The Promise of Millennials
A few weeks ago, I was at a leading marketing and advertising conference with some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. We talked about new ideas, new tools, and new strategies—all ways to become better marketers.
We also talked a lot about Millennials.
At least two or three sessions became heated discussions about the worst generation this country’s ever seen. There wasn’t just anti-Millennial sentiment. There was Millennial hate.
We’ve heard it all before. A simple search will tell you immediately:
Millennials are lazy. They’re self-centered, impatient, and entitled. They lack attention span. They’re narcissistic, because they take selfies like this:
They still live with their parents, they give their managers headaches, and their music tastes are abysmal.
Basically, they’re a doomed generation.
Some of the hate at the conference even came from Millennials who thought they were different from other Millennials. The Millennials like this:
Some of the criticism that surrounds Millennials might be warranted… but most of it isn’t.
Because there’s a lot we don’t say about this generation.
The Millennial Belief System
Millennials are one of the most researched generations to date. There are over nine million search results on Google just about marketing to this generation.
Another 12,000 results provide in-depth articles about how to manage the Millennial.
Why do we need guidelines to handle Gen Y? Because Millennials are unlike any other generation we’ve seen. Their beliefs are different.
They also believe in giving back. Despite entering a horrible job market and economy, Millennials use their salaries to donate. According to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report, 87% of Millennials donated to charity in 2013.
They are the generation that cares about the environment, values making a difference over making money, and expects brands and firms to be ethical and socially responsible.
They’re changing our industry. Millennials are more likely to trust the opinion of a stranger online than a brand. They demand transparency, expect us to value their feedback, and have embraced the new buyer journey.
But above all else, Millennials have an intrinsic desire to do good. They want to change the world, and they're just narcissistic enough to believe that they can.
The Youth Effect
Despite their different beliefs, there is one thing Millennials have in common with the generations that came before them: they are thought of as the worst generation we’ve ever seen.
Every generation has been criticized by older generations. The Boomers were damned in the '60s for drugs and their devil music. Gen X was known as the disenfranchised youth. Now Millennials are the immature narcissists.
But what twenty-something isn’t?
Every generation was immature at this age. What makes Millennials different is that their immaturity is captured on iPhones and posted to social media. It’s out there for everyone to see.
What if your generation grew up in the Digital Era? Think of how differently you would be perceived if all of your college years were photographed and on video. And what if our parents were teenagers now? They’d be taking selfies too. In fact, some still do:
It’s not about qualities of a generation… it’s about youth and the world we live in.
And just as every generation is criticized, eventually every generation becomes the leaders.
The same Boomers who did drugs in the '60s are fighting legalization today. Gen X, the slacker generation, is now mentoring the lazy and entitled Millennials. It’s cyclical, and soon enough the Millennials will be in the driver’s seat.
So the question is… can Millennials’ beliefs be turned into actions? Or, like the pigs of Animal Farm, will they become what they despise?
Will they bring their thoughts about equality into the workplace? Will they demand the same ethics and social responsibility from their own companies? Will they save the environment, value making a difference over making a profit, and continue to give back once they leave behind the idealistic ambitions of youth?
Millennials believe they can change the world. Their challenge is to actually do it.