Publishers: Are You Ready For Millenials?

peterspandesellsiderThe Sell Sider” is a column written by the sell side of the digital media community.

Today’s column is written by Peter Spande, chief revenue officer at Business Insider.

Read any trade publication and you’ll see an onslaught of coverage about how millennials engage with brands. According to the steady drumbeat of coverage, this generation is unlike any that preceded it.

Look, they prefer their smartphones over toothpaste! Ooh, they want “relationships” with the brands they buy!

I won’t add to this pile-on about how millennials are “different” in terms of their buying habits. But what is unique about millennials’ consumption? Their media habits.

What exactly drives this change? Is it some profound generational event or rebellion against prior attitudes?

No. How they consume media is directly related to the access millennials now have to new ways of delivering media. Put simply, they have the least to unlearn. The millennial generation is the first to have grown up with broadband. As adults, they’ve never not had smartphones. Many grew up with TiVo and OTT devices.

However, none of these tools are exclusive to millennials, and the popularity of these and other technologies is transforming the entire media landscape. In other words, this isn’t just generational – millennials are the tip of the spear.

A publisher not focused on 18- to 34-year-olds might think this is someone else’s challenge when, in fact, they likely have very limited time to adjust before they are dealing with similar changes with their own core audience, and only slightly more time before this generation becomes their core demographic.

Likewise, publishers who treat millennials as an audience that will only consume content expressly designed for their generation must face the fact that many of these approaches will soon – if they aren’t already – attract (gasp!) generation Xers, baby boomers and beyond.

A few things to consider:

TV: Nielsen’s Q4 TV ratings showed a huge drop (11%) in millennial viewership of linear TV. The sharp disparity between young and old viewing habits made headlines, especially when you consider that 50% of US citizens over age 50 binge-watch programs.

Social: While millennials may have been the first members of Facebook, at least 50% of every age group regularly uses social media, according to Pew Research Center.

Mobile: It isn’t just kids and young adults buried in their mobile phones. More than 60% of all American adults now access the Internet from their cell phones. Also, the total number of mobile minutes spent online continues to grow, and now significantly beats desktops when looking at total Internet minutes spent online.


Newspapers: Sure, millennials are singled out as the generation that dropped print like a hot rock. But less than 25% of all Americans in a Pew Survey said they had read a newspaper the day before, down from 47% in 2000.

The bottom line for publishers is that long-cherished media rituals diminish or disappear with these changes jump-started by millennials. For many generations, catching up on the news bookended your day – coffee and the paper in the morning and the evening news at night. Yet for people under the age of 50, the Internet is now the top source of news. All trend lines predict that this will only speed up.

Yet publishers and marketers who think about these changes solely from a generational perspective miss the larger and more significant revolution already well underway. Publishers waiting for millennials to “mature” into the media consumption habits of past generations are at great risk. So are the publishers that are focused solely on this group yet patronize them with content engineered for a caricature of this generation that doesn’t truly exist.

The Internet is the publication, and a publisher’s ability to connect with this broader, ever-changing platform is essential to success with every generation.

Follow Peter Spande (@PeteSpande), Business Insider (@businessinsider) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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