Dawn of Millennials

Millennials surge into the marketplace and political theater, eclipsing mom and dad as the favorite buyer and a key voting bloc.Macy's department stores are logging impressive growth by catering to "fashion-loving, smartphone-carrying, reality TV-watching young people" who spend $65 billion on clothes, accessories and shoes.

President Barack Obama is counting on the same age group to ensure his election to a second term.

Millennials literally are coming of age. Born between 1982 and 2003, this age group is cresting as they head off to college, get married, rent or buy homes and start families.

Macy's saw the wave coming as early as 2009, shifting its focus with dazzling results, says Cincinatti.com. At Macy's annual shareholder meeting in May, company officials said same-store sales grew 5.3 percent, while online sales soared 40 percent. That trend is continuing in 2012. Revenue and profit growth translated into sharply higher share prices and a dividend to shareholders that has doubled twice.

Now the department store chain plans to introduce up to 30 fresh brands aimed at Millennials, as well as launch new technology tools to keep the attention of their new favorite buyers. In addition to mobile apps, they are looking at equipping sales clerks with iPads that allow customers to try something on in the store, then buy it online if the right size or color isn't in stock.

Obama operatives have a similar strategy, according to Politico, which calls "20 the new 60." In 2008, only 52 percent of registered Millennial voters cast ballots, but they gave a 7-million vote bump to Obama. In 2008, only 40 percent of Millennials were old enough to vote.

Four years later, there are 16 million more eligible young voters. Polling suggests these first-time political participants support Obama over Mitt Romney, his likely Republican rival this November by a 2-to-1 margin. Politco's Jennifer Granholm speculates that could give Obama a 10-million vote bump to Obama, including in key swing states. 

Perhaps more distressing for Romney, Granholm says data indicates Millennials will outnumber seniors, accounting for 25 percent of the nation's population. Four years ago, Millennials constituted 18 percent of the population compared to 17 percent of senior citizens.

Myths about Millennial disinterest in voting are wrong, she adds. While some say the bulge in youthful engagement in politics in 2008 was an aberration, Granholm insists it may not be. Issues that motivate younger voters may not be the same ones that stir older voters. For example, they want government involvement in areas such as college tuition, affordable housing and jobs with a future. As a group, they are more open to same-sex marriage and worry about the economic divide between rich and poor.

While SuperPacs are loading down the TV airwaves with advertisements, Millennials watch shows online and, increasingly, on their smartphones. Their preference in shows seems more inclined toward engagement than entertainment. For example, Macy's contributed a judge to the NBC reality show Fashion Star and later sold winning designs in its stores and online.

The dawn of Millennials serves as another reminder that marketing must be aimed at the target audience. And you should practice aiming with more than your old bow and arrow.