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It used to be easier to categorize most demographics because they all pretty much towed the line behind whatever church, school, corporation or government told them. There were three main TV channels to which everyone was tuned for cultural cues. But now, there are myriad of influencers. So now, we’re going take a snapshot in real time of the breakdown and potential.
The Four Faces of Millennials
First and foremost, the only thing all Millennials do is exist with the same birth years, period. A one-size-fits-all approach to a 80-plus million collective is a dangerous place to play. So in order to find a more organic place from which to observe, I started looking at larger trend points and groupings and broke them down.
From my work, I’ve found that there are several sub-categories within this large demographic which I’ve narrowed down to a minimum of four main categories. Keep in mind that there are also junior Millennials in each of the four groups, who are 18-25, and senior Millennials, who are about 25-34.
Eighteen is not 34, so that is the first mistake right there. I’ve also chosen 25 years of age as the cutoff, given that that is when the executive functions of our brains -- which is responsible for decision-making, reasoning, problem solving, planning, and execution--is fully formed. Naturally, this means that we function differently as human beings after reaching this level or, at least one would hope.
I conducted informal interviews with, and just plain observations of, various types of Millennials in a number of cities, developed social media research around certain topic items, researched academic and business data available to date, and used many methods from my former work as a digi-entrepreneur using techniques that have driven clients from Snoop Dogg to TBS to Microsoft’s business. What I have applied is what I call culture parsing, the ability to break down sentiment root and decipher it.
These are my findings.
The first grouping is what I am calling the Uber Millennial (Uber M). This is the Millennial who is in college or working at his or her first job or second. These jobs are typically white collar where, for the most part, hierarchy still rules and getting ahead is important.
The next is the Culture Millennial (Culture M). These individuals fall into urban (read: Millennial of Black, Latino, multicultural/multiethnic backgrounds who are the content creators, early-adopters, out-indexers of all things digital/mobile). This does not mean that Culture Ms don’t exist in the other racial categories as well but looking at them as a group is about pulling out dominant sensibilities from which one then identifies hybrids and various matrices.
The third category is the Vice Millennial (Vice M). Think hipsters, the ones who enjoy anything subversive and counter-culture. Think American Apparel target meets vintage black wardrobes.
Finally, there are the Wildcard Millennials (Wildcard M) who are hybrids, exhibiting various traits and characteristics of the above, sometimes several at the same time or none of these traits, at all. These may be more blue collar-related Millennials who live outside of the top several markets in the United States. Due to perhaps a more insular real-time community, these Millennials may have a share more views with previous generations than their other Millennial counterparts and tend to have a value set that is more of a mash-up.
I’d like to be very, very clear that no Millennial is 100 percent one category, but may lean more toward one or the other. Now, certain sub-demos might respond and navigate within specific areas of popular culture change and disruption that ultimately affects business and governance. The objective here is not to create hard-and-fast rules because there are none.
Sustainability, as traditionally defined, is dead; fragments rule, fluidity reigns. However, a clear, popular culture lens is enormously important because in an era where fragmentation is the new norm, popular culture is often the only thru-line with which we are connected.
Campaigns Need Some Pop
Without recognizing popular culture as the primary thru-line for this generation, policy makers and advocates continue to be dumbfounded and challenged in their outreach to Millennials. There is more and more evidence that the Millennial has pretty much flattened hierarchy in his/her mind already. Think about the recent girl who defied the teacher, principal, and resource officers to keep her phone. The result was a viral video that has made everyone question the force, need, and usage of police officers in a high school.
Yet this same irreverency was also blatantly displayed when Hillary Clinton visited Clark Atlanta University. Interrupted by song and protest, the former secretary of state looked utterly baffled and confused when students did not automatically listen peacefully while she was on stage. Pundits and anchors scratched their heads as to why there was not more intrigue about listening to her plans around Black Lives Matters and more but also why there was not more obeisance given to the former civil rights influencer and current Congressman John Lewis who was on stage with Clinton.
What many policymakers are simply failing to understand is that there is a true disconnect both in time, for such reverence to be paid, as well as a disconnect in a communication style to which Millennials have become accustomed. That communication style is two-way or multi-way rather than that of talking at someone for hours on end from a bully pulpit. Add to this the overall lack of trust in anything that smacks of authority, deep frustration and disgust, and you have a completely new approach from Millennials toward those in the political spotlight today. This will only increase.
In order to win, politicos from both sides of the aisle will have to quickly get up on using video to enhance these visits, digital Q&A from the audience in real time, and bringing in contemporary, respected ambassadors who actually resonate with the audience rather than those whom they think should wow a crowd.
If Clinton had leveraged the track “Chains” by recording artists Nas and Usher, for example, that speaks to police brutality, in an organic way either via video, interview, or integrated actual recording artist inclusion during her visit, she would have been seen as much more relatable by Millennials on campus and may have completely avoided impromptu protestors.
Popular culture is a powerful tool in an increasingly fragmented society. It’s what often times is the key manner in which to link people, especially when it comes to certain Millennial sub-demos.
A digi-cultural trend analyst, author, speaker, and consultant; Lauren deLisa is an expert at deciphering and forecasting power trends and public sentiment within the intersection of popular culture and emerging tech.
America's Most Wanted: The Millennial: How to Quad Decode and Trend Forecast is sold by Amazon Digital Services LLC. Reprinted here with permission.