Get Off My Lawn! Marketing Maven Blasts Millennial “Research”

Discovering young adults want financial services doesn’t break new ground, despite the hype.

Full disclosure. I’m a boomer. But I think a blog item from a widely read financial services pundit is probably a must-read for about anyone who works in our industry.

The title sets the stage A Call for a Moratorium on Millennial Research’ and it’s from Ron Shevlin, author of the Snarketing 2.0 blog and a senior analyst at the Aite Group.

He’s been a marketing data specialist for years and he’s seen enough. Whether you want to jeer Get off my lawn! or chortle The emperor has no clothes! Shevlin makes some points worth considering.

Shevlin takes aim at the emphasis that many marketers and their clients and the media and everyone else who sells nearly anything except walkers and denture adhesives are placing on serving millennials, no matter how, no matter where, no matter what. As if they’re all that different from the rest of us.

He takes particular delight in bashing one marketer’s research that revealed such pearls of wisdom as this: 74% of millennials indicate they understand people’s flaws and accept them. (So do pretty much all my Greatest Generation relatives. I have some notoriously forgiving aunts.)

Or this gem: 71% of millennials agree with the statement I’m a realist. Shevlin then quotes an article on the research that says experiencing the Great Recession heightened millennials’ value of pragmatism. (Really? My mother grew up in the Depression. As an adult, she insisted on an overly full pantry and she saved like crazy.)

To quote Shevlin, There ought to be a law in market research: Thou shalt publish no research about a generation if the study doesn’t include respondents of other generations for comparative purposes.

The man is saying that folks in their 20s right now are not so different than our other generations who have also, at some point, been in their 20s. My own daughter has just gotten married. She’s a millennial. She and her husband are paying for a car, saving to buy a house, thinking about starting a family. So did her parents. So did his parents. So did my parents.

I spent last week at the Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas. It was a great show. A big emphasis there was on payment apps. The big target for those: millennials. But other people use tech tools, too. And I learned at one breakout session that market research shows the biggest influencer for millennials is boomers. What? Their parents?

So bottom line: Let’s not look at these young folks as if they appeared by spontaneous generation. That isn’t how they got here. And don’t get too obsessed with the channel. It’s what you’re putting through it that matters most.

As Chris Howard, our vice president of research here at Callahan & Associates, observed when I shared Shevlin’s blog with him: You don’t need fancy-schmancy marketing surveys that purport to see into souls and psyches in order to understand’ data on adoption and utility rates for different channels and technologies.

The data itself tells the story, Chris says, adding (emphasis his), Reaching out to millennials which credit unions MUST do might be less about understanding their feelings and what makes them special, and more about delivering on fundamentals in ways and through channels that are relevant to the observable ways they live their lives.

November 11, 2014

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