As a generational expert with over 25 years in the field, Alexis Abramson has heard about all there is to hear from brands trying to appeal to various age groups. From baby boomers to Generations X, Y and Z—pick your group, and she’s researched them, written about them and (probably) lectured brands on how to attract them, too. In recent years, a good many of those brands have had their sights set on the generation born between 1981 and 1996: millennials, aged 23-38 today. That’s because at 83.1 million, a full quarter of the U.S. population, millennials are now the largest single consumer group out there. Simply put, few companies can afford not to court them.
But ask Abramson how brands feel about millennial consumers these days, and the answer might surprise you.
“There was a great deal of interest [in millennials],” she said, “but there wasn’t as much due diligence around that group. We’ve generalized them as a certain type of person, [but] the reality is the rubber is meeting the road. Companies are starting to understand, ‘Wow, we’re not getting the ROI we thought we might.’”
Abramson isn’t a voice in the wilderness. Her analysis joins a growing body of evidence that suggests that millennial consumers, for all their size and savvy, haven’t exactly been the boon that many brands expected them to be. That’s not to say that millennials aren’t all those compelling things that innumerable articles and reports have brimmed about: digitally native, mobile oriented, media savvy, politically progressive, ethnically diverse, well-educated and culturally savvy. Millennials are, indeed, all of these things.
But a troublesome detail has been persistently overlooked over the last decade of wooing this crowd: Millennials—many of them, anyway—are strapped for cash.