The Values Driving Today's Teens

We all know that teens today are embracing social media and technology more than any other generation. Its impact has been well documented, yet not enough focus has been given to understanding who they are, and the values that have shaped their beliefs and world view.

Keep in mind, today's incoming college freshmen were only seven years old during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. While Millennials are old enough to remember a time when "money was no object" and the threat of war was limited to nightly spots on the news, this generation has been profoundly impacted by world events, and their personal values reflect the "new normal" we have all been experiencing for some time. Why does this matter to brand marketers? Our success in bonding with today's youth begins by understanding what motivates them at the deepest level.

How They Define Success:

As a Millennial born of and raised by Boomers, I was taught that if you worked hard and saved your money, you would be able to live indefinitely off your nest egg and retire comfortably, preferably somewhere warm and dry, and on a golf course. In the wake of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, today's youth are being taught a different lesson about money: "Don't take anything for granted, or assume money will always be there for you."

The uncertainty of financial success has refocused our country's priorities back to spending time with our families and doing what you love, not necessarily what will make you wealthy. This shift in values is also reflected in how teens define success. Seventy-nine percent* define success as "doing what you are passionate about" and "raising a loving family" while only 13% describe success as being the CEO of a major company. Appearing successful to others, a trait coveted by many Boomers and Gen X, is also not as desirable to this generation, as only 18% feel this is important.

Today's youth are not influenced by money or the image of success. In fact, even in their online communities, only 6% feel that "having lots of friends on Facebook" is an influential quality. The vast majority believe "Being True To Yourself" is inherently more influential in life (62%).

A Generation of Actionists:

Our youth are not a generation of "haters." They don't blame their parents for the problems in their own lives; rather they see technology as empowering them to make a positive impact on their world. They are much more likely to come together, on and offline, to achieve a common good than prior generations, and view social media as a major catalyst for change.

Shaping Their Identity Through Social Media:

Today's youth have been building their own personal brand for years, and will be the most brand-savvy generation the world has ever known. They have hand-selected every photo, wall post, tweet, and "like" that has been tied to their digital persona, and have carefully built their outward-facing identities. This is quite possibly the greatest insight a brand marketer can glean: Their brand will always be secondary to the consumer's. The same way youth selects a photo or a wall post, they will also choose or deny your brand, depending on how it adds to or detracts from their own social brand persona.

Head in the Clouds, With Feet on the Ground:

This is not a generation of wishful thinkers, or irrational optimists. They know that hard work is needed to achieve their dreams, yet they believe that "Anything is possible through hard work." Their preference in brands has shifted as their personal values have impacted what they value in a brand. While Millennials cared about how expensive something was, the status it provided, the celebrity it was tied to or its "bling factor," today's youth puts a premium on how new something is and are more interested in product performance than status. They care less about the "badge value" of a premium brand and more about the originality and authenticity of the brand story.

Empower Them To Make Their Mark:

I am confident that today's youth will grow up to be well-adjusted, practically minded, successful problem solvers, who will live life to the fullest and make the planet better for all of us. As brand marketers, we need to help this generation on their quest by empowering them through our products, celebrate their personal brand and achievements, and embrace their desire to make their own mark on the world.

* Note: Mr Youth leveraged Crowdtap -- a startup incubated within Mr Youth that helps brands engage audiences -- as a means to gain insights into this audience via a nationwide poll of males and females ages 14-17.

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1 comment about "The Values Driving Today's Teens ".
  1. Jonathan Hall from American Pop , August 4, 2011 at 2:32 p.m.

    Love the blog! We're seeing that incoming College Grads coming to work for us have these qualities. It makes for a great work atmosphere since we (the Partners) share those values. Maybe we'll see a generation willing to pay a little more for a product if it's guaranteed to not have been made in a sweat shop or outsourced abroad.