to-paycheck
Millennials don't have much disposable income, despite appearing to earn more than prior generations. There are some key contributors to this. First, while millennials earn more, they earn less in relation to everyone else. Put another way, everything costs more these days so while salaries are up, they are up for everyone and millennials are earning comparatively less. Secondly, as we discussed already, a large portion of their monthly income has to be devoted to student loan repayment. According to Comet, the average monthly payment for student loans in 2019 will be $393.
Millennials as shoppers
71% of Millennials shop multiple stores seeking deals compared with baby boomers (57%). An even larger percentage of shoppers bargain-hunt online sales: 82% of millennials and 65% of boomers.
94% of Millennials use coupons.
Price comparison has always indicated a frugal mindset that isn’t universally shared by consumers. However, this stat indicates a high degree of price-conscious thinking among Millennials.
Speaking from personal experience (as a Millennial born in ‘87), I frequently pull up the Amazon app to scan a barcode, in hopes of finding the best price — with Amazon’s price serving as a baseline.
Community financial institutions can play to this tendency (à la Progressive Insurance), where you publish rates from your competition. If your rate isn’t better, then make the case for why your institution goes above and beyond rate to provide a first-class experience. This counter-intuitive approach signals two things: 1) that you’re willing to be transparent about your business, and 2) that you understand the desire to get the best deal — these are foundational for building trust.
Millennials and media
Millennials consume a lot of content
Millennials watch 4x as much programming via TV-connected devices than adults 35 and older. However, they are watching 27% less traditional TV (cable) than older generations (Gen X and Baby Boomers).
This means that Millennials are digesting more of their content through streaming services like Netflix, video games, or DVDs.
They are also voracious social media users; 47% of millennials state the Internet is the one thing they cannot live without. Part of what appeals about this channel is that millennials want to feel a part of a community, be entertained, have more control over what they engage with, and trust and believe in the brands and causes they support.
The impact of establishing a relationship via social media is huge. Nielsen found that 60% of millennials are likely to do business with a brand they follow and 59% are likely to follow the brand before making the purchase. Think about the impact of the second half of that statement. The social media relationship comes before the purchase.
An important note about this generation is that Millennials typically have their attention on more than one screen at a time. Nielsen found that only 2% change channels during commercials (compared to 8% of older generations), and TubularInsights found that 92% of millennials use a second screen during the commercial breaks.
Does advertising work?
46% of Millennials say ads don’t bother them.
Do Millennials just tune out and skip over marketing messages? Maybe. Or they’ve just reconciled with the fact that advertising funds many of the apps and services they love, plus digital advertising is getting better at custom messages and precise targeting. The closer you match the offer to the consumer, the less an ad feels like an intrusion. In fact, a majority of millennials (58%) don’t mind watching ads to support their favorite digital personalities.
That said, traditional marketing (TV, radio, OOH) might not be as effective on this generation. The McCarthy Group found that 84% of millennial neither liked not trusted traditional advertising. This puts added pressure on marketers to identify the right place and time for an advertisement to be served.
Don’t be afraid to advertise. The only thing you have to fear is poorly targeted ads or a less-than-appealing offer — digital natives (such as Millennials and Gen Z) are proficient at tuning out irrelevant information.
The latest millennial research
Look for organizations that regularly publish relevant research and thought leadership. You can’t afford to do all the research yourself, and you really don’t need to. There are lots of reputable sources, such as The Financial Brand, Qualtrics, Nielsen, Accenture, and more.
Schedule a yearly review of your marketing strategy and the information you have on your current account holders and target audience. This will help you to pivot your strategy when new information comes to light.
The most important thing is to hold lightly to your assumptions about your account holders and target market. The people you build your business around are also the most likely to surprise you when you least expect it.