Beware False Prophets: The Great Millennial Fraud

Beware False Prophets: The Great Millennial Fraud - People Development Network
Beware False Prophets: The Great Millennial Fraud - People Development Network

What millennial research tells us not always as it seems

Much of my career has involved market research. Prior to its sale, my market research and database marketing company did in excess of 300,000 consumer interviews a year, most of it regarding technology, along with another 50,000+ interviews each year with retailers who sold consumers technology products.

I understand the power of data regardless of how accurate it is, or isn’t, and much of the time it is more the latter than the former.

Put aside bad data due to methodology or data gathering errors; that happens. The larger problem is automatically assuming the numbers are right simply because someone says they are.

Fortunately, this type of error could be avoided were people who use data to simply ask themselves “does that make sense?” Some do, many more do not and therein is the problem.

Case in point: Millennial Market “Research”

"Phase One is fairly basic" with pie chart.

Every few days you hear what so-called millennials (those born in the early 1980’s to the early 2000’s) want, believe, think, are like, etc.

Now, the first indication that we’re not dealing with generational science is, there isn’t even consensus concerning which years do and do not include millennials.

To be sure, there are those who do put specific years on the beginning and ending of millennialism, most notably, William Strauss and Neil Howe who have collaborated on books describing generations. But the general consensus is only, roughly, a 20-year span beginning in the early ‘80’s.

“Roughly” is not a term I recall from my statistics classes. Whenever my answer was “roughly”, but not completely correct, my test score suffered. That fudge factor would be ok were real people not actually acting on what Millennial “research” tells them. But they are, they shouldn’t, and here’s why.

Generational descriptions group people based on just one factor; their birth year. Let’s assume, as Strauss and Howe do, that Millennials are those born between 1982 and 2004. If you were born in or between those years, you are a Millennial.

Researchers then ask you a bunch of questions summarized in a report read by those who want to know what you like and don’t like, will do and will not do. The results are dutifully reported on TV and radio shows and in countless newspaper and magazine articles.

Make sense? You tell me.

How alike do you believe an African-American female born in New Jersey in 1982, now married with a 12-year-old son and a Ph.D. in molecular biology, will be with a 12-year-old Caucasian male, currently in the 6th grade, living with his parents in North Dakota? They’re both millennials.

What would you think of “research” that claimed to describe an entire race, gender, religion, or even just those born in one year, based solely on just that one descriptor? For example, this is what Hispanics think. This is what women think. This is what Methodists think? This is what everyone born in 1999 thinks.

You can do useful research to learn more about so-called millennials, just not based only on what qualifies them as a millennial, their birth year.

Why is there so much of it?

download (3)If you believe as I do that one-dimensional generational grouping makes no sense but wonder why it is so pervasive, the answer is simple.

It produces easy to digest “brain candy” images, suitable for daytime TV/radio talk shows and fluff magazine/newspaper articles.

Some of that is funny, even harmless unless your job requires you to identify your company’s target consumers, which you do based on what you’ve seen, heard, or read in those TV/radio shows and articles.

If it does and you do, don’t be shocked when you end up in the ever-increasing group known as “Should-Have-But-Didn’t-Have-a-Clue-And-Now-I’m-In-The-Out-of-Work-Group” group.

William Matthies
William Matthies founded Coyote Insight in 2000 to help start-ups as well as established companies and brands plan for profitable growth. In 1986 he founded what was to become the largest independent market research/database marketing company in the consumer electronics and high tech fields. By the time he sold The Verity Group in 1997, the company employed 400+ people at its California and Costa Rica offices. Today he serves on corporate advisory boards lecturing frequently at industry events around the world on managing change, strategic planning, and customer relations. William's spare time is spent seeking out experiences that change his perspective, while at the same time having great fun. A few years ago, he visited Russia for a Mach 2.5 flight in a MiG 25 supersonic aircraft flying to 80,000 feet, the edge of space. Want details? Contact him, he'll be happy to tell you about it!
William Matthies