Lazy. Self-absorbed. Enslaved to tech.

If these words conjure an image of a twenty-something Millennial (tweeting for pizza, clicking through apps, and ensconced in their own liberalism), you probably don't know what a Millennial actually is. 

'Millennial' is a word used to describe the group of people currently between the ages of 18 and 34; the Millennial generation, on the other hand, is as diverse as it is massive in population (roughly 80 million people).

"You cannot make generalizations about an entire group of people," says David Burstein, founder of the advocacy group Run for America, and author of Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World. A Millennial himself, Burstein has been studying the communication habits of the generation since he was a teen.

"I believe that the best way to understand a generation is to actually talk to those people, and really focus on the predominant trends," he says. 

Businesses are right to want to attract Millennials, given that they control about $200 billion of U.S. spending power. Let's start with what you think you know (but probably don't) about this massive generation. 

Here are seven misconceptions about Millennials, debunked:

1. They don't care about anything.

"People who grew up with Internet in their households are a different species," notes Matt Britton, founder and CEO of the marketing agency MRY, and author of YouthNation: Building Remarkable Brands in a Youth-Driven Culture.

Access to the web has given Millennials the opportunity and knowledge to care about a variety of causes. "You can find them on the Internet, and tap into that tribe, and tap into that passion. There are so many diverse interests out there," Britton says. 

He notes that if marketers want to capitalize on their spending potential, a "splash and pray" approach may work best. Think of it as the Jackson Pollock of advertising strategies: Experiment, fail fast, and see what sticks. 

2. It's impossible to get their attention.

Don't confuse tech savvy with a short attention span. Millennials want to reap massive amounts of information on multiple platforms, so they tend to spend less time on any one medium. 

Millennials are most engaged on their phones and tablets, as opposed to on desktops, and they're often on multiple devices at once. This is according to data from Drawbridge, a programmatic advertising firm and Inc. 5000 honoree.

"The transaction journey is not on a single device," says Drawbridge founder and CEO, Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan. "Generally speaking," she adds, "this demographic values experiences over physical stuff." 

That means that when advertising to a Millennial, you need to optimize for mobile by getting a meaningful point across in just a few seconds. Video campaigns, Sivaramakrishnan adds, are most likely to woo young spenders.

3. They're self-absorbed.

Burstein says it best: "No one in this generation looks at sending a tweet as some great act of heroism."

It's easy to view Millennials as selfish. After all, with so many social media portals at their fingertips, they often spend time glued to the smart screen, rather than to a person's face.

"We want so desperately to connect with the world, and sometimes technology is the only outlet we have," said Stacey Ferreira, 23, who founded AdMoar, in conversation at Inc.'s Women's Summit in New York City this month. 

Millennials are now leveraging technology to tackle social issues head on. Take Doug Messer, the founder and CEO of University Beyond, which is a job board connecting college students to internships and other career opportunities. "Universities need to do a better job of preparing students for their careers," Messer said. The goal: To disrupt education through technology. 

Messer nods to other Millennial tech companies like Brainscape, which lets students find and create interactive flashcards that adapt to their learning habits. 

Note to employers: Technology is more compassionate than you think. And just because Millennials connect digitally doesn't mean they don't have inter-personal skills. (It might mean they have more of them.) 

4. They're politically aligned.

Millennials have a reputation for being liberal thinkers, but that's not always the case. According to Pew Research data from 2014, half of Millennials surveyed are voting Independent, which is the highest level of political disaffiliation of any generation recorded. 

The news startup Mic, which is a media company "by and for" Millennial voices, announced a pivot this summer to produce more, original content. That kind of "ambitious journalism," as the company calls it, is precisely driven by Millennials' diverse opinions. 

Jake Horowitz, Mic's co-founder and editor-in-chief, says he's inspired by the many differences among his peers. "Rather than ideological, we have a generational sensibility. We can be very liberal and progressive, and then very divided," Horowitz told Inc.com in a recent interview.

5. They're lazy.

Just because Millennials spend time on their phones doesn't mean they're unproductive. In fact, the opposite may be true. 

"There's so much negative stigma around Millennials in terms of this ridiculous thought that we're a lazy, entitled generation," Messer said. He argues that technology has made Millennials more productive, because they know how to use it to their advantage. 

For instance, Jessica Mah, co-founder and CEO of inDinero, reports using the online communication tool Slack to eliminate all of her in-house emails. 

6. They lack focus.

Millennials, it's true, tend to hop jobs. As of 2014, the average amount of time that a person between the ages of 25 and 34 spends at a position is three years. For workers ages 55 to 64, it's about 10 years. 

This isn't enough to imply that Millennials lack conviction. In fact, according to Burstein, Millennials outperform other generations when they feel engaged at work: "When you invest in them, they give you an incredible amount," he says.

More than anything else, Millennials want to know that the company they're working for is giving back to the community and to the world at large.

Even Sivaramakrishan, 39, says she finds her predominately Millennial workforce to be especially driven. "When I was that age, my expectations were probably lower," she admits. 

7. They call themselves Millennials.

Most Millennials don't actually refer to themselves as Millennials. 

"It's a marketing term," said Horowitz. Rather than referring to the group as a whole, he notes that Mic staffers are on a mission to capture the diversity of the generation as a whole. 

So the next time you're tempted to call out a Millennial using the M-word, or even refer to yourself as one, consider the underlying assumptions you may inadvertently be making.

Published on: Oct 9, 2015