What You've Been Told About Millennials Is (Mostly) Wrong

Myth-Busting Carat Survey Finds Demographic Isn't All Hyper-Connected

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Listen up, brands: What you have been told about millennials is (mostly) wrong.

According to new research from Carat, based on 14,000 millennials aged 15-to-34, this age group doesn't quite meet the stereotype of "hyper-connected optimistic digital extroverts." In fact, the stereotype applies to only about 42% of millennials, or about 36 million people. The other 49 million have been somewhat neglected under the assumption that they belong to the same monolithic group.

Carat's U.S. CEO and Global President, Doug Ray said marketing to millennials as one big segment is like marketing to an entire country. He said that problem might lie in the rush to amass behavioral data on millennials, focusing on cookie-level data that expires and doesn't tell you about the person's identity or mobile use. Then when one group's digital voice is more easily tracked and studied than others', it can lead to misunderstanding, as with millennials.

"If someone goes to vogue.com four times in a given period, does that make them a trendsetter?" Mr. Ray said. "You'll never understand that unless you ask them about their friends, lives and so on."

Using attitudinal and behavioral data, Carat broke down the group of 85 million in the segments below, as described by Michelle Lynn, exec VP-managing director of Dentsu Aegis Network.

"Behind every data point is people," Ms. Lynn said. "The whole reason I'm doing [the study] is so these people are recognized as individual people, not one big generation... People want to feel like they're recognized and their needs are being met."

"Trend-Netters" -- 42% of millennials

This is the millennial stereotype or "digital extroverts spreading trends and experiences," according to Carat. Ms. Lynn added that the group is fashionable, pop culture-savvy and impulse-driven. Because they're constantly using devices to review, endorse and share, their voices are easily heard and tracked, often making them the public face of their age group. They like brands that communicate luxury and status. This group is "current," Ms. Lynn said, but not true trendsetters.

"Alter-Natives" -- 23% of millennials

Skewing younger, this group represents the "non-conformist digital native" who tends to be more privacy-aware online, according to Carat. "They only want to share with select people... And only let us know what they wanted us to know. They feel comfortable online on their own terms," Ms. Lynn said. She added that the group's privacy concerns may be a reaction to witnessing over-sharing online. The group tends to live at home with parents, use older gadgets and prefer transparent brands.

"Lifeprenuers" -- 19% of millennials

Ambitious and lifestyle-aware, this group likes to balance work, home and health by setting boundaries. They're couponers who like reliable and practical brands. "This group is a little old world with a twist," Ms. Lynn said. "Digital is one of many things in their world. These people are okay with stepping away from [technology]."

"BetaBlazers" -- 16% of millennials

These are trendsetters with an adventurous spirit. This group tends to be more "effortlessly worldly" than the "Trend-Netters," Ms. Lynn said, and they read high-brow and niche publications that represent different points of view. On this segment's brand preferences, Ms. Lynn said, "It's not the most popular brand necessarily, but it's the one they seek out. Everything is a little more exclusive. They're really the ones that are about story-driven brands. That story is an indicator of quality."

Esther Lem, chief marketing officer of Chegg, a textbook rental, homework help, online tutoring, scholarships and internship matching site, said she wasn't surprised by the research showing that millennials don't fit into a stereotype.

Chegg's consumer base is between the ages 15-and-25, and Ms. Lem said she spends a lot of time talking to students and hearing about what they're going through as they prepare for college and job-searching. Millennials have a lot on their minds; it's becoming the norm to take six years to complete a four-year degree and many graduate with an average of $30,000 in debt. Job prospects after school could be better, too.

"They're an optimistic bunch, still going through it and coming out of it." Ms. Lem said, adding that the group doesn't take anything for granted. "[A marketer] has to dig deep to understand the insights that drive them," Ms. Lem said. "It isn't relevant to me to talk to this big broad group."

The Carat study, called "The Millennial Disconnect," was done by Copernicus, a Dentsu Aegis Network company. The study used CSS -- quantitative, self-reported attitudinal, motivational data and media receptivity data, Carat said. Then the data was integrated with behavorial data from Nielsen NPM and digital panels. Respondents were also pixel-tracked, allowing a more "three-dimensional view," the company said. Copernicus did the segmentation.