Millennials vs Everyone Else: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By Ellen Campbell-Kaminski, VP of Marketing

I recently attended a marketing conference and there were many great session topics, but one in particular caught my eye. The session write-up described a dialog between a Millennial and a Boomer, suggesting that their differences made it challenging for these two generations to connect with one another. As a Baby Boomer myself, and parent to two Millennials (and one Gen Z), I often think there isn’t a generational gap between me and my children, but rather a cosmic divide of two completely different species. One species is practical, planful, respectful, caring, and picks up after themselves and the other is… not. And if it isn’t clear which is which, I am the first species and my children are the second. However, I hazard a guess that my mother would have expressed the exact same complaint.

As a marketer, I’ve been taught to segment, target, and focus in order to build buyer personas and journey maps. And I believe in the benefit of focusing my efforts on specific segments to tailor my approach so as to ensure relevance to their needs. But as I sat in the session with the Millennial and the Boomer, I was struck by how surreal the situation felt. Here was an audience, largely comprised of Boomers and some Gen Xers, observing the Millennial as if we were on safari, observing an exotic animal in its natural habitat.

Boomer to Millennial: “What is it that you want from a brand?” Millennial: “I want an authentic experience.” As I sat in the audience, I couldn’t help but think, “Who wouldn’t want an authentic experience? Not me, I’m a Boomer. I want brands that lie to me. I want to be oversold.”  There is also a wealth of research focused on how Millennials think about work, such as this 2016 Gallup study which found that 87% of Millennials say “professional development or career growth opportunities are very important to them in a job.” I may not be a millennial, but I want that as well. And I also want to make an impact, which tops the list of what millennials care about according to the Second Annual Korn Ferry Futurestep Millennial Survey.

Of course, there are legitimate differences. Millennials “have never known a world without computers” as points out. I have to learn new technologies. I look for the “how to” manual. I want the step-by-step instruction guide. I don’t want to break anything and I also don’t want to look foolish. Millennials just know how to use a new device or app. They are fearless, and were seemingly born knowing. And they are much more comfortable sharing details of their lives that I was raised to believe were just too personal to share, or frankly too boring for anyone else to care about. But these are the main differences I see and not the 598,000 search results that appear when you Google “millennial differences.”

So, what does any of this have to do with face-to-face marketing and the trade show business? Well, it is a fact that our attendee demographics have and will continue to change. And our workforce is changing too. It is a good idea to be mindful that not everyone thinks like I do, likes the same music, or responds to the same popular cultural references. But I don’t think that means we need to obsess about generational differences as if we were conducting a scientific experiment or observing an alien species. Be cognizant of the most significant differences and their implications for event marketing by finding new ways to deliver your message to a changing audience. And embrace where there are similarities.

At the end of the day, I want to be “wowed” in an authentic way, just like my twenty-something colleagues. Even if they’ve never seen an episode of M*A*S*H.


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