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Miki Velemirovich is president of Cargo Canada ( Prior to joining Cargo, Miki, an experienced marketing expert, spent 20 years with big brands like IBM and Mercedes-Benz, in a variety of sales, marketing, and finance roles. Miki provides expertise in building strategies that drive results and maximize return on investment while recognizing and mitigating the pain points big brands feel when trying to market to small businesses.

Currently, millennials make up the fastest-growing segment of small business owners (SBOs) in Canada, which is expected to be the largest SBO group as baby boomers retire. Millennials’ spending power is huge – anticipated to reach close to US$150 billion annually – yet, the demographic still remains one of the least understood and misrepresented.

Recognizing the economic importance of this demographic, we wondered: what do we actually know about millennial SBOs?

The commonly held assumption is that millennials are neurotic, lazy, reckless risk-takers and emotional decision-makers, but do these stereotypes match the reality?

Understanding the misrepresented

Today, despite the numerous studies, there has been little evidence to predict the key drivers of millennial SBOs with near-perfect accuracy. Building deeper relationships with millennial SBOs to understand these drivers requires enhanced trust and understanding, which is only possible by fully understanding the group’s values and mindsets. To bridge this gap, through our SmallTalk series and on our mission to help big brands market to small business owners, we decided to dig deeper into the world of millennial SBOs by combining neuroscience and emotion artificial intelligence (AI).

To test long-held perceptions of millennial SBOs, we worked with neuromarketing consultancy BRANDthro to create an AI-driven model that used social listening to identify the top issues and trigger language affecting millennial SBOs. The identified common language from social media was then connected to primary and secondary emotions to measure emotional intensity with 99.9 percent accuracy.

The results were surprising and demystified the previously held myths about the generation.

The motivations of millennial SBOs

One of the most compelling findings was that millennial SBOs have an overwhelming sense of caution – especially when it comes to decision making for their own businesses.

This is in part due to the demographic’s highly conscientious personality makeup and the world they grew up in, full of overprotectiveness and turmoil. Millennials experienced the Great Recession and the damages it has done to personal wealth and to organizations, due to corporate greed, lack of compliant behavior and destruction of much of what their parents built. All these events and experiences have triggered an overwhelming sense of caution, slowing down their pace in business to ensure that they are being cautious and avoiding making the same critical mistakes they once witnessed.

The study also found that the cautious nature of millennials drives them to a balanced nature of both emotional and rational decision making. Millennial SBOs make decisions from the heart, but they need a healthy dose of rational thinking in their decision-making process. More information is widely available today, and they are better informed than any previous generation, so they are naturally going to add more rationality to their decision-making process than ‘older’ SBOs, that have traditionally made decisions based on emotions.

Finally, millennial SBOs are driven by purpose, passion, autonomy, and collaboration, rather than profit or financial success. The belief that millennials are lazy and drifting through life couldn’t be further from the truth. They are just motivated by their values and will give their all to a brand that shares the same beliefs. Millennials are passionate about the businesses they create, as they are established with a greater sense of purpose in mind.

Missing the mark on the make-up of millennialsMillennial

SBOs are a group unlike any we have ever seen, motivated by different ideas, different purposes and different messages than we once thought. Through our research, we now have the ability to understand millennials and have lifted the veil in what is needed to better connect with the demographic. Beyond Cargo alone, these insights provide a framework for big brands to have more educated and personalized conversations with their customers, to ultimately build stronger emotional connections with millennial SBOs as they become the largest SBO group in North America.


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