Last Sunday Essendon lost to Melbourne in the AFL and a story to make the media rounds was Brendon Goddard’s on-field spat with a few of his younger teammates. What was most interesting was not necessarily the act itself, but Brendon’s assertion a few days later that “millennials are different”.

Goddard’s comments, among which was an acknowledgement that he needs to work on controlling his on-field frustration, were made in the context of the need to consider your audience, as well as the way you deliver your message, when providing feedback. “The millennials, they are different, and a little bit is that they don’t want to hear it,” he said.

If we abide by the strict definition of a millennial, born between the early 1980s and the mid-1990s to early 2000s, Goddard himself is Generation Y – but that’s not so important. Age demographics tend to be the path of least resistance for explaining differences in personalities and preferences.

But while they might be helpful in the context of digital engagement, given millennials have spent most, if not all, of their lives in a world that revolves around computers and technology, they’re not particularly helpful in explaining human behaviour.  

The Goddard incident hints that not even elite professional sporting environments are immune to the laws of segmentation. How we cluster, segment and categorise our fellow employees or customers is critical to the way we communicate with them.

Businesses need to manage both employee and customer relations in very much the same way. One size does not fit all, and age is merely one lens that can be used when segmenting your customers.

The danger in attributing differences to age, gender or income, is that we are prioritising demography over psychology.

At the end of the day, we know that it is psychographics, not demographics that drive behaviour. Customer communications should link to their values, beliefs and attitudes – the factors that make up our personality and drive our inherent preferences when making decisions.

There’s also emotion to consider; humans aren’t rational, so it’s folly to assume that the process we undertake when making decisions is a rational one.

Too often we assume that demographic factors inform psychological factors when it comes to understanding human behaviour. Generational differences shouldn’t be discounted when undertaking segmentation, but they are only the tip of the iceberg in a businesses quest to better understand the customer.

If Essendon had won the game, Goddard would no doubt have been lauded for his ability to rally his teammates. However, just like in business, situations and actions are judged in the context of wins and losses.

Sometimes to win, you need to look beneath the obvious things that lie at the surface to find the right path to engagement.