What the fuck does it mean to design a room for a Millennial?

Seriously, that’s no riddle or trick question. Red Roof Inn got a feature in Ad Age on their efforts to rebrand with “designs that appeal to millennials”.


Are you, Red Roof Inn, creating rooms based around social media facilitating shared experiences, finding jobs, and reversing environmental damage? Because when you talk about appealing to Millennials, you’re talking about a generational cohort, and I think that’s the wrong way to go about it.

To give a brief overview, generational cohorts (e.g. Millennials, Baby Boomers, Silent Generation) are groups of people within a given country that share certain stretches of birth years. This results in a set of shared formative events that influence their values. What you’ll find in members of a given generational cohort are similar values, motivations, and—on the very very large scale—a similar personality.

Commonly cited “values” of a few cohorts:

  • Greatest Generation (aka Silent Generation)
    • Hard workers
    • Sense of purpose and duty to country
    • Quiet, either about the horrors of war, or their experiences growing up in WWII America
  • Boomers
    • Counter-culture
    • Valuing freedom and experimentation, leading to distrust in the government
  • Millennials
    • Narcissistic and lazy
    • Global, enabled by wide proliferation of technology

So when you decide to take on a generational-focused marketing strategy, that usually manifests in your brand trying to speak to specific values of a given generation.

For example, Millennials will likely have a very different view of Las Vegas than someone of the Silent Generation.

DO NOT CONFUSE LIFESTAGE WITH GENERATION. Obviously a 70 year-old will view Vegas differently than a 20 year-old. No, someone who grew up with no sneakers and meat rations will likely have a different gut reaction to gambling money than someone who grew up in relative middle-class comfort.

Generational marketing is important when it comes to tweaking your company’s message. Get it wrong and you can say goodbye to an entire demographic. But there comes a point where generational marketing is not applicable. Hotel rooms would be one of them.

There are no hotels for Millennials. There’s no Baby Boomer Motel (as far as I know). Instead, hotels are differentiated by purpose: why are you staying here? Vacation to a nearby attraction? Business? Extended stay?

I would guess that for Red Roof Inn, what is important to a customer will not be because of a shared experience across said customer’s generational cohort. The article lists details of the renovation: wood floors, granite surfaces, extra plugs on the bed. To me, that sounds like something everybody would want, not just Millennials.

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It’s worth noting that Red Roof Inn based these decisions off of feedback directly from customers. CMO Marina McDonald gets a live feed of TripAdvisor reviews sent directly to her phone. That’s an amazing amount of customer care and speaks volumes to the company’s values. If anything, THAT’S what will connect with Millennials, who have come to expect higher levels of customer service with the advent of social media and the uprising of customer-focused companies like Zappos, Bonobos, and Warby Parker.

Luckily, Red Roof Inn arrived at the same conclusions: that their customers would be enticed by rooms that reflected current trends in home design. But generational marketing can sometimes be a red herring that all companies would do well to pump the brakes and seriously evaluate before diving in headfirst.


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