The Story Of Self-Identity

Even as we pull out of the economic downturn, many people are still curtailing spending because a new meaning of "value" is taking hold. This shift is particularly prominent among what we call the "Post-88s" -- females, age 22 and under -- who have grown up with social media. Their story of self-identity and its impact on value is so distinct from the older half of the Gen Y population that they can no longer be considered as one market.

Count the Post-88s at the head of the pack when it comes to seeking to discover and express more of their true identity. For them to approve a product, it must reflect and expand these young women's sense of authenticity. Everything else is simply lost in translation.

Internet, a collection of tools to expand self

While marketers regard the Internet as a sales tool, young women see it as a collection of tools to help them expand their sense of self. Social networks have provided them a way to find like-minded others, peers, who validate their identity and its idiosyncratic displays, even though it may be different than the norm.



Young women are no longer forced to subvert their inner truths to accommodate man-made, mass-media fantasies and expectations. The online experience has given young females permission to talk among themselves. Their access to validation, alternative viewpoints and support has expanded from local to global. They have at last been freed from consensually agreed-upon, mass-produced versions of reality.

All the musts, oughts and shoulds these females have been pressured by have been torn asunder by social media. All the superficial, sliced-and-diced definitions of gender, sexiness, fashion, style and design have become irrelevant. In the face of such notions, they are shouting, "That's not right for me."

There is also an irony operating; the silver-lining to online is that without the intrusion of the body that inevitably gets in the way in face-to-face interactions, these young females are freer to explore their identities, beliefs and attachments. They establish a sense of self far beyond looks, economic standing, race or what brand of handbag they prefer.

Marketers must discover new truths

To be successful tomorrow, marketers today must stop manufacturing and start discovering the needs and desires of the Post-88 female.

What is femaleness? What does it mean to want to be a girl? What does it mean to be comfortable being a young adult female? What is sexy to a girl? What does it mean to be true to oneself? Certainly the answers will not be found devoting one's life to the pursuit of the perfect body, perfect hair, the perfect man and the perfect house -- at least how marketers define "perfect" today. The post-1988 female knows these traditional pursuits do not necessarily lead to happiness.

The new complexity requires understanding how the Post-88 female rides the cusp between silly and serious; sexy and smart; pretty and powerful.

For example, make-up usage is now not usually put on to produce perfection, and cosmetics are best not signified and aspirationally portrayed by the mass acclaimed celebrity. Brittany or Cameron is not the base coin of the young female. Make-up to them is more fun and playful, as opposed to satisfying any pre-conceived ideal.

A similar dynamic is at work in what these Post-88s want from their smartphones: function and fun. And as far as business dress, the question is, what to wear when a suit doesn't suit you?

Other product domains should also take heed. Even for the younger female, toys need not only to be cute, but also penetrating. For the older, young adult, who for the first time might be furnishing an apartment, almost all of the furniture in her price range seems over- processed, instead of allowing for discovering one's "look." It's not "new" and "more" that these girls are looking for as much as it is expressing themselves in the design of their environment, both self and sofa with a patina that gets better with age.

The Post-88 female wants to feel good about her choices, existential or mundane. If marketers want to increase the return on investment for their product development and advertising dollars, they will have to understand the identities of what this young adult calls "me."

To create products that are not yet on the shelves that girls will approve of calls for a deeper understanding of this population than designers and marketers now exhibit. Every product aimed at the Post-1988 female will have to demonstrate to these girls that "I get you." Only then will the girls commit.

The "Post-1988" who came of age at the dawn of social media want what makes her more of her and makes her female. She wants "me-as-me," as an individual and as a way to belong. She'll buy into that with her increasing purchasing power.

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