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Do You Actually Know How To

Engage A Millennial? 1 of 5.
A series of strategic memos designed to help people across all industries think differently about the
Millennial generation, in an effort to accelerate a shift in the way we engage them.
by Brian Reich and Kari Saratovsky
June 16, 2014
What Do We Really Know
About Millennials?
Do you know how to engage a Millennial?
That was the first question that we asked at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX. Our
answer? Based on how most organizations market to and communicate with young people,
probably not.
While the headlines and ‘experts’ would claim that young people are coddled, protected, and con-
stantly connected, the facts are very different – particularly when it comes to what they want, how
to engage with them, and what it means for your work. What do we know? Millennials are post-
institutional—they don’t rely on the government, private sector, or nonprofits to define them, or
shape their behaviors. In large part, they believe it takes a blending of sectors and approaches in
order to make impact – and they crave openness and demand transparency from brands and or-
ganizations where they are involved. Millennials have different expectations for their involvement
with brands, media, issues – and especially social causes – and they have limited time, limited dol-
lars and limited attention spans - so, if you're lucky enough to gain any of these things, you better
know what to do with it.
Based on our conversation at SXSW, we have developed a series of strategic memos designed to
help people across all industries think differently about the Millennial generation, in an effort to ac-
celerate a shift in the way we engage them.
This is the first memo in the series: What Do We Really Know About Millennials?
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What We Don’t Talk About When Talking About Millennials
There is no shortage of things to discuss when it comes to Millennials. There is a lot of debate
about who they are (including what date range even qualifies someone as a Millennial), what they
want, how they work, and who they trust. There are people fielding research about whether Millen-
nials participate in organizations, their work habits, their shopping and media consumption, their
love of sports, preferences for music and influence on pop culture. Still, no matter the specific fo-
cus, its pretty common for Millennials to be talked about as if they are aliens from a faraway planet
who have descended upon earth as a form of punishment for Boomers and Gen X-ers. And while
that makes for an entertaining theory, it does little to advance our understanding of how to com-
municate with and engage this sizable and influential group.
One of the things that we don’t talk enough about is how Millennials are the most diverse genera-
tion in our history. Forty-three percent of Millennials are non-white and one in five is the child of an
immigrant parent. Of course, Millennials are mostly unattached when it comes to organized religion
or politics, but they are connected – online and offline (through social media). They are socially lib-
eral as a whole, but there are plenty of young people who are working to advance traditionally con-
servative political issues and ideology. Millennials are responsible for the creation of extraordinary
wealth over the past decade, particularly through tech startups, but also believe the success of a
business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance (improving soci-
ety is among the most important things it should seek to achieve). And though the number of Mil-
lennials who are growing up in poverty and facing unemployment is continuing to increase, Millen-
nials have remained wildly optimistic in the face of adversity.
Needless to say, all of this is having a real impact on how brands, organizations, and really every-
one is looking at this generation.
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An Incredible Generation In Search of Stability
Too often we place labels on this generation – that they’re entitled, lazy, narcissists who still live
with their parents. One thing that can’t be debated about Millennials: this is an incredible genera-
tion, growing up at a remarkable time in our history. This generation came of age in a time of in-
credible change, and are now living in a rapidly, and constantly, changing society. If you look at the
first decade of the twenty-first century starting with September 11th in 2001, Hurricane Katrina and
its aftermath in 2005, the historic election of Obama in 2008, two wars, a Great Recession -- all of
these events were happening in large part during Millennials’ formative years and therefore had an
incredible impact on how they think and what they expect. And there is little way to predict what
the next two decades will present.
There is certainly a sense of resilience among Millennials. That has seemingly fueled a commitment
to become more engaged with serious issues -- and in many cases take jobs that pay less but
have a social impact. Young people are also staying in school longer, in hopes that they will gain
skills or knowledge that can help them better compete in today’s job market, or prepare to chart
their own economic path going forward. More than any previous generation, Millennials seem intent
on challenging the established views of how society should function and are aggressively looking
across sectors and industries to solve the most complex challenges facing our society. Millennials
are exploring new ways of living, working, dating, and ensuring that their own needs are being met,
including in many cases building entirely new industries to support their way of life.
The issues that Millennials care most are different than past generations – it’s a new world, with
new challenges – and their approach to problem solving is also different.  The tools they use are
different.  They are different because the context has changed, and is always changing, and be-
cause the tools and technology available encourage a DIY approach to living. To put it another way,
this is a generation that is not satisfied with, well, almost anything – and has taken it upon them-
selves to remake the world in their own view. They are connecting with their peers, friends and col-
leagues to make change happen very, very quickly. And they are not just attracting the attention of,
but also the ire, of those currently in positions of power and influence in the process.
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We’re Talking About More than 80 Million People
All told, there are roughly 80 million young people classified as Millennials – meaning they fall be-
tween the ages of 18 and 33. The extraordinary age range opens up a number of sub-cohorts –
with the youngest of Millennials still attending or just barely graduating from college and the oldest
of the Millennials are, in many cases, married and starting to have children. To try and lump all 80
million members of this generation together as a single cohort is a big part of the challenge.
Of course, we are much more comfortable defining people in basic terms -- and it is much easier
to reach and connect with one big group than it is to develop relationships with millions of
individuals. But its important to remember that we simply can’t reach everyone with one message,
across one channel, at the same time -- and motivate them all to take the same actions.  That is
not a Millennial issue alone, but marketers have become more acutely aware of this problem when
trying to reach young people. 
When we try to generalize, and make assumptions about what individuals are willing to do because
they are all roughly the same age, or carry the same devices, we lose sight of what makes this
generation so interesting. People are people – even Millennials, despite what you may have heard.
Trying to separate them from the rest of the population, to compare them to other generations, is
unfair – and through the lens of marketing and communications, lazy.  It makes for a good research
study or an easy headline, but it undermines our ability to understand, appreciate, and engage with
Millennials as individuals, one-on-one. 
There are some trends and patterns to this group, some ways of thinking about young people en
mass if needed. Consider different behaviors, and stages in life – and how that influences the way
Millennials see the world, and might respond to outreach. All Millennials are connected, whether
they are barely out of college or their children are out of diapers – and have grown up with access
to computers, mobile phones, and the internet. Of course, their reasons for sharing information, as
well as the audience for their regular status updates and selfies are very different than everyone
else who is also now online. The way Millennials use platforms and channels like Facebook, Insta-
gram, Snapchat, Tumblr and more help to shape their personality and perspective, as well as re-
flect their individual identity and desired persona.
Millennials grew up connected, and today they are hyper-connected, to each other and to every-
one else.  We are all connected now - and our experiences, are all shaped by those interactions.
So even defining one group completely independent of everyone and everything else is no longer a
reality. The truth is, we can’t talk about Millennials in isolation – instead, we have to take a broader
look at how Millennial values are driving larger change in institutions and that’s what we will explore
in the memos to follow.
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MUST-READS About Millennials
We leave you with some must-reads about this generation, and hope you’ll carry this conversation
forward with us as we explore how millennial views are shaped in our next memo.
Millennial Impact Report
For the past four years, Achieve, in partnership with the Case Foundation, has released The Millen-
nial Impact Report, which has become one of the most comprehensive studies on Millennials (age
20-30) and their involvement with social causes. The report provides a guide for organizations to
better understand this generation and how to maximize the impact of their interest, time, and
Millennials in Adulthood
As part of Pew Research Center’s series, The Next America, which highlights generation gaps that
have opened up in our political and social values, economic well-being, racial and ethnic identity,
technology use and more. In this report, Pew explores where we are headed – by highlighting the
changing demographics that Millennials are bringing to the social fabric of the United States.
American Millennials
In 2011, Barkley’s partnered with The Boston Consulting Group and SMG for a comprehensive
look at Millennials and released American Millennials: Deciphering the Enigma Generation. The re-
search has been featured in a variety of publications and was the inspiration for the 2013 book
"Marketing to Millennials: Reach the Largest and Most Influential Generation of Consumers Ever."
Deloitte Millennial Survey
Deloitte’s third annual Millennial Survey explored what Generation Y wants from Business, Govern-
ment, and the future workplace. The results revealed that this is a generation that wants to work for
organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to
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About The Authors
Brian Reich is a writer, thinker and strategist for CEOs, CMOs and other leadership at global
brands, non-profit organizations, media companies, startups and political/advocacy organizations.
He is the author of two books: Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Con-
nected Society (Wiley, 2011) and Media Rules!: Mastering Today’s Technology to Connect with and
Keep Your Audience (Wiley, 2007).  Brian has provided analysis on digital strategy, innovation, so-
cial good/social impact and related issues to media in the United States and abroad. He also key-
notes, moderates and teaches at corporations, associations, and universities around the world on
the impact of media and technology on our society.
You can email Brian at For more information, visit or follow @BrianReich on Twitter.
Kari Saratovsky is the Chief Engagement Officer of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies. She
has spent her career working in both the government and nonprofit sectors building strategic alli-
ances, directing programs and facilitating national efforts that advance social change.  She was
Founder and Principal of KDS Strategies, Vice President of Social Innovation at the Case Founda-
tion and Executive Director of the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation. She is
author of “Cause for Change: The Why and How of Nonprofit Millennial Engagement” and is a
highly sought after speaker on the topic of Millennial engagement. 
You can email Kari at For more information, visit or
follow @KDS on Twitter.
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