Demographics is the science of people patterns. As such, the study has been around for a while, and earlier in my career, I had an opportunity to work with one of the discipline's giants, Peter Francese, who started American Demographics magazine in Ithaca, N.Y., in 1979.
Peter today continues as a demographics trend analyst for the MetLife Mature Market Institute, producing illuminating data and insights regarding a demographic cohort he helped to coin as a consumer juggernaut, the Baby Boom.
Peter recognized early on that people patterns were good story tellers, and sometimes those stories were literally vitally important, and sometimes, the patterns, as they trend, can predict how markets will work.
Housing's obsession--now that many believe, perhaps foolishly, that they've cracked the code in understanding what Baby Boomers want and will want in their housing choices and wherewithal in the decades to come--is Millennials.
Millennials, as customers and potential customers, will make or break many of the companies doing business as residential home builders and developers in the next 10 to 20 years; it's true.
My contention is that it's the organizations that see and experience people beyond and below those demographic definitions, however, that will thrive, and the ones that confine their perspective to trying to understand a population defined by the Census birth rate years, roughly 1981 to 1996, who will suffer mightily.
Firms who have a head start out of the gate on "getting it" grasp that data and technology allow us to be far more precise and wise with our focus on who our customers are and may be, and what it is they want and can buy than to broad-brush a generation with crude generalizations about attitude, preference, financial profile, and values.
Those firms that "get it" also know that data and technology is very good at answering questions, but not yet very good at asking them, and the fact is that success in home building remains dependent on a robust degree of both: asking questions and answering them.
So, we feel that companies with an advantage in "getting it," when it comes to meeting the needs of and courting this next massive crop of young adults into the advanced system of new homeownership, will be those who have a healthy crop of those young adults working in their ranks, developing career opportunities, and shaping the strategy of those firms, both today and for the future.
So, while we are the first to recognize that corporate rankings are sometimes a self-promotional gambit, we're encouraged to see three home building companies--David Weekley Homes (No. 2), Standard Pacific Homes (No. 19), and Toll Brothers (No. 95)--counted among Fortune and Great Place to Work's 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials.
Demographers look across generations at people patterns, and can detect important insights as to how population change will impact economies, geographies, infrastructure, climate, and, in general, life.
One can surmise that organizations that have a bunch of happy-camper millennials working at them are going to understand that talking to potential home buyers as "millennials" may be one of the biggest errors one can make in an effort to meet the challenge.