By Richard M. Coad

It seems that a client meeting doesn’t go by these days without some talk of the largest group of consumers: millennials. There are lots of opinions about how they think and what they like and how to talk to them. To date, however, many seem to agree about that they can be stereotyped as “hyperconnected optimistic digital extroverts.”

But that’s not what new research from Carat says. Based on a study called “The Millennial Disconnect” involving 14,000 millennials aged 15-to-34, this isn’t necessarily the case. It says the stereotype only applies to 42% of millennials, or about 36 million people. The rest appear to have been mostly neglected.

According to Doug Ray, Carat’s U.S. CEO, “marketing to millennials as one big segment is like marketing to an entire country.” He further states that the problem may be in the rush to accumulate behavioral data on this group, cookie-level data that expires has been used and it really doesn’t tell us about a person’s identity or mobile use. When one group’s digital voice is more easily tracked and studied than others, it can lead to misunderstanding rather than a greater understanding.

“If someone goes to vogue.com four times in a given period, does that make them a trendsetter? You’ll never understand that unless you ask them about their friends, lives and so on.”

The Carat study broke down the group of 85 million into four segments, as described by Michelle Lynn, managing director of the Dentsu Aegis Network.

“Behind every data point is people,” she says. “The whole reason I’m doing this study is so these people are recognized as individual people, not one big generation.”

Representing 42% of millennials are the “Trendnetters.” They are the millenial stereotype or “digital extroverts spreading trends and experiences.” They are fashionable, pop culture savvy and impulse -driven. Their voices are most easy to hear and track because they are constantly using devices to review, endorse and share, which is probably why they are the public face of the millennial. And, according to Ms. Lynn, while they are “current,” they are not true trendsetters.

The “Alter-Natives” represent 23% of millennials. Slightly younger, they represent the “nonconformist digital native” who prefers to be more privacy-aware online.. “They only want to share with select people…and only let us know what they wanted us to know. They feel comfortable online on their terms,” continues Ms. Lynn. They tend to live at home with parents, use older gadgets and prefer transparent brands. There is speculation that their tendency toward privacy may be a reaction to witnessing over-sharing online.

“Lifepreneurs are 19% of millennials. They like to balance work, home and health by setting boundaries. They’re ambitious and very much aware of their lifestyle. They’re couponers who like reliable and practical brands. According to Ms. Lynn, “This group is a little old-world with a twist.  Digital is one of many things in their world. These people are okay with stepping away from technology.”

Finally, meet the “Betablazers.” Representing 16%. These are trendsetters with a spirit of adventure. According to Ms. Lynn, they tend to be more “effortlessly worldly” than “Trendnetters.” They read high-brow and niche publications that represent points of view.  In terms of brand preference, “it’s not the most popular brand necessarily, but it’s the one they seek out. Everything is a little more exclusive. They’re really the ones that are about story-driven brands. The story is an indicator of quality.”

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