Ah, yet another article focused on the Millennial generation. Born between 1980 and 2000, they are the first generation to come of age in the new millennium. Growing up with the Internet is not the only reason they are relevant:

  • Millennials are the United State's largest living generation;
  • The number of Millennials eligible to vote roughly equals the Baby Boomer generation;
  • They are the most diverse (42 percent identify with a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic white) and educated generation (61 percent of adult Millennials have attended college).

Millennials are also the generation weighed down by student loan debt and navigating job market uncertainty (the "oldest" members of the Millennial generation entered the job market in 2007, at the start of the great recession). From ownership of assets to the next mobile app, this is the generation that will be shaping the U.S. economy for decades to come and they are not simply another homogenous generation to be marketed to.

Millennials care about community (more so than prior generations), so to understand them from a marketing perspective you need to get up close in personal where they actually live--according to Christopher Sopher, founder and CEO of WhereBy.Us (an experiential media company focused on Millennials who live in growing urban communities). The New Tropic is Chris' Millennial-focused publication in Miami. Chris and his team have worked with new economy companies such as Lyft to connect the ride-sharing brand with locals who care about transportation and economic innovation (as well as bringing new voices to local government on the issue of how to handle ride-sharing companies). I sat down with Chris to quiz him on why he believes Millennials are important--after all, he's building a company entirely around how they think and behave.

Millennials seem to be over-studied. What don't we know about Millennials? Why is it important to keep analyzing this generation?

I think we're approaching peak millennial right now. Everyone's talking about Millennials, creating new projects for Millennials, writing weird articles about trying to manage Millennials in the workplace, hinging elections on millennial turnout. Your thing is trendy if it's got the word 'millennial' on it, and that signal noise makes it hard to figure out what's actually happening or what's important to know.

I believe Millennials are important for two reasons:

First, they're leading indicators of what's coming. This is true of every generation of young people, not just this one- as they get older and gain influence, what they do shapes the rest of the world. If you want to understand the future, you should be looking at young people.

Second, this generation represents a huge shift in how people learn about the world around them and how they engage in it. Part of that's driven by their distinct behaviors, and part of it's driven by technology. But tools that worked for reaching and engaging three or four generations of Americans (like taking out an ad in a print newspaper) don't work the way they used to.

Are we making too many generalizations about the Millennial generation? Have we been getting them all wrong?

Most of the business and marketing world is getting Millennials wrong. There are way too many assumptions made in business about the youths, rooted in popular imagination rather than real experience or data.

An example is the belief that everyone under the age of 30 is good at computers. There's some reality in there (Update Your Parents' Browser Day is one of my favorite holidays), but it's wildly inaccurate to base a strategy on the idea that young people know how to code, or how to apply technology creatively, just because they grew up with it.

There's an obvious tendency to look at new generations as wildly different from their predecessors, because it's interesting and drives clicks. But the other thing we see is that people mistake surface level behaviors for changes in motivation. For example, to someone who grew up without Snapchat, it looks like an alien culture. But the same thing that drives Snapchat drives most things people do: a desire for connection or information or shared experiences.

Young people crave authenticity and genuine interactions. That's a hard thing to design for, and you have to slow down and be thoughtful about how you communicate.

Why is it important to understand Millennials on a local level?

It's easy to think in a globalizing, digital world that local matters less. But we actually find the opposite. Globalized attention and local interest actually have an interesting causal growth relationship.

Reinvestment in cities as centers of innovation, creativity, culture, is a mega-trend primarily driven by Millennials.

Now, juxtapose this against an outdated civic engagement structure. The system is built for people who have been in a city a long time, own a home in the suburbs, and read the newspaper every day so they know what the issues are. And local government, for example, expects that of people-"just show up and make your voice heard." But most people can't attend a commission meeting at 2pm on a Tuesday, no matter their age. Millennials have embraced technology and leverage social platforms for word-of-mouth recommendations, so are ushering in a new standard for how people engage at the local level--setting a new communication standard that makes sense for all of us, not just Millennials.