A few weeks ago, Bob Sevier wrote a blog about a girl named Ellen. She was an assistant manager at a local Casey’s convenience store where Bob plugs in and sets up shop every now and then. It was a compelling read, and a powerful reminder that behind every statistic, there’s a person and a story.

Ellen’s story put a face to a widely recognized, yet still startling truth about the cost of higher education and the ridiculous financial burdens waiting for so many graduates. It got me thinking about the audiences to whom we’re constantly trying to appeal, and what we know about them.

But more importantly, I started thinking about what we don’t know about them. Take the millennial generation. We know it’s more culturally diverse, leans liberal, is more socially aware, is more digitally connected, and sleeps with its cell phones (83 percent, in fact, according to the Pew Research Center’s “Millennials” study.)

So what are some of the things we don’t know? What are those things or behaviors or characteristics or traits that may be surprising to all of us whose job it is to have an authoritative thumb on that pulse?

  • They’re the most environmentally conscious generation. Kind of. But, as I wrote about in a blog last month, their actions often don’t match their responses to surveys. They recycle, drink from reusable containers less, unplug/turn off, and avoid letting water run less than Americans as a whole.
  • They’re not religious. Technically, true. But according to that Pew study, while millennials are less religiously affiliated than older generations, they pray as often as older generations did in their youth.
  • They’re narcissistic. Possibly, but not to the point where they’re driven by fame. Even though they’ve been raised in an era where it seems like every third person out there gets a reality TV show, the Pew study indicates that 86 percent of millennials say fame isn’t something they’re after.
  • They’re not into print. In some forms, maybe. But a study by Nielsen shows that, while the “print is dead” anthem is supposedly especially true for younger generations, more millennials read print magazines than baby boomers.

The point here is that, when it comes to understanding our audiences, we always need to be aware of the little truths that lie just under the surface of those universal truths. Often, what you find down there will be a surprise.

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