Who are millennials? Why are millennials so important? Why am I hearing about millennials so often? What do millennials mean to marketers? These are all questions I've been asked in the past month. Friends, family and colleagues all wanted to know what the big deal was about millennials. Fellow attendees of the Leading Women Summit, where I was invited to speak last month about marketing to millennials, were intrigued about the hows and whys of this generation’s purchasing decisions.

Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are rightly receiving a lot of attention from marketers because we are the largest one in South Africa. We – yes, I am a proud millennial – make up almost half the population of South Africa. We are the workforce, we are climbing the career ladder and we are the future leaders of this country.

We also, importantly to marketers, have disposable income to spend. According to Statistics SA, about one in three millennials is unemployed. But for those who are working and earning, we tend to prioritise our future selves. Sadly for our retirement accounts, millennials aren’t big on saving. We work hard and feel we should be rewarded. Our reward of choice? Shopping. What do we like to buy? Clothes, shoes, tech and cars. Which brands do we like to buy? Often, a combination of the brands we interact with online and the ones which our mother’s trust. And once we fall in love with a brand ourselves, we’ll be loyal to a fault.

Perhaps this confusion and exasperation about millennials isn't even particularly personal. Maybe it’s just a typical case of older people complaining about newer, younger generations. Because the generations aren’t even really that different.

Millennials are often described as self-involved individuals who are unwilling to work hard and expect opportunities to be handed to them. In fact, Time magazine in May 2013 described the generation on its cover as “lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents”. Interestingly, in 1990 the same publication characterised Gen X, the generation which came before millennials, as “laid back, late blooming, or just lost?”.

Give it a few years and millennials will no doubt be complaining about Gen Z, or The Founders as MTV has dubbed the generation born post-2000. So, it’s not that millennials are particularly different or even especially important – but don’t tell them that. Maybe it's just that they are the new generation of workers and shoppers which marketers are gearing their marketing efforts toward.

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