The world is in a constant state of change. Now more than ever before. Daily if not hourly, new technology advances, changing the way we interact and communicate. The push for constant innovation is giving rise to not just a new way of shopping, but a new consumer and with it a new consumer mind-set.
Driven by the so-called ‘Millennial consumer’, the occurrence is so subtle and commonplace you don’t even realise it’s happening. But boy is it! This wave of consumerism is being spearheaded by a generation who have grown up in the digital age. They don’t suffer any of the scepticism and mistrust of the World Wide Web, nor the geographical boundaries that limited previous generations.
Call them what you will – Generation Y, Generation Next, this Millennial Consumer is challenging the status quo in advertising and marketing and it’s getting brands hot under the collar.
Where previously a good TV commercial, flighted with sufficient frequency, would garner some reaction, it’s becoming harder and harder to get the same levels of interest and engagement that was once a given. As buying power begins to shift from Generation X to the Millennials, many marketers find themselves having to rethink their communication strategies to meet the demands of a new and challenging market.
These Millennial consumers are the ‘Mini-Me’s’ of Generation X, now all grown up- and with money to spend. In fact in the next five years this group will have more spending power than any other generation before them! BUT, they are nothing like previous generations of consumers.
So, you ask yourself, why should this matter?
Simply, these Millennials are positioned to be the most important consumer generation that has ever existed. Defined as being born between 1980 – 2004, in the US alone they number 79M vs. Generation X’s 48M. That’s an awful lot of people, money and influence. Millennials will have the most spending power of any generation by 2018. They will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025, and will surpass all other generations in total earnings, according to Credit Union magazine.
This generation has no memory of life before cell phones, the internet or social media. They are what you would call ‘digital natives’. Social media is not a communication platform; it is part of their identity, an extension of self. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube are all just who they are. Pair this with the fact that this generation has lived through significant political, social and economic upheavals and change, and it’s no wonder they have a hard time trusting traditional advertising.
All recent studies show that Millennials have not only a distrust of traditional channels used for promotion, but also online advertising. This despite being very comfortable with online purchases and ownership such as cloud computing, music downloads and ebooks. They are very quick to adopt new technologies, but are still cautious in its application, which is why not every brand succeeds in the online environment.
While Millennials might enjoy the online environment to compare products, they still want to come into a brick and mortar store to check out larger ticket items – so car showrooms are certainly going to be with us for a while!
Millennials love to share information about everything. Every experience of delight or disgust is ‘Instagrammed’ or Tweeted out into cyberspace for everyone to comment on. They take word of mouth to a whole new level. A great brand experience gives rise to many shout outs and likes on Facebook, but the down side is that a bad experience means your Facebook wall could look like a warzone if you aren’t careful!
The thing is that Millennials really do believe it is their duty to tell a brand when they have a good or bad experience. They see it as their responsibility to save the planet from the serious mistakes of the past, and are firm champions of eco-friendly everything. As a result we see more inclination to support brands with good CSI programmes in place.
To add some icing onto this multi-layer cake, having grown up surrounded by the digital age, they feel they have seen it all before. So TV, radio, print and outdoor ads are old-hat, and even in the digital space they have become adept at tuning out adverts and avoiding them altogether.
As an example, when asked about sponsored stories in their Facebook feeds Millennials responded:
“Hardly notice it – glaze over it. I’ve gotten so good at ignoring ads in the feed.” – Male age 18.
“I can’t even remember one advertisement.”– Male age 18.
“I don’t even see them.” – Female age 18.
More than any other generation, they have tipped the balance of power away from advertisers. No other generation has had the freedom to choose to interact with or completely ignore advertising as much.
This places marketers in a bit of a quandary, and there is a frantic foxtrot going on with attempts to try and understand and work with the current shift in behavioural habits. Pair that with the fact that Millennials love to compare brands against each other and try to derive the best ‘additional’ value in the form of freebies, discounts or special offers, and you can see why things are getting out of hand. As more Millennials enter the market, retailers are beginning to feel the pressure of bringing change to buying patterns the world over.
Savvy brand managers and marketers need to find new ways to engage with this customer, but if traditional and even new media approaches don’t work, what does?
Let us go back to their distrust of advertising. We know they trust their friends and social connections. So what does this mean exactly for brands?
SocialChorus’s “Millennials as Advocates Survey.” Survey of July 2013 reveals that 95% of Millennials say that friends are the most credible source of product information. The survey further reveals that 91% of Millennials would consider purchasing a product if a friend recommended it, and that they are more likely to engage with a friend’s post over a brand post. Ah yes, good old word of mouth as mentioned previously.
How do marketers harness this reality? Clearly, they need to embrace new marketing methods that allow them to connect with Millennials to help share the brand story with other Millennials. They need to find new brand champions or advocates to spread their stories.
By now you should have spotted a common thread, it really is going to be the key to harnessing the buying power of this consumer. For advertisers and brand managers this might be a bitter pill to swallow, but… It’s really not about you as a brand at all, it’s all about them.
By making Millennials part of your brand story you get them to cement the relationship with your brand. Brands need to show Millennials that you care about them. If you do, they will be happy to advocate on behalf on your brand. You can’t reach out just once and forget about them. This is going to be a long-term relationship and for that brands must have a solid communication plan.
Some food for thought is that never before has a generation sought to not only bridge but also actually obliterate the line between adverting and their reality. What makes this a scary reality is that they are armed with the social media tools to make this happen. This generation is changing the marketing landscape forever. Brands and Marketers must recognise this and adopt a strategy to connect and engage.
The final outcome? Eventually it will lead to personalised individual bespoke communication but that’s a topic I will save for another newsletter!
Merissa Himraj is business unit manager at The MediaShop.
IMAGE: Wikimedia Creative Commons