In the crowded landscape of generations, Millennials – initially dubbed Generation Y — may be the most popular, examined and adored of any generational group in a long while. Millennials, the first group to live from birth-to-death in the technology age, are one of the largest and most noteworthy cohorts. Born roughly between 1981 to 2000, it’s estimated that there were approximately 80 million Millennials in the U.S. in 2012. That number is expected to continue growing due to immigration of large numbers of younger people into the country.
Although scrutinized ad nauseam by analysts, demographers and sociologists alike, few agree on what qualities and quirks Millennials have in common. In fact, very diverse opinions reign on what defines a Millennial and what attributes the generation shares. Perhaps that is because it is still early in the process. After all, Millennials currently range in age from 16 to 35 years old. The younger members of that generation are just now coming of age and being shaped by the economic, social, political and technological developments of the 21st century. So what do businesses need to understand to be able to create a Millennial-friendly sales experience and customer service approach? And what should businesses consider as they hire and manage employees from this generation?
Millennials are not only the largest generation in U.S. history, they’re on the cusp of commanding the largest wallet power as well. It’s estimated they’ll be spending $200 billion annually by 2017 and $10 trillion over their lifetimes as consumers, in the U.S. alone. Therefore it is important, if not imperative, for businesses to understand this group.
So what do studies and surveys tell us about them?
The First Digital Natives
As the first generation of pure digital natives, this generation has a perspective on technology that is unique in the history of the world. No Millenial can remember a time in their life without the Internet or personal computers. Their entire existence has occurred after the start of the digital revolution. For them, the world — as they know it — is technology-powered. Access to information is unlimited. Virtually no problem is too complex for computers to solve. It is similar perhaps to what the generation in the late 1800s experienced being the first to live birth-to-death in the industrial age. How different must the world have appeared to that post-industrial-revolution generation than it had to their parents or grandparents, who could still remember a time before the advent of machines. So too it must be for Millennials in the digital age.
Thanks to technology and social media, Millennials believe in the power of unity and collective action. By sticking together, they see that a group can be a powerful force for change. However, their view of social activism tends to incorporate social responsibility into everyday behaviors more than in public acts of opposition. The Occupy Wall Street movement was the exception, not the rule. And while Boomers and Gen Xers saw the Occupy Wall Street as a bust in terms of results, Millennials saw it as a success in voicing their concerns. They see social activism and community responsibility as a journey, not about specific results. For example, 44% of Millennials practice being green in their daily lives and see their social activism as it relates to their overall persona. Millennials aren’t as interested in doing massive letter-writing campaigns, sit-ins or marches. They express their social activities in other ways. For example, Millennials don’t show up to a one-day rally to voice their objection to animal cruelty because they volunteer regularly at animal shelters, purchase products manufactured by companies that won’t test on animals, and have been fans of ASPCA and PETA on Facebook for a decade. Plus, they talk about ending animal cruelty regularly with their friends and family. Overall, they believe their everyday actions or online activity is more influential and effective long-term than flashy, short-term vocal acts. Businesses selling to Millennials would do well to appeal to their community responsibility in marketing products and services to them, such as showcasing eco-friendly products, socially-responsible services, and community-supportive organizations.
Access to technology and massive amounts of information has also made Millennials very street smart, confident, and highly-social people. They also want and value flexibility and are very good at multi-tasking, toggling back-and-forth amongst a multitude of tasks. They are, however, less efficient than if they were focusing on just one thing at a time, something at which Millennials are not as skilled. Businesses should keep this in mind as they hire Millennial employees. Millennials are more likely to appreciate working for a socially-responsible company that offers a flexible schedule over bonuses, raises and fancy titles.
Possibly also a byproduct of their unfettered access to information, Millennials are also tenacious. They’ve seen the power of tenacity in achieving results, which also relates to their approach to social issues. For Millennials, this is an asset in solving problems and finding solutions, but a liability in letting go of trivial matters at work.
Raised by their Boomer and Gen Xer parents in an atmosphere of equal relationships and co-decision-making, Millennials believe in collaboration, cooperation and cohesiveness. They have a positive, somewhat heroic, community-oriented “we can fix it together” mindset. That makes them ideal employees for jobs in public service. They just want everyone to get along, and believe everyone should be able to do that. Along that vein, Millennials are also more accepting of diversity. They were taught to “agree to disagree.” In contrast, though, their increasing interaction with technology has also resulted in this cohort having a lower ability to deal with difficult people. Their people-skills are weaker than those of their parents and grandparents. So while they think everyone should get along, they ironically are less able to handle difficult personalities and those who just can’t get along. Businesses hiring and managing Millennials need to understand this limitation and offer training to overcome this in order for Millennials to work well with difficult coworkers and help difficult customers.
Because Millennials have grown up with technology, they have a low tolerance for technology that doesn’t work. Millennials will not appreciate or shop with companies whose websites are down, slow or don’t work right, and they will not appreciate websites that aren’t optimized for mobile devices. Businesses that want to sell to Millennials need to pay attention to their digital presence and their customer’s digital experience. Likewise, Millennial employees will not respect a company that doesn’t keep its technology current, and companies will have trouble attracting Millennial employees if they don’t use cutting-edge technology in the recruiting, hiring and managing processes.
Shaped by the Economy.
While it can be said that all working generations were hard hit by the Great Recession, the economic challenges for Millennials were greater than for any other generation.
Millennials were deeply affected by the economic conditions of the last decade. In fact, the financial crisis that began in 2007 had a huge impact in shaping Millennials. The youth unemployment rate in the U.S. reached a record level of 19% in July 2010, when half of Millennials had entered the workforce. This was the highest level since the statistic started being gathered in 1948. Millennials also suffered from underemployment. The Great Recession contributed to dramatic increases in youth poverty, unemployment, and the number of young adults forced to continue living with their parents. In April 2012, half of all new college graduates in the U.S. were still either unemployed or underemployed.
What’s worse, according to a Bloomberg article, Millennials have benefited least from the economic recovery following the Great Recession. Average incomes for Generation Y fell at twice the rate as that of the general adult population’s total drop and is on a path toward lower incomes for at least another decade. The earnings and employment gap between the under-35 population versus other generations is huge. This is squashing the long-held belief that in America each generation will do better than the one before it. Millennials are the first generation to experience this. Perhaps that is why Millennials want a job they enjoy that provides security and flexibility, but they place relatively little importance on high pay.
Marketing to Millennials
Gen Y members are much more racially and ethnically diverse and they are much more segmented as an audience – identifying themselves by a multitude of subgroups and subcultures — aided by the rapid expansion in Cable TV channels, satellite radio, the Internet, e-zines, etc. In doing so, marketing is challenged to speak to these diverse segments in meaningful ways.
What’s more, Millennials are also incredibly sophisticated consumers. Yet they are also somewhat suspicious and suspect of marketing ploys, and are immune to most traditional marketing and sales pitches. That’s because they’ve seen it all and been exposed to it all since early childhood through the saturation of messaging through so many mediums. That explains why Millennials are less brand loyal.
Because they are extremely tech savvy and used to toggling rapidly between devices, platforms and sources, the speed of the Internet has made Millennials very flexible. This flexibility extends to their sense of style, changes in their fashion and where and how their style consciousness is communicated. However, because the economy has been so hard on this generation, one in nine Gen Yers has a credit card co-signed by a parent.
Millennials, often raised in dual income or single parent families, have been more involved in family purchases…everything from groceries to new cars. Also, because they live at home, they have better relationships with their parents than past generations. That means they are influencing their parents’ buying decisions.
For all of these reasons, Millennials are more influential than businesses may realize. It is an audience that is and will continue to be influential and important for businesses now and for many decades to come.
Quote of the Week
“Compared to other generations, Millennials tend to be more collaborative, are accustomed to working in teams & have a passion for pressure.” Joanie Connell
© 2015, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.