Part of the fun of marketing research is when we get a chance to uncover findings that challenge our hypotheses and strongly-held beliefs. Although we aren’t trying to prove the existence of Bigfoot (well who knows…maybe some of us are), busting myths through the power of marketing research can be quite a thrill...said the nerd. We all know that Millennials are on the minds of most researchers. How do we talk to them? What are they looking for from their brands? And what is the deal with selfie sticks? There is a lot being said about the Millennial generation and how they behave. But is it all true?

Over the past couple of years, Invoke has conducted a number of large-scale online research events with Millennials in order to explore some widely-held perceptions about them. Why large-scale focus research events? Because we wanted the statistical confidence associated with large sample sizes as well as the ability to conduct qualitative probes so that we could react to what they were telling real-time.

How did we do it? Glad you asked...

A large-scale focus group is an online research event where researchers and stakeholders watch insights unfold in real-time. Respondents are recruited and asked to log into a live event at a specific date and time. Base sizes for these sessions can extend into the hundreds, but patented software allows researchers to quickly understand the aggregate closed-end data as well as open-ended verbatims through the use of a keyword tool that quickly identifies themes and trends in the open-ends. Data filtering also occurs in real-time, thus enabling researchers to filter the results based on responses to in-session questions and thereby to understand drivers behind key metrics instantaneously.

Typically, these large-scale groups are run together with key stakeholders onsite at their offices. This creates a dynamic, collaborative environment that can inspire some interesting discussions with respondent feedback at the crux. However, for the Millennial research events that we sponsored, one of our researchers analyzed the findings in front of an online audience of market insights professionals.

Since this research was conducted over a series of large-scale online research events, the target respondent changed slightly based on subject matter, but we consistently defined Millennials as 18–34 year olds.

Let’s bust some Millennial myths!

Millennial Myth #1: Millennials are all about cutting the cord.

Moving from pay-TV to over-the-top (OTT) streaming content has garnered lots of attention over the past few years. Advertisers and programmers especially are struggling with how to reach audiences after they move from television to streaming. According to some numbers released earlier this year, pay-TV is experiencing a 0.5 percent year-over-year decline1 so the concern appears warranted (though the numbers seem a little inflated given that DIRECTV itself lost 134,000 in the first quarter).

But what are Millennials thinking and doing in regard to the pilgrimage toward streaming? Obviously, they are the ones behind this cord-cutting frenzy. Not so fast. Research conducted in April 20142 indicates that cable still has a place with Millennials. According to this research, 42 percent of Millennials are always or usually watching television programming through cable service providers and 35 percent are doing it through an app, service or streaming device. And 24 percent are equally doing both (See Figure 1).

This relatively slow adoption is due to limited availability of streaming options or to economic factors, right? Further data shows that viewer preference levels remain split among Millennials whereby 41 percent prefer watching television programming via a streaming provider versus 34 percent who prefer a cable service provider, with younger Millennials showing the highest percentage of streaming preference (Figure 2, previous page).

That same research also gives us insight into why so many Millennials remain tied to their cable service provider. While streaming does give them more flexibility, lower prices and fewer commercials, Millennials do often like the ease of watching and or the more current programming pay-TV offers. Additionally, live programming (such as sports) is often something Millennials choose to watch through cable.

Busted myth #1: While cord cutting is increasing, Millennials remain largely tied to cable going forward, at least until streaming increases their “current episodes” content and/or starts streaming more live content, such as sporting events.

Millennial Myth #2: Millennials want to do all their shopping online.

We all know that e-commerce is increasingly prevalent. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, online retail e-commerce sales reached $80.3 billion for the first quarter of 2015 (an increase from $70.1 billion in Q1 of 2014). Some research and anecdotal evidence indicates that Millennials are driving the push toward online shopping and thus predicts a shift away from traditional brick-and-mortar shopping among this important segment.

We conducted a multi-faceted study among 18–34 year olds in October 2014 that coupled a live, real-time usability research event with a mobile, in-the-moment survey to provide a more holistic view of Millennial preferences toward online versus brick-and-mortar shopping. During the live session, respondents were asked some general questions about their shopping habits and preferences. They were also asked to visit a popular retail website and undertake a simulated shopping exercise. A mobile survey was conducted while shoppers visited a brick-and-mortar version of the online store so that meaningful channel comparisons could be made.

When Millennials were asked a general likability question, 93 percent said that they enjoy shopping online whereas 76 percent like shopping at brick-and-mortar retail locations (top 2 box, n=99). And, when asked about change in frequency, 79 percent said that they are shopping online more often than they were a year ago compared to 33 percent that note the same increase in brick-and-mortar shopping (top 2 box, n=99). This means that Millennials are largely moving away from brick-and-mortar and fully embracing online shopping. Or does it?

When asked about past week behavior more directly, 62 percent said they had shopped online but 78 percent said they had shopped at brick-and-mortar locations. After Millennial respondents completed their shopping activities either online or in a physical store, they were asked general likability and ease-of-shopping questions. In both cases, brick-and-mortar won with 93 percent saying they liked the experience and 91 percent finding it easy (top 2 box, n=99). Conversely, 71 percent liked their online shopping experience and 82 percent found it easy (top 2 box, n=99).

If that didn’t tell an interesting story already, they were also asked a direct preference question – online versus brick-and-mortar. And 45 percent of these Millennials prefer brick-and-mortar shopping to online while 30 percent prefer online (Figure 3, previous page)

This is not to say that Millennials aren’t shopping online. Let’s not be ridiculous. Often, Millennials do like the lower prices and convenience offered with online, but brick-and-mortar offers them a more “tangible” shopping experience. They can interact with items, see them with their own eyes, try on clothes, etc.

“I like being able to view and touch things to be able to judge quality in person. No surprises that way.”

Busted myth #2: While online does offer them lower prices, deals and convenience, Millennials do still see value in the tangible experience of shopping brick-and-mortar.

Millennial Myth #3: Millennials are the healthiest…ever!

Much of the rhetoric surrounding the Millennial generation is focused on their healthy lifestyles. We assume they have more access to information about healthy foods and that they participate in more physical activities. I mean, they’re flooding Instagram and Facebook with photos of the foods they eat, so they must be healthy. Wrong! In fact, research proves the proportion of young adults with obesity has tripled since 1974. On top of that, roughly 67 percent of Millennials do not engage in regular physical activity, nearly 33 percent smoke cigarettes and approximately 33 percent use illegal substances.3

So fine, another myth busted... but why? Why are Millennials, despite all the advances in healthcare and the appearance of a health focus, not as healthy as we all think? This was what spurred the latest in our series of research on Millennials. Through a live, large-scale focus group with 72 Millennials, we explored Millennials’ perceptions and behaviors regarding health and wellness through a blend of open- and closed-ended questions.

It is true that Millennials claim to care about health and wellness. And they do take some action to try to live a healthier lifestyle. Many try to participate in physical activity when they can and try to eat healthy – often to look good, but also to obtain higher order benefits . One respondent explained their motivation to be healthy, saying, “Because the healthier I am, the more likely I am to achieve my goals and provide a better life for me and my family.” But many do admit to indulging in unhealthy food consumption such as chips and fast food because of the enjoyment they get from the experience. Time and money are also mentioned as hurdles to living a healthy lifestyle, especially for those starting families.

“Eating junk food like candy and chips but they taste sooooooo good!!!”

“Between work and a new baby, all the regular household stuff like laundry, dishes, cleaning, there just aren’t enough hours in the day. If I have the choice of playing with my son or doing a workout video, my son wins out every time.”

Notably, the way Millennials define health may not line up with traditional definitions laid down by other generations. When it comes to a healthy diet, Millennials place greater importance on the type of food they are eating (fresh produce, lean proteins) rather than the amount of calories they consume. Nearly 50 percent do not believe that counting calories has any impact on their overall health. And, as has been proven (but is perhaps currently out of vogue), counting calories does matter, especially when it comes to weight management. According to the CDC, balancing the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses is key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.4

Busted myth #3: The assumption, based on perception and good intentions, is that Millennials are healthier than other generations. The reality is that, based on factors such as time, money and difference in focus compared to earlier generations, they are not as healthy as we think they are.

I think that, in the haste to understand and bucket Millennials, assumptions have been made based on the environment that surrounds them rather than the realities that face them. However, as they are now entering life stages very important to marketers (starting families, entering the workforce, etc.), it is important that we look at them carefully, using both quantitative and qualitative data, to more fully understand who they are, what is important to them and how they can be reached.

In conclusion, remember when you thought you knew very little about Millennials? You probably know even less than you thought. You’re welcome.

1 Cord-cutting accelerates in first three months of 2015, USA Today, Mike Snyder, May 2015

2 How Are Millennials Watching Television Programming, Invoke, April 2014

3 Health, United States, 2008, with a special feature on the Health of Young Adults., CDC, NCHS

4 Healthy Weight – It’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle! CDC