Millennials have been called the unluckiest generation by some. They have been written off as a feckless generation by others (interestingly, including by millennials themselves – but they would like to point out that it is not their fault).
The Economist, on the other hand, disagrees and believes that the future is very positive for this segment. Its new research contradicts the stereotypes (lazy, narcissistic, apathetic and only interested in social media) and paints a picture of millennials as "arguably the most sophisticated media generation ever". Which, given that they are going to dominate the workforce of the UK in just a couple of years, is important to address in media and communications thinking.
MediaCom’s own research reinforces the idea that millennials are different from the generation that preceded them, Generation X. In fact, they seem in some ways to have more in common with the more outrageous of the baby boomers in terms of attitudes and openness to change. In many households, these two generations now live together (parents who might have confidently expected to have an empty nest by this point are instead still living with adult children who can’t afford to get on the property ladder). In these "boomennial" households, experiences are shared and the two generations rub off on each other. So, for instance, usage of second screens by baby boomers is above the average because they are aping the behaviour of the millennials that they live with.
Of course, millennials are the big users of smartphones and tablets. They are the ones checking their phones before they get up and after they have gone to bed. The Economist is correct in suggesting that social media is not their only media channel, though. They consume physical, traditional-format media as well as digital media, even though they are the first generation who has grown up with both. Introducing the research at Advertising Week Europe, The Economist's global managing director of client strategy, Nick Blunden, explained that there are more influencers in this group than in any other generation, calling them "gen-narrators". This group has real potential as effective brand advocates – perhaps the most effective that we have ever seen – both to their peers and the wider public (they are living with boomers, for a start).
We really need to get to this group if we expect to influence with a communications strategy. They are a sophisticated bunch. They are the first generation who fully, instinctively and expertly understand social media. They know how to get their voice heard. Media is properly democratised in their hands. It is the first time that a generation’s voice has not been edited or mitigated by a few individuals – those at newspapers, magazines, radio and TV.
The power of this is awesome. We must thank the inventor of the hashtag for its ability to navigate the avalanche of opinion that this power creates. Will we see loyalty to a particular media brand migrate instead to loyalty to a hashtag?
Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom