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Anna Papachristos | February 20, 2013

Demystifying the Millennial Misconception

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33c71a_86f7cb05124832006a961728b3f03a2b.jpgWhen you tell someone you remember card catalogs in a time before online databases, they immediately assume you have three grown children and a mortgage. But, once people discover you're really a 25-year-old woman with the countenance of a teenager, you suddenly become the enemy--a lobotomized creature that cannot function without the support of their smartphone. To most companies, I am not an individual, but one of many. I am just another piece in a puzzle they cannot seem to solve.

Today, the terms "Millennial" and "digital native" go hand-in-hand. Even though most of "us" can remember a time without Internet or mobile phones, "we" have become troublemakers in the eyes of marketers who are clearly showing their age. Marketers act as if "we" are different from "them," yet they assume those ages 16-30 are all the same--self-centered, lazy, and glued to technology--and therein lies their biggest mistake of all.

"Marketers often have a lot of misperceptions about the Millennial generation," says Jeff Fromm, executive vice president at Barkley. "First of all, they're not a homogenous cohort. In terms of the most common misconceptions marketers have when it comes to Millennials, I think there's a little of the "they're lazy, they're the 'Me' generation, they're easy to typecast" when in fact they're not. I think it's dangerous to sort of typecast a generation to such a great extent."

Back in the day, this "digital native" used to conduct her history research using her grandfather's encyclopedias. I did not Google my way through papers and I wrote everything out by hand. And, when an essay needed to be particularly fancy, my mother would pull out her good ol' typewriter and type things up while I dictated. We didn't have Microsoft Word (or a computer, for that matter) in our home until I entered high school, and we didn't have Internet until my sophomore year. (You know, back when an Internet connection preoccupied the landline phone no one uses anymore.)

Yes, technology has become an integral part of our lives, growing exponentially year over year throughout the last decade especially. But marketers must remember that even the youngest members of the Millennial demographic spent the first 10 years of their lives without an iPhone in reach. "We" may be better able to adapt to the rapid changes within the technological space, but referring to Millennials as "digital natives" is like saying the Pilgrims weren't immigrants--just because we have helped forge the path doesn't mean it's the only road we've ever known. If marketers are truly worried about those who've grown up alongside technology, worry about the children who don't know the joys of rewinding a videotape or cassette. Worry about the babies playing with their parents' iPhone as they recline in their stroller. Worry about the children whose parents buy them the gadgets our parents wouldn't allow us to have until we could purchase them ourselves.

Underneath all of this confusion, Millennials are merely the scapegoats. Marketers must first come to understand the technology every generation now has at their disposal. One day, "we" won't be this young. Just as quickly as technology evolves, we will become the parents and grandparents scratching their heads at the "noise" their offspring calls music. There will always be another group of young people that appear foreign to the generations that came before, but we've got to remember assumptions and stereotypes get us absolutely nowhere. Besides, marketers frequently talk about the need to treat every customer as an individual--here's the perfect place to start.

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