I recently attended a forum with other consumer insight professionals from various industries to talk about the hottest marketing topic du jour, Millennials. We were asked to share our stories of our experiences in connecting with this generation, but instead of tales of success, most told tales of woe.
A major American car manufacturer was gung ho to sell their latest and greatest in auto engineering, but Millennials weren’t even walking into dealerships. A global hotel group spruced up their properties and upgraded amenities like restaurants, but revenue and bookings hadn’t increased. The leading mortgage creditor in the US was set to go with financial products when Millinnials had reached the traditional age when people get their first mortgage, but no one was knocking.
Going around the room, you’d think that this generation had been abducted and taken to a planet far, far away. One joked that they should really be named the Houdini generation. Obviously they haven’t disappeared, so why were they not buying the way like those before them?
The news of late reflects this reality, so the quest is on to figure out how to connect with this elusive generation. 78 million strong, this is the largest generation ever in the US, surpassing the once behemoth Baby Boomer cohort. Segmentation, a tool that has been used for decades to help marketers pinpoint target audiences, hasn’t provide any real insight. A recent segmentation study featured in Adweek attempted to break them down into twelve subgroups. Twelve! This has been a tough cohort to segment not only due to their diverse demography, experiences and attitudes, but also their values.Part of the problem seems to be the way we have traditionally understood 20-somethings. Old assumptions are being challenged. For instance, education used to be the key to better employment and earnings. Not so with Millennials. Along with their diploma, they are leaving school with a mountain of debt and fears of long-term unemployment.
They have less resources than previous generations, but technology and the start-up culture is allowing them to do things and experience the world instead of sitting on the sidelines. They are spending money, but just not they way other generations before them have. The sharing economy is real and is disrupting the notion of “owning.” Why buy a car when you can find one nearest you and use it for a few hours? Why stay in a hotel in the tourist part of town when you can rent someone’s cool studio and experience a new city in an authentic way? But sharing also enables communities and individuals to connect, and it enables everyday-entrepreneurs. Hooray for the little guy! Huzzah to ingenuity! This generation isn’t looking to the old institutions of yore (government, corporations, education, doctors, etc.) to make things happen. They are willing – and doing it – themselves.
The new paradigm is shifting towards doing rather than just having.
This is the opportunity for marketers. While segmentation and other studies haven’t found a clear way to define subgroups, the one thing that keeps popping up is the value of doing. A study quoted in an article in Adweek revealed that Millennials have less interest in rebellion and revolution more toward problem solving.
Millennials want help doing things. They will look to brands that will open up a world of experiences for them, but they demand that the brand is transparent and intentions are authentic. Brands that have a purpose in helping people do will be the ones called on by this generation. This means that brands have to use a new playbook where the first rule is about being purposeful. This means not saying things, but actually doing things: Helping Millennials make stuff happen, creating products with real utility, supporting endeavors the community cares about through action. The brands that will endure will be the ones who use this as their new playbook.
So maybe it’s time we rename this amazing generation to something more befitting their values. Generation DO or Purpose Generation rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?