Millennial Matters: Is it possible to BE like Millennials?

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I was quite chuffed with myself and the response my inaugural Millennial Matters post received when it ran last Sunday. The title obviously had an impact, and it led to a decent number of shares. When I posted it to Facebook I reached out to a brilliant young Millennial friend of mine, Kiernan McGinnis, and asked for his feedback. He gave it, in spades:

As an introduction to your new series, “Millennial Matters,” I think this post successfully raises a number of substantial (while extremely generalized) notions about those of us born post Nixon. I don’t necessarily agree with everything you say here, but then again, you don’t really say that much. I look forward to seeing how this sequence continues, but I have one major concern. 

I know that you are trying to be objective here, and reach an audience of potential clients who need to up their Generation Y marketing, but reading this article made me feel like you were observing me in a cage. And, if I was a random passerby on the interwebs who happened upon this particular article, I would not trust your credibility to be making any of the claims that you make. As I know you, I know this is untrue. 

Instead of Apple IIE Amy, with an out-of-control perm, sitting in some tacky computer lab, wearing parachute pants, and learning about DOS code, I want to see “Millennial Wannabe” Amy telling me how much she loves Chipotle and sharing her Pins regarding the best way to construct an organic herb garden out of used pallets. I want you to speak in the voice of one of us, not one of them.

In fact, rather than just talking about how different we are — why we care about corporate responsibility — crowdsourcing — changing the world — tell me why…

Your parents were Baby Boomers. Sociologically, how did your generation lash back, and why? Thinking in this way, explain to me “hipsters,” microbreweries, social media, etc… 

I know that you are particularly fluent in the language of the internet, but until you can ground Millennial behaviors with concrete X behaviors, what you are saying is going directly over your targeted clienteles’ heads.

And Kiernan was not alone. When my friend Jeannie Walters shared my post on Twitter, it was met with this Millennial reply from Ryan Wynia:
 i find it annoying when ppl try to tell others how we millennials are… and it’s usually wrong.
My talking at and about Gen Y struck a nerve, and it wasn’t a positive one.

Ego deflated instantaneously. Totally deserving.

Kiernan was RIGHT, I was talking about instead of thinking LIKE ‘them.’  And, as much as I admire ‘this generation,’ they take me out of my comfort zone and I really have to push myself to do what Kiernan suggested and be like them.  Recently I started using Snap Chat and was forced to interact with teens because most of my friends aren’t on the platform.  I found myself running back to the safe familiarity of Facebook and my Gen Xer friends.

I actually tried to convince myself that it was ok to KNOW what platforms Millennials were on, and just have a Community Manger engage with ‘them’ on those platforms. With Kiernan’s retort I had to admit to myself that THAT just wouldn’t cut it; I’d never be able to have empathy and really understand what moves the younger generation if I just took a professorial stance and viewed them from afar.

Being a Millennial, When You Aren’t

I totally understand what Kiernan was on about, but this thought kept coming back to me: I’m not one of them. I’m not a Millennial, and although I am technology receptive and an admirer of Gen Y, can I really get myself to a point where I can think and behave like them? Kiernan thinks so, and I think he’s right, but in order to do so I, as well as other marketers who hope to connect with Gen Y, need to step down from our pulpits or dissection tables and really live and breath social and the internet the way they do.

How do I get there?

Well, first I had to think harder about where my generation, Gen X, stands, as it is astraddle the Boomers and Millennials, and never really forceful about much other than its own skepticism. The conversation on that matter continued:

Kiernan: I would have to say that mostly, Generation X has embraced the concessions made by their parents at the end of the 60’s. There was a time when the Boomers were very similar to modern Millennials where they vied for intense change, but as they grew up, they ended up embracing the system that they fought so hard against.

But now there is a resurgence in democracy fueled by the internet, and therefore a revival of counter-cultural sentiment among my generation.
Me: I don’t know Kiernan, I feel like the Yuppie/greed thing was foisted upon my generation – not that we embraced it at all. I think it’s one reason we embrace your generation more than that of our parents.
Kiernan: I think that you are right about that. In fact, if there is one unifying force that can bring together X’s and Y’s, without a doubt, we see Boomer Entitlements as the end of the American way. We resent our parents/ grandparents for having so much while we fight over the remnants.

How do we ‘think and act like them?’

So this is all I can think about. My foray into Snap Chat, and Whispers, and to some degree Instagram, has left me feeling old. I don’t generally feel old. But then I think back to how I recoiled from Facebook and Twitter initially – this odd  new way of finding and being found by old high school friends and anyone who had the desire to reach us made me feel naked and vulnerable. Until I adjusted…

And that is what I’ve had to do with these new mediums, particularly Whispers because I SO detest the anonymity that it allows… a feeling born from all of the social media bashings I’ve witnessed. But I’ve had to force myself to GET into the conversation and work it until it started to feel normal… like the muscle memory a great athlete understands.

The only way to think and be like Millinnials is to ape their social platform use, but more importantly, to stop looking at them in their ‘cage.’ To stop seeing them as an enigma and/or a monolith that thinks and behaves exactly the same as the next Millennial, and talk to them as individuals. Over and over again. Loads and loads of them. On their platforms… meeting the customer where they’re at and not simply sitting back and judging their behavior from afar.

It’s the age old problem of a generational divide, and the answer is quite simple – just walk over to their side and TALK to them.

photo credit: paul.orear via photopin cc

5 thoughts on “Millennial Matters: Is it possible to BE like Millennials?

  1. bowden2bowden says:

    As a boomer who grew up, I did not embrace the system that we fought so hard against, I learned how the system worked and continued with my convictions while living in our culture and society. As I read your 1st in this serious a question came to mind, “what is the intent?” You have explained it, “think and behave like them.”

    Generational divide, yes it is always present as it should be. Let it flow and have hope for the future as every generation does and just stop selling. As you said walk over and talk but let them have their side.

  2. hessiejones says:

    bowden2bowden Randy, as like you, I’ve learned to be less critical and more empathetic. I observe my own children and ask them why they do things as opposed to impose my own will and opinions on their behaviour. My context is so much different from theirs and their world is one that’s much more fleeting because of technology and the pace of communications. My son and daughter’s network is farther reaching than mine was at their age. Where mine was local, the conversations and influence my daughter has from friends and connections via social media has given more depth to her experience than we ever could have imagined when we were teens.  

    I tell my kids about the world as it stands and the challenges their generation will face. They respond in kind with how they see the world unfolding and how they’re going to deal with these things when the time comes. It’s actually quite remarkable when we take the time to really listen to them and understand their point of view.

  3. bowden2bowden says:

    hessiejones Hessie, it is so true at the speed of technology on todays culture and the massive impact on the evolving youth. Years ago when my daughter was very young (she is know in her 30’s, so it was a long time ago) I had a conversation with friend who had a daughter of the same age about the concern we had about the rapid lose of innocences to our children. They are, by neccesity and tech exploration, exposed earlier and earlier to not only the good but the bad. It was scary then and even more so today. However, I guided and gave her the space and allowed her to bump around a bit and she turned to be savvy an intuitive woman. I am sure today they are learning at how they will form the culture of the future and I am confident it will be a great adventure for all of us…peace

  4. hessiejones says:

    bowden2bowden well said Randy! It’s scary to allow our kids that kind of freedom to explore when we see inherent dangers but I know it’ll make them stronger and more confident in how they navigate this awesome, every-changing environment. I too look forward to what they will contribute to the world when it’s their time:)

  5. AmyMccTobin says:

    bowden2bowden Hi there Randy. Yes, I suppose we all over generalize every generation, including boomers. Mine, however, was never given the sort of attention Boomers and Millennials experienced.
    I have no option other than hope. This generation was so maligned for so long, and now that they’re old enough to really start making waves it looks like so many were so wrong. What I’m really learning as I go out of my way to connect more and more with Millennials, is that a) they are not an enigma, and b) so many of the sweeping generalizations made about them are only partially correct.

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