For the past decade, the media and social spotlight has been shining brightly on Millennials. Not since the Baby Boomers has a generation been constantly dissected and re-dissected across all aspects of their lives than the Millennials. This level of hyper-focus is no surprise as this generation is 73 million individuals strong and is projected to overtake Baby Boomers in size (Source: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/01/millennials-overtake-baby-boomers/). Their population size coupled with how they are so wildly different from their predecessors (Generation X and Baby Boomers) puts them front and center of branding and marketing conversations and, to date, has made them one of the most fascinating generations.
So, who are they anyway? Millennials are defined as those born between 1981 and 1996 (Source: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/17/where-millennials-end-and-generation-z-begins/) and are also referred to as Generation Y. There have been many sweeping generalizations about this group – both positive and negative. On the positive side, Millennials are seen as an open-minded and socially conscious group. They are educated, confident, collaborative and not afraid to stand up to perceived social injustices in the world. On the negative side, popular culture tries to pigeonhole Millennials as being entitled, flighty, immature, irresponsible, and petulant. They are often characterized as the “Me” generation coddled by their Boomer parents and unable to stand on their own in the real world.
I believe this generation defies definition by any sweeping generalizations. Yes, Millennials may have their own shortcomings and faults but, just as with prior generations, they are also unique and have many qualities that are positively influencing the world socially and economically. Before we dive into who Millennials are, it is important to understand the major events that occurred during their formative years, as these played a large role in shaping who they are today and their views of the world.
The primary difference that separates this generation from its predecessors is that Millennials grew up in the era of internet technology. The internet provided Millennials with unlimited access to information during their formative years which only continued to grow and expand as they came of age. They don’t remember a time before the internet or mobile phones. However, while technology blossomed, Millennials also came of age during some traumatic world events. During their formative years, Millennials saw major events like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Global War on Terror which forced them to look at the dark underbelly of our global society. Major corporate corruption scandals also surfaced rocking core beliefs about corporations and institutions. The Great Recession of 2008 left them with staggering student loan debt with very few jobs available to them to help them pay back this debt, this coupled with other economic factors, wiped out traditional hallmarks of adulthood and major hurdles to attaining the American dream. We will see how all this impacted the generation we call today Millennials.
Those that came before
It is also important to touch on the Millennial’s predecessors: Baby Boomers and Generation X. Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were a relatively large generation of individuals conceived after the end of World War II and beyond. Possibly the first generation to have an easily recognized and defined “generational identity” they are a powerhouse in their own right. Sometimes called the “flower power” generation, Boomers pushed the boundaries of acceptance and norms, setting the stage for massive social change. Growing up without technology-based communications, these generations appreciate interpersonal skills and behave and consume differently than their younger counterparts. They set the stage for hard work, traditional family values and, although they aren’t afraid to adopt new technology, they use it for productivity rather than connectivity (Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-truisms-wellness/201602/baby-boomers-generation-z). As they reach retirement, we would do well to take another look at just how mighty this generation is as they turn to demanding the social and political change that suits them.
Generation X, or the forgotten generation (born between 1965 and 1980), is smaller in population than both the Boomer and Millennial generations, so is often overlooked in the media frenzy. Born under the shadow of the dominate Baby Boomers, Generation X also witnessed massive social change that shaped their views and lifestyle. They saw the Berlin Wall fall, the Cold War end, Communism disintegrate and saw the end of Apartheid in South Africa, all to a backdrop of grunge and disillusionment. While technologically savvy, Generation X falls somewhere in the middle when it comes to traditional and digital avenues. They work hard, play hard and, although they are at the peak of their careers, they still struggle with finances and retirement planning. This could have to do with the fact that many are “sandwiched” between caring for children and aging parents.
Taking a bird’s eye view of the motivations and ensuing actions of these preceding generations can help to put this generation in context, and show just how different these younger adults are from their predecessors.
Getting into the Mindset of Millennials
In my conversations with Millennials, one of the terms they use that stood out to me was that they are seen as being “mythical creatures” by companies. Wikipedia defines Mythical Creatures as “a fictitious, imaginary, and supernatural animal, often a hybrid, sometimes part human, whose existence has not or cannot be provided.”
This description of Millennials is actually not that far-fetched as they have reached mythical proportions when it comes to their importance as consumers and they are still greatly misunderstood. Millennials have been the topic of many boardroom conversations across the globe. Companies want to capture audience share of this generation, but like mythical creatures, companies still don’t know if they are “real” or attainable. Despite all the articles and studies focused on Millennials, many companies still struggle to fully understand Millennials and their motivations in part because they seem to constantly be in flux. Looking at prior generations (Baby Boomers and Generation X), it was much easier to communicate with them and get them to take action – traditional marketing and advertising techniques worked (due though, in part, to the limited channels available at that time) and brand loyalty came more readily. The information era and generation that grew up with all this information at their fingertips came along and all traditional avenues seemingly went out the proverbial window. What had been tried and true methods for marketers and advertises no longer worked – they deviated from past societal norms and traditional beliefs. This new reality has put marketers into a frenzy.
I believe that Millennials aren’t trying to be rebellious or difficult. They simply won’t settle until they get what they want and a large part of it is due to their upbringing. We will delve into who Millennials are and get into the mindset of this generation. However, I think it is important to acknowledge how widespread the millennial age range is (ages 23-38). We have younger and older millennials, those in varying degrees of their life stage and so on. While we will be looking at Millennials holistically as one group, we do have to keep in mind it is more complicated and we cannot account for every nuance.
Growing Up with Helicopter Parents
Very few argue that Millennials are a confident and high achieving group and many mistake this for arrogance and entitlement. Their high level of confidence and self-worth is due to how they were raised. They were the first of any generation to have highly involved parents (aka helicopter parents) who focused their time and attention across all aspects of their life (to the point many non-Millennials believed was a disservice to this generation). Under the watchful eye of the Boomer parents, Millennials grew up with structured lives. Scheduled up and procured to the hilt on a daily basis, their days were kept full with school, homework and extracurricular activities, leaving little room for free time. However, the parent-child bond was more egalitarian, as Millennials and their Boomer parents decided together on house rules and after school activities or clubs to join.
They were raised as the “trophy generation” – “the generation of young people who never seem to fail, always succeed, and receive at trophy at the end of whatever activity they participate in.” (Source: http://www.paulbuyer.com/the-trophy-generation) Boomer parents firmly believed that raising children with high self-esteem would lead to greater success as an adult. Growing up, Millennials received constant praise or awards not because they placed first, but because they simply participated. Every hallmark was celebrated and revered. Millennials were told early on they were special and were encouraged to have a voice. They were protected every step of the way by their Boomer parents. Failure was mitigated, their battles (even when not needed) fought for them, and any conflict resolved with them avoiding worry. Everything was taken care of for them. Maybe Boomer parents were overcompensating for having disengaged parents when they were growing up, but it made for a strong parent/child bond that still holds into the adulthood of Millennials today and many continue to look up to and live with their parents in their childhood homes.
From this hyper-involved parenting style (whether good or bad), Millennials were raised as ambitious, goal-focused, optimistic, group-oriented, and fighters. They have a can-do attitude, but with-it attitudes developed of always being “right” and perceived self-importance given their parent’s relentless support and accolades.
The Digital Age and The Transformation of a Generation
Millennials are digital natives – they grew up during the digital revolution where the technology was rapidly being created, evolved, and perfected. Millennials were able to embrace and easily adapt to new technology and incorporate it into their everyday lives as they didn’t know any different. This is what truly separates Millennials from prior generations - they were born and raised with technology and access to an unprecedented amount of information, and, as a result, were able to quickly utilize new technology and information, whereas Baby Boomers and Generation X had to deal with a steep learning curve and a healthy dose of skepticism.
The ubiquitous nature of home computers, along with access to the World Wide Web marked a huge game changer for this generation. Millennials used this new norm to access unlimited amounts of information and social connection on a global scale. The internet became the most trusted source of information for finding or figuring out anything they needed – they considered it the holy grail over any single person’s input, including their own parents and teachers. The ability to access this information gave any major news or global event increased publicity and, in turn, heightened awareness and distrust. This gave Millennials a new perspective of the world and a forum through which to share their opinions and to fight the unfairness in the world. The internet also was a change agent on how they shopped. Millennials readily embraced online shopping, but this also made it challenging for brands. Not only could they buy products online, but they were able to use technology to promote or hurt a brand with reviews, as well as conduct price comparisons prior to purchase. Brands had to learn how to navigate these untouched waters and forge new marketing and advertising campaigns and platforms to reach this audience.
The internet disrupted how social connections were formed for this generation. With the introduction of the World Wide Web, global friendships were forged all within the confines of their own home, without ever having to meet face to face or talk on the phone. Chat rooms like AOL AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Hangout and a myriad of others made this possible. As these connections evolved, social media – invented by Millennials – came along, and individuals were able to amass friends and followers alike to share, talk, collaborate and influence in ways never done among prior generations. It also removed the privacy aspect that chat rooms gave. Now they are sharing pictures and images and creating a personal brand for themselves online for the world to see and spurred the rise of online influencers.
The smartphone further changed the lives of Millennials and this shift is probably the most pronounced. The smartphone gave Millennials everything they wanted at their fingertips including shopping, playing games, taking pictures, recording videos, accessing social media, looking up information and much more. It also changed how they consume media. Prior to smartphones, they watched shows, movies or videos on their TV or computer at home. Smartphones and tablets allow for media consumption anywhere, anytime. The smartphone also solidified texting as the preferred medium for communication for this group and, again, changed how this generation communicated.
The digital age spawned a generation who are fundamentally unique behaviorally and in how they perceive the world. The rise of technology has defined this generation and without it, Millennials would have been a much different group of individuals.
The Politics of Being a Millennial
Millennials are often viewed as apathetic when it comes to politics – another negative label added to an already long list for which Millennials get a bad rap. They have the lowest voter turnout of any age group, but are primed to be a powerhouse if they actually vote given their population size (Source: https://www.npr.org/2016/05/16/478237882/millennials-now-rival-boomers-as-a-political-force-but-will-they-actually-vote). This belief that Millennials have an “I don’t care attitude” towards politics and policies is far from the truth and another misunderstanding about this generation. There are some core differences between Millennials and prior generations on their political outlook, and we would do well to take note.
Generationally, there is a gap that is continuing to widen among Millennials and prior generations especially with Baby Boomers when it comes to partisanship. When Millennials first came of voting age, their party affiliation aligned more with the Democratic party. As the Millennial generation matured and more of them reached voting age, they remained in favor of identifying as Democrats though we are now seeing some migrate toward the Independent Party. Generation X (more like Millennials) tilted more towards Democrats, while Baby Boomers were equally divided between the two parties (Democrats and Republicans), and the Silent Generation who always favored the Republican party remained unchanged (Source: http://www.people-press.org/2018/03/20/1-trends-in-party-affiliation-among-demographic-groups/).
Millennials also hold liberal views (and some say idealistic) and are one of the most socially tolerant and open-minded of the adult generations. This, to some extent, scares prior generations who tended to be more traditional and conservative in their views. This group is passionate and outspoken on many issues (don’t even ask them to narrow it down!) such as immigration, global warming, free healthcare and education, LGBTQ rights, pot legalization, and so forth. A large part of their openness is due to the diversity and education of this group. In addition to being the most educated generation to date, Millennials are also more multicultural – we see Hispanic, Asians and “mixed” race rising and the percent of Caucasians decreasing and this will continue as we usher in Generation Z. They are more similar to prior generations, though, when it comes to their views on the economy and jobs, living wages, federal budgets and the like, given their experiences on having lived through a recession and being in debt.
They also actively participate in politics in ways different from past generations and technology is a large driving force. Millennials understand the power of technology and leverage this medium to quickly get across information to a mass global audience as their way of fighting for social justice. They use social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) to organize large scale protests, petitions and demonstrations, and post viral videos and images to influence others about any disenchantment with politicians or issues. They see this method as much more effective than traditional avenues of writing to representatives or politicians, since they don’t trust these elected officials or believe they can make a difference anyway.
The ability to access news on social media and online allowed Millennials to lessen their dependence on traditional sources, such as TV news or newspapers. The ability to get political news on social media and online also served to heighten awareness of issues they may otherwise not have been aware of or even thought about. Their friends and peer groups also serve as a source of disseminating news or events as they are broadcasting it on their social media feeds or tweeting about it or even talking about it on group chats and text messages. Of course, as we saw in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, this approach can easily go awry and feed misinformation to the masses. Fixing this problem is gaining traction and some are starting to take a step back before blindly believing what they see via these newer “news” channels.
Millennials are Slowly Moving Away from the Traditional 9 to 5 Job
Millennials are famously known as the job-hopping generation and the least engaged with their jobs. According to a Gallup study, “Millennials are the least engaged in the workforce, only 29% are engaged while 55% percent are not engaged, and 16% are actively engaged. They also change jobs more often than other generations. About 21% of Millennials report switching jobs within the last year, and 60% are open to a different opportunity.” (Source: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238073/millennials-work-live.aspx)
Why is this? Growing up, Millennials saw their parents’ slave away in a 9 to 5 job that was not necessarily satisfying or rewarding. They felt employers controlled their parents, dictating everything from how they should work, to the number of hours, and right down to the dress code. Millennials are very clear they do not want this. Rather, they want a job that is meaningful and fulfilling, and job-hopping allows them to explore opportunities so they can figure out their ultimate passion. They are willing to risk security and stability in the pursuit of happiness.
Millennials have a different mentality when it comes to work. They were raised by their parents to be very positive about themselves. This became a fixture in their minds as they came into adulthood, and with it an undeniable confidence and self-value. Millennials recognize they are a generation that brings unique expertise and skill-sets to the workplace. They see their technological savviness a huge asset. The world is becoming tech-focused and companies need to adapt and continue to evolve with it. As such, Millennials enter jobs with a strong belief (and possibly overly inflated view) that employers are lucky to have them (not the other way around). If employers don’t meet their demands, they have no qualms about leaving for other companies that will appreciate and respect their contributions.
What do Millennials want from the workplace? In a global Millennial survey conducted by Deloitte (Source: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html), flexibility continues to be important in keeping loyalty and engagement. This provides them the balance they need to pursue other interests and obligations outside of work. It is one of the top three list of things Millennials specifically seek out when considering a company. Millennials want a flexible schedule where they can choose their own work hours and a flexible location where they can choose where they work – whether it be at the office, home or anyplace else (even out of the country). Due to technology, Millennials do not see a point in being in a physical office every day because they can be connected anyplace and anytime of the day. The work they produce should be the judge of their company contribution, and not how, when and where they work.
Along with flexibility, a positive work culture is vital to Millennials being happy at their job. Hierarchies of the past won’t work for Millennials. Again, respect is key for this generation. Just because they are younger and less experienced doesn’t mean they cannot add value. They won’t settle with the notion of “that’s how it has always been done.” This viewpoint is the kiss of death for this generation. They work best in collaborative and team-oriented environments where everyone is treated as equals and all voices are heard. They want to be nurtured, supported, and mentored and this goes beyond the traditional annual reviews. They want constant feedback on their performance and to engage in ongoing learning. They also demand that companies provide them with the tools and technology to make their jobs more efficient – again a product of growing up in the digital age and in line with a flex schedule.
We also can’t ignore that Millennials have an entrepreneurial spirit and many aspire one day to start their own business, even if they haven’t acted on it. The idea of business ownership provides Millennials with the flexibility and independence they crave. They are somewhat hesitant, because many were hit hard by the recession and still shoulder or are recovering from their student loan debts. Some also feel they lack the knowledge and expertise to start their own business. However, Millennials have already doubled the number of companies started compared to Baby Boomers, again showcasing that they are a generation not afraid to take risks or fail (Source: https://wealthmanagement.bnpparibas/en/news/entrepreneur-report-2016.html). It will be interesting to see how the landscape changes particularly among older Millennials as they get out of debt and take the risk to be entrepreneurs.
Millennials are Putting Brands on Check
Gone are the days a brand can put a product in market, showcase its features and benefits, have an aspirational message, and then call it a day. While this traditional approach may be oversimplified here, the point is that Millennials have made it 100 times more complicated for brands than ever before.
Traditionally, brands have owned the narrative, telling consumers everything from why they should buy, how the product should make them feel, where to buy, how much they should pay, and so on. Prior generations generally bought into this form of marketing. Take for example, Tiffany’s and their iconic blue box. Who doesn’t remember thinking that if they got the Tiffany’s blue box, they were special and loved? It was an aspirational luxury brand to have, and buyers didn’t think twice about the premium they were paying. Or how about the Hummer sports utility vehicle? They sold men on the idea that this car was a reflection of what a man epitomizes – big, strong, and manly. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger drove one, and he was a big movie star at that time so it compounded the aspirational goal to own one.
Would the Millennial generation have bought into these brand stories? My guess is no - Tiffany’s had to rework their marketing strategy to make the iconic blue box relevant to this generation, which doesn’t care as much for luxurious brands. Hummers (though discontinued) were not environmentally friendly and this goes against the grain of Millennials belief and environmental consciousness. These are just two examples of the shift, there are many more.
Again, technology played a huge role in Millennials disrupting brands and the retail world. Before online shopping, consumers had to drive to the mall or the store. They were limited by the brands and stock in the store to which they were loyal and price was what it was with the exception of occasional sales events. If previous generations had a bad brand or store experience, recourse was limited to telling some friends and family, or calling or writing to customer service and that was it.
Online shopping opened up a whole new world for Millennials who embraced it more quickly than previous generations and used it to their advantage. Millennials realized quickly that brands may be the product creators, but they themselves had the power to make or break that product. Online shopping, coupled with social media gave Millennials the opportunity to find and learn about many more brand/product options they may have otherwise not have been privy to in the past. They were able to conduct searches on these brands/products and do their own unbiased research (e.g., price comparisons, product ingredients, brand attributes, peer reviews and so on) before committing to buy. This marked the end of brand loyalty, and the dawn of the promiscuous shopping generation. Similar to the technology they grew up with, Millennials believe brands need to constantly be innovating and evolving their product offerings or coming up with new ones. They have no problem switching from brand to brand if they are given a good reason to do so.
Millennials are social media sharers and this is especially true when it comes to getting their opinions out there about brands and product experiences. In some sense, they are brand ambassadors. They like to share with friends, followers and even strangers on social sites. Social media platforms gave them the perfect forum for voicing their opinions and preferences – good or bad – and provided the opportunity to be influencers. Millennials also trust peer-generated endorsements more so than corporate generated advertisements. They will scour sites to see what people are saying in product reviews and experiences and check out product ratings. They place more trust on these reviews over anything a company has to say. Think about the times you have decided not to try a new restaurant because Yelp users gave it a low rating or bad review, or you have stopped using or supporting a brand because they were called out for discrimination or cruelty. Millennials like to think of themselves as co-storytellers for brands, adding to the brand’s own messaging, but in a truthful and honest way.
Online shopping meant that consumers no longer had to go to a physical store. They can have anything shipped to their house from anywhere in the world. This is not to say it is death of the retail store. Millennials value experience so brands must create a seamless online to store environment where they can interact both with the brand and other consumers. They want to be seen more than just a transaction, but an integral part of the brand story, and if they do it well, their social media friends and followers will know about it. I should also say that website experience is even more crucial for this generation. Because technology has been such a large part of their lives, they have high expectations when it comes to the online shopping experience. If the website interface is “clunky” and difficult to navigate, they are done with the brand and their peers will hear about it.
Millennials Want to Leave the World in a Better Place
Millennials are the most civic-minded of the adult generations. They were taught by their Boomer parents to be good citizens and lend support to social causes, just as Boomers themselves were an active voice for political and social change in their own time (Vietnam War Protests, Civil Rights Movement - just to name a couple). One catalyst for this mindset was the enormity of the 9/11 terrorist attack, which had a profound impact on this generation growing up. In a sense, 9/11 ripped away any semblance of safety and marked the end of their childhood innocence. On the other hand, it showed Millennials as well how a country can unite after such a tragedy also making them a more empathetic and loving generation than those before. As they grew up, they have been able to find ways to align their beliefs and causes with like-minded institutions or individuals, and are more likely than any other adult generation to volunteer.
Millennials are more likely to engage in brands that are committed to supporting social causes and that are not afraid to stand up for social injustices. An example is TOMS shoes, where for every shoe bought, the company donates one to an impoverished child. Another is Nike, which used the controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick (who kneeled before NFL games to protest police brutality) in its advertising. Nike understood that the country was divided on this issue, but they made a bold statement anyway, causing quite a hubbub in the media. Studies showed that even with the backlash, the company’s sales were not impacted significantly.
Millennials make a conscious effort to put their purchasing dollars toward socially responsible brands. If presented with brand options (and price and quality were generally the same), they will choose the ethical brand. It is important to Millennials that their purchases are an expression of their personality and fulfill their need to want to do good. Unlike Baby Boomers and Generation X, who consume based on quality, Millennials tend to be more frugal and value products that meet both a logistical and emotional need. Millennials do struggle at times with this ideal as they sometimes are forced to buy from corporations that represent everything they are against. Price is a huge driving factor and they have to be careful how they spend as they are not making as much income as prior generations.
They also hold similar expectations in the workplace as well. If given the choice, Millennials would rather work for a business that is socially responsible, and not just for a paycheck. In their eyes, businesses need to be involved in programs and initiatives that give back to society and focus on improving the world. This is a priority to Millennials and they are willing to take a smaller salary for a company that aligns with their values. In fact, in a recent study with Millennial workers at large companies in the U.S. found that: “three-quarters of Millennial workers said they are willing to accept a smaller salary to work for a company that’s environmentally responsible; more than 10% of workers said they’d be willing to go as far as to take a $5,000-$10,000 pay cut; and nearly 40% said that they’ve chosen a job in the past because the company performed better on sustainability than the alternative.” (Source: https://www.fastcompany.com/90306556/most-millennials-would-take-a-pay-cut-to-work-at-a-sustainable-company?partner=rss&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=rss+fastcompany&utm_content=rss&fbclid=IwAR0KOnkyTMEc0FJGOs6a2n__kY_Bf_hJQJ9csPyuRIaAe-1YAfDXgjdxZj8) They are also more likely than Baby Boomers and Generation X to say it is important for the corporate world to give to charities (Source: http://fortune.com/2016/08/11/millennials-philanthropy/).
Heroes to Millennials are those who are similar in their ideals and want to make the world a better place. They see heroes as those who have the courage to stand up for their beliefs however unpopular, are making an impact on social causes and who make sacrifices in order to serve others. It does not necessarily have to be a public figure as many call out their parents as being their heroes. As one Millennial I spoke with said it well, “I believe in everyday heroes. People who leverage whatever position they are in to do the right thing, especially if it puts them at personal risk. People who make the lives of someone else better.”
Forward Looking with Millennials
Despite a rather slow and winding path to adulthood, Millennials are solidly coming into their own. Their behaviors and values have been shaped by their journey, wrought by social and economic trials, and clear preferences are emerging that is primed to put Millennials in the forefront of shaping the future of this world. The digital revolution has largely shaped who Millennials are today and has proved to be a catalyst for change for this generation. Technology will continue to be integral in their lives and no doubt they will be leading the future of the digital age.
One area Millennials are leveraging technology to influence change is in the workplace. As of now, the concept of flexible work is still on the sidelines rather than at the forefront of many companies but this needs to change, and quickly. Technology, social collaboration tools (e.g., Slack, Google Hangouts, GoToMeetings, etc.), and widespread connectivity makes it easier than ever to work anytime and anyplace. To attract and retain Millennials, companies will need to throw out old conventions and adopt policies and management styles that will allow for flexible work and telecommuting. More and more Millennials may also enter into the gig economy, driven by significant technology advancements and built-in flexibility. Companies will really need to listen to Millennials to keep them. Freedom is key for this group, and the gig economy allows them the work-life balance they crave as well as opportunities to travel and grow from personal experiences, without forgoing their career or financial security.
Millennials are influencing the way we now shop and travel and, of course, a large part of this is due to technology. This will impact how companies communicate and connect to consumers now and in the future. Shopping in general is no longer a simple process. Millennials will use a variety of informational sources before deciding on what to buy and the list is long, ranging from online reviews to word-of-mouth endorsements by family and friends. In return, they will also make sure everyone knows about their final purchase on social media and will write reviews and share their experiences as well. Thus, brand loyalty is low for this generation, even if they had a good experience with the brand in the past. Companies will have to work harder to gain their share of wallet. We have to reframe our thinking for this generation moving forward not with loyalty as a conclusion, but the goal of giving Millennials a reason to connect and return.
Brand loyalty isn’t the only thing to change in the purchase journey. Millennials are starting to place higher value on spending money on experiences (e.g., concerts, vacations, dining, etc.) and less on material possessions. Millennials are social people (not just on social media) and value happiness including spending time with friends and family, over actual things. We also can’t forget Millennials love to share on social media and experiences are more “Instagram” worthy than buying products. These factors along with their history of financial struggles, may be creating a movement among this generation. We already see evidence of this as Millennials influence the sharing economy and companies have taken notice. They share with their peers: cars (Uber, Lyft), workspaces (WeWork), homes (Airbnb, VRBO), clothes (Rent the Runway), bikes (Citi bike), e-scooters (Bird, Lime, Skip) and more. It will be interesting to see how the sharing economy evolves in the future when Millennials boost their buying power and start families of their own (older Millennials are hitting this stage). As they age, we may see this generation begin to purchase their own homes and cars. The economy is likely to continue to be impacted by the sharing mentality, even if the housing and automotive industries spur economic growth, as fewer cars and less waste are intrinsically better for the environment (important factor for this group).
When it comes to travel, Millennials are a whole new breed quite different from Baby Boomers and Generation X. They are changing what vacations mean and don’t care as much about relaxation or pre-planned itineraries or first-class accommodations. Millennials are innate adventure seekers and want authentic, in-the-moment experiences, where they are fully immersed in the culture and day-to-day life of locals. Travel to them is a source of self-education and awareness into how people live in other parts of the world. They choose to stay where the locals are, preferring to Airbnb if they can. While they are budget conscious, they are willing to spend if it is a worthy experience. It’s no surprise as well they like to share every step of their journey on social media via photos, videos, and blogs to inform and, in some ways brag, about what they are doing and this at times can hurt companies if they have a bad experience. The travel industry, along with agents, need to subscribe to this new way of traveling for Millennials and plan accordingly around their needs both before, during and after the trip. Using Millennials as a model to develop products and services and plan marketing strategies that focus on experiences will be essential for the future of this industry.
Millennials are also influencing the food industry like no other adult generation before them, and advocating for consumers to be more health conscious and know what they are putting in their mouths. Their demands for supply chain transparency are changing the way food companies do business. They want to know where their food comes from, and are pushing for things like ethical and humane treatment of animals, eco-friendly options and organic products. Trends toward plant-based diets continue to grow with increase in veganism and vegetarianism worldwide, which experts say is driven by the Millennials (Source: https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/) Restaurants and food products that cater to this growing crowd are popping up in cities and stores across the nation. This rise in health consciousness when it comes to food consumption can also be tracked through the rise of food and meal kit delivery services, like Blue Apron. (Source: https://www.supermarketnews.com/online-retail/meal-kit-players-adapt-changing-market) Millennials are driving awareness and transparency when it comes to what they put in their bodies, and the food industry will be forced to adapt.
As we discussed earlier, Millennials are the most racially diverse and highly educated adult generation, and the demographic makeup of Millennials is expected to become even more diverse with immigration on the rise. This will indeed affect the future of the workplace especially as Millennials enter into management positions. They will influence hiring practices, championing more diverse people across teams and sectors and bolstering diversity programs within organizations (or even creating them if companies don’t have one). We will also see political leanings shift potentially in the next election as the size of the Millennial population puts them in a unique position to really influence the outcome (that is if they vote). Millennials are also beginning to hold government positions (and this will continue to increase), and more likely than not lead towards a shift to more liberal policies.
In short, the Millennials are changing nearly every aspect of our life - both from a societal and consumer standpoint. They are racially diverse, highly educated and every aspect of their lives has been permeated by technology. They are and will continue to demand change when it comes to the way they work, shop, play and interact with the world around them. Their size and their profound voice - amplified by the technology that is so much a part of them - will continue to have massive influence on social, environmental, political and consumption issues as they continue to mature.
I’m a brand strategy and communications expert. With twenty-two years of experience in the research industry uncovering intelligent shopper insights, I am passionate about revealing the shopper truth and its rising importance in the digital age. My curiosity about the consumer mindset and what drives their actions and thinking has led to a commitment to understanding consumers from all angles, behaviorally and psychologically.
I have worked with Fortune 500 brands to understand how different generations think and interact, and how to effectively market to each group. I have shared my findings by authoring nationally placed articles, including as a member of the Forbes Agency Council, about Millennials, Generation X and Generation Z.
When it comes to research and consumer insights, I have been successful in helping clients apply research findings to drive vital business decisions. I’m not shy about being the “research nerd” in the room and championing the positive impact that market research insights can have on businesses.
I’m an experienced founder of a brand consulting agency and have held senior roles in well-known research companies.