Millennials: are they different like everybody else?

Ahhhh millennials, the mere mention of you fills marketers and agency types with foreboding. What to do, what to do?

The issue of these renamed Gen Y’ers and how we interact, employ and market to them, is of huge importance to business and the world at large. Depending on what you read, they are here to save us or utterly destroy us. It’s their world now. So, should we run with it or keep resisting until we’re irrelevant and our arthritic limbs can fight no more?

For those of you like me who are Generation X (MTV was cool right?) or boomers (Hunter S Thompson was cool right?), millennials were born between 1980 and 1999. Basically, if you are over 35, no matter how thick your beard is or how tight your drainpipes are, you are not a millennial.

{% gallery ‘millennials’ %} A client recently asked me to investigate this group and it became clear that the questions were much more important than the answers. To help us on this journey we also enlisted AUT to act as an academic resource and gave us access to its students for some formal research.

This subject has massively conflicting reports even from the same publications. In 2000, Time lauded them as the ‘We’ generation whilst in 2012 revised this to the ‘Me, Me, Me’ generation. They were seen to have narcissistic personality disorder, expect to be promoted every two years (irrespective of performance) and they believe they absolutely deserve more responsibility. Interestingly, they are the  first generation not to site work ethic as a defining skill. Instead they say it is technology, music and pop culture that’s important to them.

They are optimistic, over-confident, embrace change and crave a voice. This is where I protest, ‘Is that any different from any other emerging generation?’ Every youth culture demands a pivotal moment of revolution, it’s what they do.

To look at this, we tracked the big articles of each decade that delved deep into what made each generation different. This included the famous LIFE magazine article from the ’60s, Tom Wolfe’s ‘Me’ generation from the ’70s, right through to Rolling Stone in the ’90’s. Youth culture doesn’t change that much, certainly the need to express your collective voice does not and will not diminish. A younger generation is always at odds with its predecessors and the patricians are always trying to cling to their fading importance.

But there is one very huge difference.

It’s not technology. It’s not digital. It’s their collective power. For the first time in history, the younger generation has a very loud and influential voice, and they know how to use it. By becoming a global collective, these guys can quickly bring a product, a person or indeed a government to their knees from their bedroom.

That’s right, they own the media and this is the biggest change. They can force their message from any hand-held device on the planet and they vote quickly with their wallets (anybody seen McDonald’s plummeting share in the USA recently?)

So if we want to succeed we need to join the conversation on their terms. That starts with transparency. No one can hide. No inferior product or service can survive. Just try and succeed as a hotel with a series of bad TripAdvisor reviews.

Next put the world’s biggest celebrity in the centre of it all. And no, that isn’t a Kardashian or a costly All Black sponsorship. That’s every individual millennial. They’re the centre of their own universe after all. One of the greatest endlines of recent times is YouTube’s ‘Broadcast Yourself’. This is exactly what they do, it’s hugely inspiring. What I find laughable is that we have the old guard of media trying to block their access, overcharge and slow them down. Good luck with that.

Their attitude to marriage is strong and they believe more than ever in family. However, because these guys will live on average 15-20 years longer and with the miracle of IVF, that means that children can wait until they’re 40 plus. Think how this changes the landscape massively. 30 really is the new 20 (shame to have missed that one). If you know that every decade you’re banking two years of extra life, wouldn’t that influence your life-stage choices?

A Deloitte Global Study points to the fact that they are also hugely ambitious and seek purpose in life beyond money. See? They’re already completely different to baby boomers. To this end, 83 percent believe business should have a positive impact. 77 percent choose a company’s purpose as the reason they work there. They distrust government and institutions but they do believe in ‘causes’ that bring change hope and the greater good. For the opposite of McDonald’s, check out Chipotle in the USA and then take a look at their share price.

There is a new New Zealand that they are creating. A better society than the last and it is happening in real time. We now have a window into their world every day and they are less of a mystery. We see where they are going, what they are saying and what makes them tick.

We now come full circle to answer the question of whether they are fundamentally different than any other generation, but, to be honest, that isn’t the point. What really matters is that the world and the influence of companies they have created and are advocates for (like Uber, Spotify, Toms Shoes and Chipotle) have built authenticity, instant gratification, choice and influence throughout their process and product. Now compare this to a traditional marketing approach of many legacy brands today, and staring you in the face is a glaringly obvious disconnection. Their influence on our society means that it doesn’t matter what age you are, you are not going to put up with the status quo. If you are a food brand, then where do you source your goods? Some are even labelling this customer centred burning platform for service companies the ‘Uber of everything.’ Are you ready?

One of the biggest mistakes any of us can make either personally or professionally is being unwilling to listen or adapt. If you want to really understand millennials, then simply open your laptop, turn on your phone or swipe your tablet. They’ll be there and ready to talk.

So where to from here? Ask yourself. What’s your purpose? Are you about more than profit? Is it authentic? Are you enhancing their lives or interrupting them? Do you give your customers control? Do you allow them a voice? Should you?

Better move fast, as before you know it Gen Z will be here to complicate it further.

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