In a recent article by Gillian Tett under the title “It’s time to stop talking about Millennials“, the author highlights an important lesson we often face everyday at work: talking of generations in terms of “absolute identities” is not only wrong, but can result in pure discriminations.
We’ve got all used to think in terms of distinct generational cohorts, especially thanks to the Advertising Industry. However, this has quickly expanded also to a lot of HR domains, with Recruiting, performance, and the “world of management” trying to make sense of the new generation inflow into the workforce.
It all started about half a century ago, when economists first started to talk about “baby boomers” to refer to people born after World War II. Then came Generation X, then the “Millennials” and now the next one: often called Generation Z, although other descriptors exist.
However, the Millennial label is the one that tends to generate most tensions (although I believe the Gen Z one will, eventually, be even worse).
Baby boomers and Gen Xs grumble that Millennials are “entitled” and “unfocused”. Millennials retort that the old generations created an economic mess, forcing them to become more creative, resilient and socially minded.
But looking closely, it seems the label simply doesn’t match. Of course, Technology experience has shaped different expectations in the younger generations. However I know from experience that simply “assuming” that every Millennial or Gen Zs is a “technologist” is not just absurd but totally surreal. In my experience with Retail I’ve dealt with the younger generations way before other industries (simply because the average age of our retail workforce is lower…). And I definitely noticed that there are as many technophobes among the youngsters as there are among the most senior staff.
Now something is changing. Advertisers have noticed that Millennials in their 20s consume in totally different ways than those in their 30s. Up to the point that JWT has coined now the word “Xennials” to identify those millennials that identify more with Gen X. But the reality is: who cares?
Going beyond demographics
If in the past anthropologists classified generations by fertility rates, today what is happening is that the focus of “Age” has moved to experiences rather than biology alone. And if Experiences are the clear marker, than we need to accept that everyone’s experience will shape every person in a different way, making the idea of cohorts simply irrelevant.
People – of all ages and in all markets – are constructing their own identities more freely than ever. As a result, consumption patterns are no longer defined by ‘traditional’ demographic segments such as age, gender, location, income, family status and more.
Which is why also Deloitte, in a recent report, fights against this stereotypical view and suggests we look at entirely different ways to segment our marketing approaches. An element also recognised by those who claim we live in a post-demographic consumerism era. A real change towards the past way of thinking, which demands new tools and products. We need to cater for the all the different identities people develop, not because of their belonging to a “label” or identity.
Which is why we need to be careful whenever we develop bullseye customers, or persona profiles in our work. Although these can be very useful, they tend to have the negative impact of narrowing our way of thinking, as they simplify the world.
And all what we want is to avoid creating another, unnecessary, cluster of discrimination, putting people in “generational boxes” that don’t really exist.