Apr 16 2014, 1:56pm CDT | by Forbes
Everyone seems to be talking about Millennials today. It’s not just because they are the largest generation by population size – though that certainly doesn’t hurt. It’s because we’re all fascinated with them – news coverage, political campaigns, and of course, marketers trying to figure out how to reach them. But beyond their size, what is it about this generation that has everyone so captivated? It’s their unique sense of self (for lack of a better word), their surprisingly optimistic outlook on life (despite the harsh economic realities they face), and their less than traditional approach to life stages.
So, with all of this attention focused on Millennials, why do we have a hard time understanding them? This disconnect is most evident in how companies today market to Millennials. Many brands continue to push traditional life markers such as getting married, buying a home and starting a family, because that’s what drove older generations’ purchasing habits. According to a recent CEB Iconoculture report, “Inside the Millennial Mind,” these brands are completely missing the point. Millennials are buying, they’re just buying differently – and, more importantly, they aren’t going to change any time soon.
Katie Elfering, a CEB Iconoculture consumer strategist and our resident expert on Millennials, was kind enough to sit down with me for a Q&A to discuss their recent work on this alluring generation. Join the discussion by leaving us a message in the comments section below!
Recent news headlines have labeled Millennials as the “selfie” generation. Do you agree with this notion or do you think this generation is just largely misunderstood?
While it’s true that Millennials take more selfies than other generations, labeling them the “selfie” generation seems to miss the mark, especially as it relates to their attitudes around identity and lifestyle.
Millennials are misunderstood, in large part, because they aren’t approaching adulthood the same way that previous generations have. Why? Well, the economy for one—the milestones of adulthood (getting a job, buying a home, getting married, having kids) just aren’t as feasible for many Millennials given the ramifications of the recession. But their less-than-rosy financial situation is only part of the equation. Millennials grew up in an expanding world of choice and options for just about everything they ever needed or wanted. Because of this, they view life very differently. They don’t see just see one path available to them—they see limitless possibilities to make their life their own. And as a result, they are misjudged and misunderstood—called narcissists or assumed to be in a state of perpetual stunted adulthood. In reality, it’s because a lot of these aspects of adulthood aren’t as available as they were in the past and, more importantly, because they know they have a lot of alternative options for what adulthood looks like.
Tell us about your new research on Millennials – “Inside the Millennial Mind.” What’s different here, compared to what we’ve seen about Millennials to date?
Two big things stand out. First, most people assume that Millennials are all 25-year-olds, un- or under-employed, back home in Mom and Dad’s basement. But when you look at the generation holistically—as we define it, 19-36 year olds—you see a variety of life stages and lifestyles within this group. Among the most overlooked: the fact that older Millennials have, in many ways, “grown up.” About half of older Millennials are married, and about half have kids (although not necessarily the same half). When we think about Millennials, most people talk about “when they grow up,” but what they miss is that it already happened for a lot of them—just not in the way that “growing up” looked in the past.
The other thing that usually happens when people report on Millennials: the economy gets blamed for everything. It’s why they aren’t becoming “adults,” for example. But, as I mentioned earlier, that’s only half of the story. The fact that this generation has been raised in a world of choice and knows that they have lots and lots of options in all aspects of their lives, even if those options have been altered by this new economic reality, is something that is largely overlooked.
What’s at stake for marketers and brand strategists? What should they be doing differently?
There is a lot at stake. Simply put, this is a massive generation with a population size of 76.6 million, surpassing even Baby Boomers. NOT understanding them, NOT finding ways to be relevant or engaging to them, NOT adapting to their new expectations— it’s the easiest way for a brand to fail. Brands need to stop waiting for Millennials to “grow up” and fall in line with what past generations have done. A lot of them already have; it just looks different than it did in the past. Brands and marketers need to shift and adapt to this reality, instead of waiting for one that won’t come true.
The real challenge in this is figuring out how exactly to do it. Many brands feel that connecting with Millennials is extremely difficult. But, in reality, connecting with Millennials is pretty straightforward. In fact, we’ve narrowed it down to three key strategies that brands should keep in mind when engaging Millennials. First, understand and speak to the values that drive them – happiness, passion, diversity, sharing and discovery. Second, understand their realistic lifestyles and experiences and find ways to amplify their reality. And, finally, make sure they feel informed and involved, not just marketed to. By following these three strategies, brands will find more opportunities available to them to gain this generation’s affinity.
What brands are getting the Millennials mind-set right?
Brands that understand this generation’s mind-set focus on solving real consumer problems and are able to show Millennials how their product or service can be a useful tool in their daily lives. By acknowledging these changing lifestyle values, these brands are able to truly satisfy the demanding Millennial consumer and transform them into powerful advocates.
Tide Pods is a good example. The product – no-fuss, quick and energy efficient –solves a real problem for Millennials and the marketing supports that. Another good example is Uber. Again, this service helps bring utility to Millennials in a smart way.
Beyond just being innovative and useful, the brands that give Millennials a reason to engage, whether that’s branded content like what Intel
has produced, or creating an experience that they couldn’t have without the brand, like many of Red Bull’s events, have figured out how to connect to this generation in a meaningful way. These brands have figured out how to provide what matters most to Millennials in a way that is additive to their lives and entertaining, which in turn compels them to share their experiences with their friends./>/>
Do you see anything about this generation changing over the next five years? How will this impact brands?
Lifestage will be the biggest change over the next five years as Millennials continue their march into their version of adulthood. We’ll see more Millennials become parents, although their parenting style will be (and already is) different than previous generations. Millennials will make bigger moves in the workforce, too—by 2015, they’ll make up half of the workforce and by 2020, they’ll make up 75%. Just given the sheer number of Millennials in the workforce, we’ll see some changes.
But despite these changes, the things that matter to Millennials aren’t shifting. They will continue to focus on values like happiness and approach their futures knowing how many options are in front of them. Brands that can accommodate and enable these attitudes are the ones that will have staying power with Millennials.
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