Strategies & Tactics

My Generation: Debunking Millennial Stereotypes

June 27, 2018

By 2019, millennials will be the largest living adult generation in the United States, consisting of about 73 million people.

As part of New York’s Social Media Week this past spring, ThoughtMatter presented a panel focusing on the burgeoning demographic as it moves into its prime spending years. The talk centered on “why the most analyzed generation deserves a do-over” and referred to the group as “Millenniheirs,” a reference and fresh look at those under 35 from the world that they are inheriting.

Millennials are hoping to reframe the conversation around them and debunk stereotypes. Meanwhile, companies are being forced to reexamine how they do business as they move through the ranks, said moderator Jessie McGuire, executive director of strategy at ThoughtMatter, a design and branding agency.

“It’s important to understand that this group is inheriting a post-recession economy with a broken housing market and wealth inequality,” she said, “but we’re also creating our own legacy and thinking about what we’ll leave behind.”

Panelist Yari Blanco, founder and editor-in-chief of theGIRLMOB, which celebrates women of color through media, said that many people think of millennials as “job-hoppers” and that they aren’t loyal, but said, “you can’t ask for loyalty when loyalty isn’t shown in the first place,” adding that they may move for other reasons like benefits or personal growth.

“We are not one-dimensional beings but are multidimensional and able to create and tell our own stories. We can do five things at once (and are multihyphenates) because that’s what makes us happy,” she said. “Older generations are frustrated when they can’t figure us out and see this as lack of focus. But millennials have established themselves as individuals.”

Sawyer DeVuyst, an actor, model and activist reclaiming how transgender men are viewed, mentioned the stereotype that people don’t think millennials save money or plan for the future. “But we are concerned with financial stability,” he said. “And we want to be humanized.”

More than avocado toast

A recent ThoughtMatter study found that the following phrases and comments were used when describing millennials: “lack of focus,” “lazy,” “stunted,” “avocado toast,” “live with their parents” and “what industry will they kill this year?”

Nathan Allebach, a social media manager who helps run the Steak-umm Twitter account, said that these stereotypes reach extremes on social platforms.

“It’s not just about money or success with millennials,” he said. “We want to make sure brands align with our values and culture before buying from or working with them.”

Artist and designer Laurel DeWitt noted how millennials have grown up with the internet and social media, and many have had access to YouTube their whole lives.

“Older generations can’t figure us out — they think we’re all over the place with our values, career and finances — and it leads to frustration,” Blanco said, adding that individuals cannot be typecast like this — everyone is unique.

“Authenticity means being thoughtful and intentional,” she said. “A brand and its communications need to represent real people, add value and be personal.”

Authenticity is key

For brands to form authentic ties with this demographic, the panelists suggested humanizing your handle and putting a person — and a true voice — behind it.

“Focus on real, grass-roots relationships with your organic following and blow past the stigma of brand-consumer make-believe,” Allebach said. “Embody a personal voice to connect with millennials when using social.”

As millennials will represent the largest generation by next year, everyone needs to understand how to work together with this demographic and reexamine how business is done, McGuire said. “All the strategy in the world isn’t going to help a brand whose communications aren’t thoughtful, intentional and representative of real people.”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of PRSA's publications. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.

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