I’m both proud and ashamed to announce that yes, I have a TikTok account. I claim it’s for work purposes (“to keep across the latest trends”) but really, I can’t get enough of the scroll. It also means that I’m part of a rare breed: the ~Millennial on TikTok~. Creeping around in what is Gen Z territory, I have been shocked to discover that suddenly they seem to have a lot of opinions about my generation.
According to those under the age of 27, if you’re a Millennial you like Harry Potter, skinny jeans, the crying laugh emoji, zooming in on your face when creating videos and celebrating #adulting. I have to admit that I’m guilty of three of those (you guess which).
It wasn’t always like this - when I first started in marketing and communications, nearly all the campaign briefs I worked on were targeted at Millennials. We were the cool “trendsetters”, possessing the ability to influence others to buy a product or spread a message. The importance of generating ideas that resonated with Millennials was paramount. If you follow TikTok logic, that means all we had to do was throw a Harry Potter logo on a design or have a guy in skinny jeans deliver our message and job done. Now, it seems we have passed the trendsetter baton to Gen Z, who are dominating the briefs that come across my desk. Logically, to capture their attention we should start a TikTok challenge, collab with a rapper or maybe even make a fancy AI chat bot. That’s what they like, so it’s bound to work, right?
In case you missed my sarcasm, there’s ample evidence that basing a campaign on demographic generalisations might not yield the results you are hoping for. I’ve been a big fan of BBH Lab’s Group Cohesion Score for some time, which quantifies the “like-mindedness” of a group of people, or how much they share in terms of their lifestyle and general outlook on life. The researchers used publicly available data from the UK to quantify nationwide “like-mindedness” at 48.7%, giving a baseline score of 1. That means if a group achieves a score higher than 1, they are more likeminded than the whole population; if they achieve a score less than 1, they are less likeminded than the whole population. To illustrate, the average like-mindedness score of people who read the same business and financial newspaper was 8.3, while the score for people who read the same celebrity and pop culture newspaper was -2.7. This suggests that despite a shared interested in the Kardashians, the latter group would probably find more to disagree about than they would agree upon.
Helpfully for us, the same research also investigated like-mindedness scores within generations. The average score for each generation was 1.3, meaning they are hardly more likeminded than the general population. For Gen Z particularly, the group cohesion score was only 0.2; shockingly, people currently aged 10-26, have very little in common with each other. And the real kicker – the same research revealed that Gen Z as a group have less in common than “people who floss”, “crossword fans” and “daily nut eaters” (with scores of 2.9, 3 and 3.8 respectively). What this tells us is that basing a campaign strategy or idea on assumptions about what Gen Z (or any generation) might like is at best misguided and at worst, a huge waste of time and money.
So, how then should you fill out the blank box for “audience” that appears threateningly on every briefing form? If we look at the cohesion research from another angle, what’s clear is that it’s behaviours that bind us together. If you eat a packet of nuts every day, you’re probably more likely to identify as a healthy eater or an afternoon snack lover than a Millennial. So, if you’re a new snack brand, you might like to target people who are looking for variety in their afternoon snack and maybe recruit a health-conscious chef to support you. Similarly, if you’re a challenger brand for dental floss, you might look at how you could break people’s bedtime habits, or what psychopathic traits lead people to become a daily flosser.
The most effective marketing and communications briefs show a deep understanding of a target audience. Often, people assume that time-consuming and expensive research projects are the only way to achieve this. I won’t lie – yes, sometimes they are the best solution, but even small investments, such as an omnibus survey, social listening report or just observing your audience in “the wild” will help you to better understand their motivations. And I promise that what you find will make your campaign or messaging more effective. Because it’s psychographics – attitudes, aspirations and other psychological phenomena, not demographics that determine our behaviour.
I know you’ve been wondering, so I’ll put you out of your misery. One of the Millennial tropes I’m guilty of is loving Harry Potter, but I probably shouldn’t assume that’s the same for everyone my age (if you don’t like it, please unfollow me). I also wore skinny jeans in the good old 2000s; maybe because it was just what we all did, but maybe because they also represented an attitude, a way to express that we were different from our parents. And Gen Z, I’ll let you in on a Millennial secret – we didn’t think they were comfortable either.