3 big problems with “marketing to millennials” in B2B

Tons of people are advising B2B brands to “market to millennials”. But what does that actually mean? A lot less than you might think, says Steve (25).


Generation Y. Generation Me. Millennials. Whatever you call them, the world of B2B marketing can’t stop talking about them, the way they think, and why we all need to remain constantly aware of their consumption habits and hunger for genuine, authentic content.

They’re an important group to keep happy, but as the millennial population expands, is it still prudent to bunch them into a single, age-based demographic and assume their demands are all the same?

With the millennial population now reaching maturity and surpassing “baby boomers” in volume, a few key problems have come to light that are making it less and less valuable to marketers as a single group:

1) The millennial population is huge

According to Google, nearly half of all B2B researchers are now millennials, and treating 50% of your entire global audience as a single demographic doesn’t exactly qualify as effective segmentation. Because the group is so loosely-defined, it’s only going to continue growing, and the larger the group gets, the worse that targeting becomes.

The way that millennials behave digitally is a dream come true for marketers. They effectively sort themselves into subcultures and publicly share all of the information you need to target them with laser-guided messaging. However, in spite of this, many marketers—especially those in B2B—still think it’s good enough to view them as a single group (spoiler alert: it’s not).

2) The millennial population is extremely diverse

If we think of millennials as those who reached adulthood in the 2000s, we’re dealing with an extremely diverse group of people. Even though millennials have all grown up with the internet, they have still had very different experiences with technology, and developed diverse consumption habits and preferences as a result.

To the untrained eye, the digital behaviour of millennials can all look very similar. But marketers simply can’t afford to ignore the subtle differences in the attitudes, tastes, and behaviours of millennial sub-groups now that personalisation has become such a major imperative in content and communications.

3) Anyone can be a “millennial”

While the millennial group is defined by their age, the digital preferences that they have become known for can be held by people of any age. A huge portion of “Generation X” embraces technology at the same speed as millennials, and as such have essentially adopted all of their characteristics from a marketing and segmentation perspective.

Many of the core behaviours and preferences of millennials—demand for personalised, convenient marketing experiences, high technology demands etc.—are now held by a much wider portion of the global population, and marketers need to respect that and reflect it in their campaigns and activities.

Moving beyond the millennial

It’s time to move away from thinking about millennials as a single group. The continued discussion of millennials as a target segment within B2B marketing is causing a major contradiction in current best practice;

Basically, it comes down to one simple point: if you want to deliver what millennials want, you can’t afford to just think of them all as millennials.

They want to be treated as individuals, and they’re giving you all of the data you need to do it, so if you haven’t already, now’s probably a good time to start.

Don’t we all just want what millennials want anyway?

Even though the days of thinking of millennials as a single demographic may be drawing to a close, there’s still huge value in the ways that marketers appeal to their preferences.

The rise of the millennial has triggered a number of major shifts in B2B marketing, most notably:

  • The growth of content marketing, and the rise of honest, genuine content that delivers high value for customers as accepted best practice
  • A push towards personalisation of marketing experiences
  • Greater technology considerations, including targeting individuals and enabling them to engage with you through their channels and devices of choice
  • An increased focus on “you” across B2B messaging, paired with a growing willingness to adopt direct, human tones of voice amongst B2B brands

But when we actually stop and think about it, aren’t those the kinds of considerations we should be making for buyers of all ages and demographics? Millennials have driven demand for these changes in marketing best practice, but they’re things that millions of customers have wanted for decades.

Regardless of age or demographic, people want to be spoken to as individuals, be offered useful content that offers genuine objective insight into the challenges they’re facing, and have the freedom to consume that content in the way that is most convenient to them.

It’s time for B2B marketers to seriously think about whether the things they perceive as being demanded by millennials are actually just demanded by people.

When they do, they can take stock of just how generic the millennial demographic has become, and look into some more modern and relevant ways to segment and target their audiences.

Millennials were a good start. They’ve helped the world of B2B marketing accept and embrace a number of new best practices that appeal to buyers of all ages and demographics. Now, the final step is separating those practices from the concept of the “millennial”, recognising that they’re simply responses to the needs of today’s buyer, and giving everyone the personalisation and useful content we deserve.

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