Millennials Are Not All Alike

With millennials now outnumbering baby boomers, many of our dietary supplement, functional food, and personal care clients want to better understand millennials — how they think, what they want, and how they behave. But these questions are often asked as though millennials act as single group. That’s like asking, “How do men think and behave?” Or, “How do Americans think and behave?” as if we all think and behave the same way and want the same things.

When you think about it for a moment, of course you realize that not all millennials are alike. For example, does a millennial male who loves video games behave or want the same things as a YA novel-loving millennial female? Does a millennial stockbroker want the same things as a millennial farmer? Do African-American millennial women face the same challenges as white millennial women? Do millennial iPhone users behave differently than Android users? Does an evangelical millennial vote differently than an agnostic millennial?

In a soon-to-be-published Pure Branding consumer research study on transparency, we looked at the behaviors of millennials separately from the total sample. This revealed some key differences. We also looked at millennial parents, and this revealed key differences from millennials who were not parents. Then we looked at millennial natural channel shoppers, and this revealed key differences from the other two groups.

What became quickly evident was that while their age played a role, their circumstances (parent with kids) or their choices (shopping in the natural channel) actually provided greater insight. In fact, millennials who shop in natural channels behaved more closely to Generation X and boomers who shop in those channels.

Hmmm. Maybe they’re not so different?

Good researchers understand that the way you slice and dice the data changes the insights. But what is the most important? Where they shop? Who they voted for? How they feel about things? Their education? Just because millennials who shop in the natural channel differ from those who don’t shop there, does that mean we should be evaluating them solely on where they shop?  How would you feel if someone categorized you by your favorite store? Are all Whole Food Market shoppers the same? If you shop at both Walmart and Whole Foods, who are you?

But back to millennials — I feel for them being lumped into one group. It’s kind of how I’ve felt about being lumped in as a boomer. My whole life I’ve heard the pundits exclaim how boomers think like this, act like that. And my answers to them have always been “yes,” “maybe,” and “no.”

However, what I do feel is a connection to certain groups within my generation. And the more specific these groups, the better able I am to identify and relate to the ones that are closest to me.

That’s why I believe in market research segmentation. And that’s why, when people want to know more about millennials, my answer is, you’ll find the answer in segmentation.

Cross tabulation is not the same as segmentation 

Oftentimes segments are really what should be called cross tabulation analysis. Identify a table, such as vitamin shoppers, and look at all of the data through that lens. Some would say that this is the segment of vitamin shoppers, and while grammatically they would be correct, it’s not what market researchers mean by segmentation. Cross table analysis has value, but it’s not segmentation.

Segmentation is about seeing how groups can be formed organically based on shared characteristics. Millennials with higher education that shop natural channel and have kids could be the beginning of a segment. People can be segmented through demographics, lifestyle, product or brand affinity, attitudes, behavior, and more. You need to look at a number of contributing factors and see how they cluster, then repeat the process several times to make sure you’ve uncovered the right segmentation.

In the end, the uniqueness of each segment profile can point marketers to targets that are closely aligned with their own brand. A profile may present opportunities for brand growth. Brands can be made aware of certain groups’ behaviors that otherwise may not have been known.

Back to millennials

What we find when we conduct natural products market research is that millennials exist in multiple segments. Each segment profile has specific characteristics that define them.  For example, one segment profile’s relationship to food purchases could be motivated by fear, while another’s relationship could be one based on activism. How a brand would communicate with the “fear” profile is different than how it would communicate with the “activist” profile. Millennials exist in both, as do Generation X and boomers.

That being said, someone is still going to come into your office and say, “We have to get the millennial consumer!”

With your segmentation complete, you’ll know that all millennials are not alike, and you can answer, “Which type of millennial do you want?” You can show which segments are best for your brand and you’ll know how to reach the millennials in those segments. Plus, you can offer the added bonus of reaching the other 2/3 of the population, the boomers and Gen Xers who are in your preferred segments (but be quiet about it, because they are not millennials).