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A More Sophisticated Approach to Targeting “Millennials”

Published: June 26, 2018

Author: Shannon Ervin

This week, we’re jumping on the bandwagon and covering “millennials”. Instead of telling you how to target this demographic group, we’ll be covering why targeting millennials is misguided, and offer tactics that will be much more effective for reaching your target audience. 
It seems like every company right now is interested in appealing to and targeting the millennial market, and a quick look at the opportunity numbers makes this strategy unsurprising. Not only are millennials on the cusp of surpassing the Baby Boomers as the largest generation, but they are also approaching their prime years of consumption.
Outside of just the numbers, approval from millennials also brings validation to companies that their products are aligned with the emerging needs of the market. As the generation that remembers life without technology — but was introduced to it early enough to easily integrate with and depend on it — millennials now often find themselves at the forefront of technology and market trends. In a time when companies constantly worry about disruption, it is no wonder marketers spend time trying to capture the attention of the trendiest generation.

The Problem with Demographic Data

While attracting millenials as a whole might make sense at a surface level, it is crucial to dig deeper and account for the wide diversity of individuals within this generation. The only thing many millennials have in common is that their birth years occur within the same 15-year time span. While it may be obvious that the interests and needs of a 22-year old recent college graduate and 35-year old parent of two children will differ, it is equally important to understand the differences of 27-year olds with different lifestyles and buying habits. Because of the relative ease of collecting demographic information, variables like age have become one of the most popular ways to develop market segments. However, how effectively does this information actually inform the right market segments?  
Market segments are used to identify groups of customers with similar needs and motivations, with the assumption that these individuals with respond to similar marketing efforts. Thus, within a market segment customers are similar, and between different segments, needs and responses will differ. The problem with utilizing demographic data as our basis for segmentation is that this information does not adequately allow us to understand the needs or values within our customer segments. Focusing instead on how customers behave and the motivation behind that behavior will provide a much more powerful knowledge base to understand and segment customers. Two types of segmentation that rely on this use of behavioral data are Motivations Segmentation and Moment Segmentation.

Motivation Segmentation

Motivation segmentation divides your customer base into groups depending on what motivates the customer to make a purchase or what outcome they are hoping to achieve through their purchase.  
To help understand this concept, imagine a sports retailer that sells tennis rackets. Now consider three different customers, all of whom are interested in purchasing a tennis racket. The first customer wants a fun way to increase their current level of physical activity, the second is a parent hoping to spend more time outdoors with their children, and the third plays in a competitive tennis league and is trying to improve the power of their serve. Each of these customers has a different price tolerance and quality expectation, which impacts which products you market to them and the ways you message these products.
Imagine instead you had segmented your audience based on age. Each of these customer profiles — The Casual Fitness-Seeker, The Bonding Family, and The Competitive Player — could all fall within the 22-35 millennial age range. By simply targeting millennials, you would miss the opportunity to address the purchasing motivations of these different customer types.  

Moment Segmentation

Moment segmentation allows us to take motivations to the next level. Now we can consider the motivations, needs, intentions, and expectations that customers share during different “moments” or occasions. This type of segmentation focuses on the specific experiences customers have and is particularly useful for businesses with many repeat purchasers.
To help illustrate the value of moment segmentation, consider paying a visit to your local grocery store. One day you may be on your way home from work and pick up an individual meal of pre-made sushi. Another day you may be planning a weekend barbecue, and you purchase a wide variety of food items to feed 15 people. Even though you are visiting the same store, your motivations and needs will vary greatly. Moment segmentation allows companies to identify and optimize for differences in when, why, and how its customers are shopping.
To understand how moment segmentation can drive results, let’s return to your first occasion. Imagine this grocery store chain is able to identify that purchases of pre-made sushi significantly increase Monday-Thursday after 8pm, suggesting that customers are particularly interested in sushi offerings on evenings they work late. This insight creates an opportunity for the grocery store to develop and advertise a sushi special geared towards individuals who experience the “late work night” occasion.
Now consider your weekend barbecue occasion. In this instance, the grocery store discovers that many individuals experience stress while preparing for these types of events. The grocery store could identify the times of year associated with large barbecues (summer holidays such as Memorial Day or July 4th) and tailor their marketing efforts to address this occasion and the stress associated with it. For instance, the store could provide product bundles containing common barbecue items at a discounted price. Creating “shopping lists” in the form of product bundles decreases the hassle customers experience while shopping and helps to alleviate some of their added stress. Addressing the needs of this occasion shopper is once again a far more valuable method than targeting individuals that share a 15-year age range.


While marketers today are often tempted to take the shortcut of targeting “millennials” as a whole, this strategy is considerably weaker than building a deep understanding of the motivations and needs of different customer segments and the occasions that impact their behavior. By utilizing motivation and moment segmentation methods, you can unlock opportunities to appeal to new customers and increase the loyalty of current customers.

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