The 5 Characteristics of Millennials That Could Make Or Break Your Innovation Efforts

Posted by Jon Hall on Feb 5, 2015

Characteristics of MillennialsIn 2015 Millennials will surpass Baby Boomers to make up the largest living generation in America. According to population projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials are projected to reach 75.3 million people, surpassing the projected 74.9 million Baby Boomers and 66 million Gen Xers. 

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While their sheer numbers alone make them an economic force to be reckoned with, it’s their unique behaviors, beliefs, and knowledge that are truly giving them tremendous power in the marketplace. A wired, connected world is all that Millennials have ever known, and these consumers think and act differently than their parents and grandparents. 

As digital natives, early adopters of the latest technology, and leaders of today’s social causes, Millennials have a tremendous influence on future market trends – especially as companies continue to focus on growing their online presence. Tapping into this hard-to-reach group of thought leaders will be vital to the success of your company’s long-term innovation strategies, and it starts by understanding the unique characteristics that drive their actions and beliefs. Failing to incorporate these considerations into your company’s innovation strategy will keep you from being relevant to – and winning over – one of the most powerful generations of consumers in American history.  

In this post, we’ll define the five key characteristics of Millennials and talk briefly about how each compares to previous generations. Over the course of the next several articles, we’ll dig deeper into how these characteristics influence Millennials’ perceptions of – and behaviors toward – companies and their products, and of the marketing that targets them. We’ll also outline ways brands can successfully incorporate the Millennials’ mindset and beliefs into their long-term innovation strategies.

Happiness driven

  • High value on happiness
  • “Live for today”
  • Job is less of a “career” and more of a means to get what they want in their personal lives
  • High pay is not as important as finding something they like to do
  • Financially optimistic

Where Millennials are more financially optimistic and prefer to live for today, Gen X is the first generation to know they won’t have the same financial success as their parents and are highly motivated to save. For Boomers, their motto could be “live to work”; the idea of simply holding a job to get fulfillment in their personal lives would be anathema. 

Family focused

  • Being a good parent is a high priority in their lives
  • Close family ties and value parental involvement
  • Less likely to be married in their 20s but likely in a relationship
  • Grew up with highly involved parents and are likely still somewhat supported by them 

Having been the first generation to experience two working parents and much of the responsibility for raising themselves, Xers developed the mindset that they’d be much more involved with their kids – thus earning the “helicopter parent” moniker. Baby Boomers grew up in the stereotypical Cleaver home and took parental guidance for granted. Both Boomers and Gen X tended to marry young, but the former placed a greater emphasis on their marital relationship than that with their children. More Millennials are moving back in with their parents upon graduating college, compared to only a small percentage of Baby Boomers who did the same.   

Socially/Society Minded

  • Sustainable & environmentally focused
  • Liberal on social issues like abortion, death penalty, citizenship for illegal immigrants
  • More likely to support social causes and support governmental intervention
  • More accepting of diversity, in all areas
  • Tend to view people as inherently good
  • Likely to volunteer
  • Open minded and willing to change

“Ban the Bomb.” “Make Love Not War.” Though early Baby Boomers were clearly cause-focused, the way that they supported their causes has been very different than subsequent generations. Whereas Baby Boomers tend to support mainstream efforts like The Red Cross, American Heart Association or the United Way. Gen X prefers to select 2-3 causes that touch them personally and quietly support those efforts on an ongoing basis. Given the rise of crowd-funding sites, however, Millennials are far more likely to support smaller, grassroots causes, bouncing from one to the next as more groups ask for help. 

Culturally, Baby Boomers are viewed as complete opposites from their Millennial children and grandchildren. Whereas the majority of Baby Boomers favor a smaller government with fewer services, the majority of Millennials favor a bigger government that provides more services. The forty-somethings in the middle are just that; split down the middle in their cultural views.


  • Highly knowledgeable – highly educated, avid individual learners, expect information accessibility
  • Less spiritual than any other generation
  • Not likely to vote/disillusioned in government
  • Mind/body connection to health

Millennials are the least spiritual of any generation. Not only are they less likely to be affiliated with any religion, but they’re also less likely to believe in God – although a large majority still do. Generation X seems to be the most split politically, and prefer to vote only when strongly motivated by an issue. Baby Boomers and Silents are the staunchest supporters of the political process. Baby Boomers tend to believe what they’re told, Generation X needs proof and Millennials want complete access/transparency to figure it out on their own.

Digital Natives

  • Grew up with new technologies, rather than having to adapt to them
  • Believe their technology use and knowledge makes them unique
  • Most active generation on social media and prefer engaging online rather than in-person
  • View technology as a way to makes things easier and connect people

For Millennials, it’s not just their prowess with new technologies that make them unique, it’s the way they’ve fused their social lives into them. Though Generation X also believes their use of technology is their most defining characteristic, it’s at a much lower percentage. For Xers, email is the best form of communication, and they prefer small, intimate gatherings to social events or online social platforms. For Boomers, nothing beats face-to-face interaction, and they’re relatively uncomfortable with technology.

Brands have long known Millennials would be a challenge, particularly because they think so differently than their parents and grandparents. As parents stay more involved their lives and people become more reliant on new technologies, the Millennial mindset is influencing the attitudes of older generations more strongly than historically seen. This makes the Millennial influence even more substantial than can be gleaned from their raw numbers. In our next post, we’ll examine the happiness dynamic of Millennials and its relevance to brand innovation. 

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Transforum for Millennials

Topics: Millennials, consumer insights, developing successful products