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A New York Times article gets real on the topic of marketing to millennials

It's the what-do-women-want dilemma in different form but the answer is the same: Treat me foremost as a human being but don't waste my time or expose me to psychological mildew

Monday, August 25, 2014 – 6:43 AM by Brooke Southall
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Before boomers turned into Bobos, they were characterized as “selfish, entitled and unwilling to grow up.”

Brooke’s Note: Just as I was finishing up editing April Rudin’s millennial-focused article on reverse-mentoring, I spied an article in The New York Times that said a few sensible things on the topic without being a complete rehash of what I believe is somewhat of a manufactured topic of discussion. Here is a synopsis of that piece that ends with a sense of why advisors are currently doomed to futility on this circular subject.

Millennials have always been a big, fat problem for advisors, and it’s only getting worse.

Typically, the children of baby boomers and Gen Xers (who are 18 to 33 years old, i.e. born between 1980 and the end of the 20th century — no, that’s not when they graduated from college) and are now ages 15 to 30, have eaten the lunch of the middle class, literally and figuratively. See: How Frank Campanale’s heist, so to speak, of young BNY Mellon Wealth Management stars fits into a bold millennial strategy.

Whether it was college tuition, camp tuition, nannies, doctor’s visits or must-haves like computers, mobile phones and various hybrids, it was all expensive.

Log on, drop out

But we were cool with that.

Then parents, after all, were paying for never being home because they were so busy paying for it all. The kids developed a millennial attitude that is hard to characterize, but there are certainly elements of aloofness and lethargy. And boy, they seem to send a lot of texts.

But, hey, we have thick skin. It’s a phase.

Then the alarm bells started ringing when millennials committed the highest sin of capitalist society — refusing to buy our products and services.

Please, no marketing

What to do to make them grow up and find their inner materialist?

The articles I have read on this subject strike me as having a fatal flaw in that they were written by baby boomers and have a condescending feel to them: They’re cleverly reductionist and laughably clueless, with suggestions like using different colors and fonts on websites to appeal to them.

But I found Saturday’s article in The New York Times, Marketers Are Sizing Up the Millennials, hit some good notes. It cited a study by Moosylvania, a digital marketing company in St. Louis, that says millennials contribute $1.3 trillion in consumer spending, out of total spending of nearly $11 trillion, and that our next generation needs hand-holding but doesn’t like to be marketed to.

What do they want?

“No one truly understand millennials,” the report concluded, “not even millennials.”

But there were a few tidbits that give a better sense about what we know about what we don’t know:

1. Baby boomers, now known as people who own bloated McMansions to bloated SUVs and keep a badass BBQ on the faux-brick patio out back, were in fact the original rebels of the 1960s and 1970s. They bought all this giant stuff despite having only 2.3 children whom they outsourced at every turn. Before boomers turned into bobos, they were characterized as “selfish, entitled and unwilling to grow up,” part of Tom Wolfe’s “Me Decade,” according to the Times article.

“There is no strong reason to believe that millennials are dramatically different than the generations of Americans that preceded them,” said Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers at a housing forum on how millennials have fared in the years after the recession, according to the Times. “Rather, it is the unlucky economic times with which they were presented that explains much of their challenge.”

2. More 23-year olds exist in the United States than any other age, according to the Times reading of census data from June. There are 4.7 million of them, followed by those who are between 24 and 22 in age.

3. Millennials attended college at higher rates than their parents or grandparents. This means they are rich in knowledge and academic perspective but poor of wallet, in many cases, because of the debt they accrued in taking out college loans. See: How to gird clients for the approaching $500K tsunami of college costs without killing their retirement dreams.

4. What seems to be simply a case of baby boomers getting a dose of their own medicine from their kids is augmented by a shock factor of the seemingly sudden onset of millennial adulthood. “What worked five years ago doesn’t work now in terms of marketing and selling and advertising,” Jason Dorsey, chief strategy officer of The Center for Generational Kinetics in Austin, Tex., told the Times. “This has created a lot of urgency as more and more of these millennials enter the market and start to have money or spend money they don’t have.” See: Next-gen advisor breaks the standard RIA mold to grow with her young clientele — many with $100,000 or less of assets.

5. The article characterizes millennials as young adults with no money, negative money, and little consumer confidence. There was certainly no discussion of investible assets. So you can see why financial advisors are concerned. They sense that millennials sure as hell don’t want our financial advice after seeing our collective inability to manage debt, refrain from splurging on wars or trust the right captains of finance. Help!

Millennials just might, however, trust the only reliable friend they ever had — their personal computing devices and the robo-advisor that it gets along with so well. See: Thoughts on 'robo-advisors’ served cold, compliments of Kitces and Waymire.

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