Written By: Caleb Ledbetter
No one likes Millennials. My father-in-law, knowing that I am technically a member of the generation, regularly informs me about Millennial shortcomings. It’s honestly impressive how consistently Boomers and Gen Xers use a disdainful tone when they speak about “those Millennials.” If a comedian wants a cheap laugh, they only need to mention avocado toast.
Millennials—such an easy mark.
It isn’t new for older people to complain about young people: Aristotle was doing it as early as 4th century BC. It is new for elders to attach the blame for economic trends on young adults. Compare these google suggestions for “Millennials killing” to “Gen X killing”.
Seeing this leaves the impression a bunch of homicidal Millennials are stabbing industries in the back, and if only this generation would put away their economic knives, these brands could survive.
Because obviously young people are to blame. They aren’t buying napkins anymore, clearly because they’re too selfish to be cleanly. They are refusing to buy diamonds, choosing alternative rings because they don’t care enough about tradition. They aren’t eating at chain restaurants, opting to order delivery or cook at home because they want a flavor experience that is worthy of their social media.
But hold on a minute. If you went to a restaurant, and you didn’t like the way the food tasted, would you blame yourself for not liking it? Would you hold yourself responsible to change your personal tastes for the restaurant’s benefit? Or would you tell the restaurant that they need to serve better food? It is never the responsibility of consumers to buy what brands are selling, but the responsibility of brands to sell what people are buying.
Millennials aren’t to blame. Napkin sales are falling because paper towels do everything napkins do and more. Diamonds are artificially overpriced, and Millennials are smart not to buy as many. Casual dining restaurants are struggling because it is more convenient to get delivery or to head to a fast-casual restaurant for a cheaper, healthy food option that is quick.
Napkin makers could shift their product focus to the more versatile paper towels. Jewelry makers could offer alternative rings, and lower diamond prices when possible. Casual dining restaurants could offer delivery options that don’t require using outside sources like Seamless or Grubhub.
Retail is an excellent case study for this point. In 2017, many heralded the “Retail Apocalypse”. With stores hiring less and closing more, some called out Millennials as responsible. After all, it’s Millennials who aren’t shopping at Macy’s anymore.
Whose job is it to align brand offerings with consumer expectations? The brand’s. And the brands which are struggling might do well to recognize the change and/or shift to accommodate it.
In an increasingly diverse market, many retailers refused to innovate. As it became more crucial to stand out from the pack, department stores of the world just felt blander. As the Millennial generation desired items which would add to their unique self identities, brands offered the same old cookie-cutter stuff. With digital presence becoming a necessity, they didn’t successfully transition online.
Millennials aren’t killing brands, brands are killing themselves.
Millennials are not killing retail. In fact, retail isn’t really dying. Some retailers are just failing to adjust their business models to a rapidly changing market. Even if Millennials just had it out for a brand like Sears, it would ultimately be Sears’ responsibility to change their situation.
As marketers, we can’t put the blame for lagging sales on the consumer. If people don’t want what a brand is selling, the brand must adjust. Millennials constantly ask: What have you done for me lately? What will you do for me tomorrow? Millennials are making purchasing decisions based off of their needs and values. Serve their needs and align with their values, whatever they are, because complaining about “kids these days” won’t keep the doors open.