Just as virtually all conventional wisdom eventually does, the stereotypical view of millennial consumers has come under some challenge. Observers reviewing the traits that “define” the digital native generation increasingly are recognizing that young people are not as universally similar as descriptions of them might suggest, nor are they necessarily accurate.

Head and shoulders view of a 20-25 year-old Caucasian woman holding up a camera taking a photo in Times Square,  Manhattan

In particular, the widespread belief that millennials are selfish and self-centered appears overstated. At much higher rates than their parents’ generations, these consumers define success according to whether they are good friends to others or work to achieve causes in which they believe. Although they may be following different timelines than previous generations, they also embrace traditional symbols of maturation, such that nearly three-quarters of them are employed, 37 percent own their homes, and 38 percent have children.

Other traits that have been assigned to all millennials appear somewhat more accurate, though only for portions of the cohort. For example, they are very comfortable with technology, though only 45 percent consider themselves early adopters, and nearly half of them claim they could function without their smartphones—even if they prefer not to. Furthermore, though millennials depend heavily on recommendations contained in online product reviews to help them make their purchase choices, they remain influenced by several conventional marketing instruments, such as coupons and in-store flyers.

Noting these distinctions, IRI recommends a new categorization of millennial shoppers, spanning six categories:

  1. Free Spirits, who are social, single, young, well-educated, and impulsive.
  2. Struggling Wanderers, without much education, who struggle financially and lack a strong digital connection.
  3. New Traditionalists, those educated and wealthy consumers who are already married and handle their finances carefully.
  4. Concerned Aspirationalists, mostly time- and money-constrained parents who rely on social media to find convenient deals.
  5. Conscious Naturalists, who seek locally grown, minimally processed foods but are not very reliant on digital media.
  6. Confident Connectors, who are socially conscious, ethnically diverse, digitally savvy, and likely to shop with local small businesses.

It seemingly should come as no surprise that this generational cohort actually consists of several different profiles. The largest generation since the Baby Boomers, millennials count around 79 million members in their ranks worldwide, and their purchasing power is massive and growing.

Discussion Question:

How can marketers use these classifications to define their marketing to millennial target groups?


Source: Lesley Thulin, “Five Marketing Myths About Millennials,” Chain Store Age, July 29, 2015