How Typecasting Millennials Is Hurting Ad Buyers

It's No Longer About Buying Audiences, But About Individual Users

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The demographic cohort commonly known as millennials -- individuals born between 1980 and 2000 -- is considered critical to advertisers across digital channels. The largest generation in U.S. history, millennials spent a whopping $600 billion in 2014, a figure expected to reach $1.4 trillion by 2020.

There's no doubt they're an important demographic, but the typecasting of millennials as important simply because they're millennials has done advertisers more harm than good. Ad buyers have succumbed to a type of tunnel vision when it comes to the digitally savvy group driving the greatest technological and social change since the industrial revolution.

As marketers have moved spend from traditional to digital, and especially mobile channels, they've had great success getting in front of millennials -- but then, how could you not? Set up dashboards to blast messaging across social channels, and you're sure to get in front of the largest demographic using those channels.

A recent survey suggests that in 2016, brands will cease targeting millennials as one cohesive, homogenous group. Marketers will shift focus to the passions of younger consumers, seeking to engage them with age-agnostic, values-based content.

It's a change that should happen -- and content certainly helps -- but how marketers will get that content in front of the right consumers is key. People are already blocking or disregarding ads so successfully that getting relevant, values-based content in front of the right audiences is mission critical.

With millennials, as with other age-based cohorts, it's no longer about buying audiences, but about buying individual users. Marketers have a wealth of data at their disposal to help them understand whom they're trying to target, but using that data effectively remains a challenge.

Even offline retailers like Target and Walmart are leading the charge in maximizing the value of this first-party data by coming up with their own data solutions. The number of touchpoints will continue to increase, so marketers need to be thinking now about finding ways to capitalize on their own first-party data. Soon, we're going to see more marketing teams looking to take out some of the middlemen technology players as they learn to scale and improve ROI through more effective use of their own data.

As marketers become more skilled in fleshing out those critical data insights, context increases in importance, as well. So rather that choosing an entire demographic, like millennials, marketers will need to engage in targeting that is richer and more complex than ever -- particularly as consumers gravitate more toward native and video.

Marketers looking to reach millennials in a meaningful, engaging way need to keep context top of mind. Millennials are thoughtful consumers, looking for creative and fun ways to interact with brands. They're also insightful and looking for actionable, reliable information. Their purchasing style is deliberate, with consideration and research taking place across mobile devices and desktop.

With so many different apps, channels and screens in play, marketers can't rely on buying audiences based on one channel, or one screen, or even one publication or website. Millennials might frequent a particular site, but that says nothing of the unique traits or interests that might indicate they're in-market. Interest-based targeting deployed across the many spaces in which those millennials are most likely to be interested in the content is key, whether it's across lock screens, in search, social, in-app, games or even in-store.

Targeting that value-added content across the millennials' digital environment, in a seamless and creative way and using the data at your disposal, is essential.

But even then, what does your content tell those millennials with whom you're able to connect? Content quality and value are important, but personalization tells the millennial user you're past the typecasting of their entire generation -- that you're speaking directly to their individual needs and wants.

The proper segmentation of data and effective cross-channel/cross-device targeting allows marketers to advocate for their brand and product in a more convincing way. If you're still identifying millennials by age alone, you're missing out on a massive opportunity to address where they are in the funnel, what you know about them based on their expressed interests and previous purchases, and more.

Millennials are so much more than an age range. They're a technologically savvy cohort whose size is rivaled only by its diversity. Marketers looking to engage these consumers in more meaningful, compelling ways will take their lead from Google and Facebook, which have each done a fantastic job of meeting consumers in their moments of need with personalized, contextually relevant advertising content.

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