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MAR 16, 2016

(5 minute read by Rachael Pesch)


Mark Zuckerberg, Taylor Swift, Malala Yousafzai. Besides being highly influential individuals, what does this group have in common? They are all members of the generation known as Millennials. For the past decade, marketers and businesses have been striving to understand the mindset of this generation that, according to the Pew Research Center, eclipsed Baby Boomers in size this past year in 2015 and will surpass Boomers and Generation Xers in spending power in 2017

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are comprised of people born roughly between 1980 and 2000, and have been saddled with many characteristics— some negative and some positive. Lazy, self-absorbed, and a generation that thinks too highly of themselves. Highly educated, socially conscious, and accepting of diversity. So, which are they? 

As a Millennial myself, it has been hugely educational to examine what the experts and research are saying about my generation. Although no one person exactly fits the mold of Generation Y, the following are the top 5 characteristics of Millennials.

They are experience-driven. 

Millennials are highly experiential individuals. The status of living a good life is no longer portrayed by the ‘things’ you can afford, but the experiences that you have. I attribute part of this characteristic to the advent of social media and wanting to create an illusion of leading an exciting, unique, and adventure-filled life. No one will favorite a status-quo photo on Instagram. They will, however, double-tap a picture of you traveling abroad, completing a Tough Mudder run, or watching a hot air balloon festival out west. Even in professions, a Millennial will take more stock in an experience (perhaps a relocation to London for a year) over a raise or promotion. 

Want to find purpose. 

Speaking of the working life of a Millennial, they want to find the WHY of their job. WHY do they do what they do? Ninety-four percent reported that they prefer purpose over pay. In fact, this generation takes more time finding passion in their professions, which may be why they are prone to job-hopping every 2 years. They are even delaying starting a family in the pursuit of finding purpose in their work. If they are not able to find it at work, they will also look elsewhere, perhaps a worthy cause, where they can leave their mark. 

Demand authenticity. 

Now that this generation has the largest buying power, companies are trying harder than ever to reach Millennials in the most appealing way. Growing up in the digital age and constantly being connected to their devices, Gen Y has been bombarded with disruptive advertisements their whole lives and can see right through them. This is why authenticity and transparency has become so important to this group of individuals. Fifty-one percent of Americans in this age group trust their peers through user-generated content and reviews over brand messaging. Local retail and restaurants that are in communal, re-imagined urban spaces (think Krog Street Market, the BeltLine and Ponce City Market as Atlanta examples) are also big with this group because it comes across as more authentic, and again, experiential and unique. 

Most diverse generation.  

Being the most ethnically and racially diverse generation in U.S. history themselves, it makes sense that they are the most accepting generational group of diversity. Due to this variance,  they are also the most politically progressive cohort. For example, Millennials voted 66%-32% for Barack Obama over John McCain in the 2008 election, while voters over age 30 voted 50%-49%. Gen Yers are more open to change than their fellow generations and this same sentiment is expected by Millennials of brands and businesses that they interact with.  

Well-educated. 

Millennials are the most educated generation thus far, with 58% graduating from college with at least a bachelors degree. Through their higher education, they are taught to question authority and the status-quo, which may coincide with entrepreneurship being a state of mind for Millennials, rather than the notion of owning your own business. This generation has churned out more entrepreneurs than ever because they are more educated and ninety percent believe that the benefits of becoming an entrepreneur outweigh the risks. 

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Being one of the most studied generations in history, there are varied opinions about the core characteristics of Millennials, but understanding their general attributes is valuable whether you are interacting with them in the workplace or attempting to market to these individuals as a business. Like anything in business, knowing thy audience is crucial when planning for future growth. 

Fellow Millennials, what are your thoughts? Agree, disagree? Additions? 
Non-Millennials, what do you think? Comments?