In 1965, The Who released a song that went on to define an entire generation. If you’ve ever lived on Planet Earth, there’s a good chance you’ve heard it before. “My Generation” became an anti-establishment rallying cry for baby boomers — a generation that, in the eyes of their parents, were unbearably selfish, naive and privileged. Harsh words for your kids.
But remember: their parents had survived the Great Depression and endured World Wars, and they had still managed to settle down and start families at the end of the day. From their parents’ perspective, they were selfish, naive and privileged. But the world that baby boomers were growing up in was immensely different than the one that their parents were living in. Their world was calmer, it was more stable, and it meant that things like families, careers and houses could wait a bit.
50 years after the release of that song, history is repeating itself. The parallels are uncanny. For example, take TIME’s 2013 cover story, “Millennials: The Me Me Me Generation.” In fact, the subtitle itself (“Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents”) reads like someone opened the article about baby boomers from the earlier New Republic story and copy-pasted it into a thesaurus. Eerie, right?
(Courtesy of TIME Magazine)
It’s hard not to believe the hype. It seems like every new study, report or poll about millennials just builds on these stereotypes. The Atlantic blames them for the downfall of North American car giants, and Forbes thinks they’ve single-handedly killed the housing market. The narrative sounds like this: millennials are permanently in debt so they can’t contribute to the economy, but don’t hire them — they’re not ready!
But hold on. Before you write off everyone between the ages of 18 and 34 as freeloading window-shoppers, let’s take a closer look at those findings.
Forbes says one in four millennials have more debt than savings, and while that might make for a catchy headline, digging a bit further reveals something else you might find more interesting: millennials are the most active demographic when it comes to buying new technology and clothes. In fact, their purchasing habits are actually helping Canada’s economy, not hurting it.
“Boomeranging” back to their parents’ houses is allowing them to spend their money in a different way. Rather than having to set aside a third of each paycheque to cover rent and groceries, they’re saving money and spending it in two distinctly different ways than their predecessors.
- Experiences make you rich, things make you poor
Here’s the rub: six out of 10 millennials say they would prefer to spend their money on experiences rather than material things. More so than any generation that has come before them – they’re travel buffs. The most well known stereotype about millennials is also the closest to their truth. But wait — not being tied down to a lease is helpful, but you can’t exactly take off from work on a Wednesday afternoon to catch a cheap flight to Bora Bora. Right?
Not quite. Millennials are leading the charge in the entrepreneurial front — nearly 30 per cent of them are self-employed. Furthermore, over 70 per cent of millennials would take a job opportunity where they could telecommute and work from their devices anywhere over one where they couldn’t. They’d prefer to stay on top of their social media strategy from a beach or write content for their consumers on a long flight than in a cubicle. The combination of those two factors has given rise to a new trend: bleisure.
- Millennials are “NOwners”
They’re digital natives. They grew up using the Internet, and now they’re using it to build a sharing economy that lets them get the biggest bang for their buck. They don’t own cars because they ride-share using Lyft or Uber. They don’t even own bikes because they use Bike Share! And as the prophets of experiential travelling, millennials eschew the isolation of hotels in favour of feeling like a local while abroad with the help of CouchSurfing and Airbnb. Rather than buying stacks of vinyls, DVDs, CDs, heck, even iTunes singles — they’re streaming their favourite songs and movies on Spotify and Netflix.
They aren’t interested in owning things that they can share or stream. Spending less of their disposable income on a bunch of little things allows them to splurge on bigger ticket items later. Millennials are “quality over quantity” manifested in human form.
So, what does this all mean for your brand?
This is all good news. Millennials, with their “bleisure” travel, “nownership,” and “sharing economy,” might be confusing businesses and brands around the world, but that’s why they’re still the most desirable demographic to marketers. Reaching millennial audiences isn’t as hard as it seems. If you take a look at everything we’ve learned about them, there are some key trends to pick up on:
- Being conscious is cool
Even while the media attempts to paint them as apathetic and lazy — according to a 2014 Pew Research Centre study, out of all the generations alive in 2015, its millennials that say they care the most about social and political causes. Heck, they’re also the most sustainability-conscious generation, but don’t call them environmentalists, even if they’ll pay more for responsibly made products.
Companies like Ten Tree Apparel and TOMS Shoes have figured out how to incorporate millennial’s socially-conscious consumerism into their business models from the get-go. But how does this help you?
For now, start small. Connect your customers to something bigger than your company or your product. That could mean anything from staying socially aware in your next campaign like Honey Maid did or switching to an environmentally-conscious energy source like Bullfrog Power.
- Make your service an experience
Transform your connections with customers from transactions to interactions. We know that millennials are yearning for experiences — so give them some! Tokyo Smoke Found, a small coffee shop that opened in a secluded area in downtown Toronto this summer, was having trouble getting customers to come find them. With their Williamsburg café atmosphere and trendy trinket shop, they knew they’d be able to get millennial customers to keep coming back — they just needed them to come in the first place.
So they made it an experience for their potential customers. They painted some old bikes red, locked the bikes to poles in different areas of the downtown core, and attached signs that encouraged people to post a picture of the bikes with the tag #tokyosmoke on social media for a free coffee. It worked — the company’s Instagram page now has over 5,000 followers and a loyal fan base — a 600 per cent increase from before the crafty campaign!
Cracking the new consumer puzzle isn’t as hard as everyone makes it out to be. Don’t get discouraged by the hype surrounding millennials — they’re an age bracket that want to spend their money on your products just like anyone else – they just need to be wooed a bit differently.
If you want to close the emerging consumer generation gap between millennials and their parents, you need to be proactive. Make sure you’re online, and make sure that you’re promoting your business’ brand in a way that will attract these savvy shoppers.