People like to stereotype.
Men love sports. Blonde women are less intelligent. Asians are good at calculus. Children don’t like eating vegetables. Brits running small business marketing companies make better lovers (see what I did there?).
Apart from the obvious racial, gender, and ageist bigotry of the above examples, making assumptions based on stereotypes is never a good look. If I get bitten by a dog, clearly I’m wrong to assume every pooch I meet in the future is going to bite me. If I get food poisoning from eating gas station sushi – never a wise decision – that doesn’t mean I’m destined to spend my life avoiding all forms of raw fish for the rest of my life.
Bad Marketers Are Stereotypers
Marketers are often the biggest culprits of stereotyping, since they confuse it with “segmentation.” In marketing, you can often get away with murder as long as you have data that supports your position. If I said to you that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, you’ll (quite rightly) brand me as an out-of-touch sexist imbecile. If, however, I showed you research where sales of pink cellphones were predominantly purchased by women, while blue ones were mostly bought by men, you’d call me an insightful marketer.
In marketing, audience segmentation underpins pretty much everything. Unless you truly know and understand your audience it’s almost impossible to present a relevant, resonant, and memorable value message.
But an audience segment isn’t “women under 50”, any more than assuming “anyone owning a dog” is a prospective customer for your canine-only taxi service with added geo-location, chatbot, and augmented reality app.
There’s No Such Thing As A “Millennial”
Which brings me nicely onto the current ‘shiny thing’ distraction in marketing: the fallacy that “Millennial” exists as a customer segment.
Of course, as a statistical percentile of the global population, millennials clearly exist. Globally there are around two billion men and women born between the years of 1981 and 2000. But by what stretch of the imagination can anyone conclude these people share any particular characteristics with each other? Moreover, that they exhibit fundamentally different behavioral characteristics to people in another age range?
Are millennials politically more left-wing (or right-wing) than their Gen-X or Baby Boomer parents? Are they more affluent? Less materialistic? For every study you find confirming any of the above, I’ll find you one refuting it. Not only that, but I’ll find you similar empirical evidence for pretty much any age group you care to mention.
As you may know I teach a marketing class to final-year MBA students. Every one of them was born in the 1990s. They shop online, constantly check their social media channels, use WhatsApp, email, and Skype, and value ‘experiences’ over material objects.
You know who else does all of that? My 71 year-old mother, and my 81 year-old father-in-law.
Millennials Aren’t Your Target Market
The latest millennial-targeting nonsense comes from AirFrance, who’ve announced Joon – a new subsidiary airline specifically targeted at the mythical millennials mindset. Apparently, the marketing gurus at AirFrance have come to conclusion that millennials are prepared to spend their hard-earned cash on an airline with branding and style. Of course in the real world the majority of millennials – as well as everyone else – choose an airline based on price.
Here’s a snippet from the Joon announcement:
You want more? How about this:
I think I just threw-up a little in my mouth.
Excuse me, AirFrance dudes. When you say “…whose lifestyles revolve around digital technology…” you do realize that more than 50% of the planet uses a smartphone, and that a number equivalent to 20% of the entire world’s population bought something online in the past 30 days? None of that has anything to do with the year they were born. ( By the way: What does ‘epicurean’ mean? Maybe I’d know if I was a millennial… )
OK, if we’re honest all such brand announcements sound ridiculous when taken out of context. What AirFrance has done here is put together a summary of its branding process, thinking that any of it means anything to ‘normal’ people (i.e. anyone not in marketing). What’s missing is the end-result: the visual and textural brand messaging that emerges from such background work. I don’t know about you, but I don’t see any of this bovine excrement meaning much to anyone – millennial or otherwise.
Don’t Market to “Millennials.” Market to “People”
A ‘millennial’ isn’t a marketing segment, or buyer persona. Actually, you could view such stereotyping as being just as short-sighted as any other sexist or racist generalization you care you mention. How about marketing home psychology study courses specifically to Cancerians, since they’re apparently more empathic and intuitive than other astrological signs? Why not target your new creative drawing class specifically to left-handed people since, apparently, they’re more creative than us righties?
Just because you were born in, say, 1987 doesn’t in itself make you a better user of Instagram than someone born in the 1960s. Assuming it does is prejudicial. How about, instead of being lazy and determining a buyer’s habits based on when they were born, we actually created messaging that spoke to people instead of age-ranges?
Update, January 2019: AirFrance have announced they’re shutting down Joon after just over a year. Clearly the epicureans had it in for them…