Overcoming Millennial Fatigue (They Really Are Different)

For the last few years, we've watched our news feeds and conference sessions fill up with the subject of marketing to Millennials. At first they were approached as some sort of odd new creature that needed to be studied and poked to understand. Then, people got more confident and began making recommendations on how to "handle" this generation. Now, there seems to be a new movement — rejecting the idea that Millennials are any different at all.

As a Gen X marketing professional with 20 years of experience, I am sympathetic to Millennial fatigue. To spend our careers in an endless discussion of Millennials can seem to be feeding the narcissism we branded them with. If only they really were like everyone else so we could continue to do what we've always done in marketing and research. But, to do that is to accept your own obsolescence.

In my company’s years of researching Millennial shopping behaviors, Millennials act in decidedly new ways from Generation X and Boomers. Take the way Millennials (18-34 year olds) and their younger cousins of Generation Z (under 17 years old), — let’s call them Digital Natives — “watch television.” It isn’t actually on a television and they aren’t watching what’s on cable. They are watching PewDiePie and Smosh.



Or, just look at a few of their most well-known revolutionary business ideas: Facebook, Uber, Airbnb, Tumblr, Mashable, and Snapchat. All of these businesses have changed not only their product or service category, but the way society now communicates or deals in goods and services.

Digital Natives have an approach to shopping that is a complete break from the shopping experience we have known since marketing studies began a century ago. They have an openness, a promiscuous attitude towards products which generations before them have not exhibited. 

Here are four shopping patterns of Digital Natives emerging from our research:

1. Information access drives Digital Native anxiety. Because it is so easy to gather information, they feel compelled to source all information before making a purchase. This is not because they are risk adverse. They yearn for new experiences and products. Rather, they are looking for validation and confirmation, and they love feedback and collaboration. Information available on products gives them that interaction they seek in all areas of their lives.

2. The Digital Native must be at the center of the shopping experience. If they do not feel important to a brand, they will look elsewhere. Given how rapidly technology is changing and how quickly that is changing their expectations, brands will be challenged as shoppers have access to unlimited comparative information, and will demand higher standards. 

3. Digital Natives have a fluid relationship with price. This generation is absolutely squeezed financially. However, they are willing to spend more on quality products and experience. That may sound familiar, but the definition of quality has changed for this group. No longer is it about the label and exclusivity of fine boutiques. Rather, it is about unique products and experiences. The interplay of price and the added value of a quality or interesting product is very fluid. 

4. Digital Native’s shopping promiscuity creates loyalty challenges. They are more open to experimenting with new products, less interested in nostalgic or “no-brainer” purchases, and less interested in being a loyal customer for life. They recognize technology is changing categories and creating innovation at a break-neck pace which means they want to stay open to something better that might emerge.

Burying our heads in the sand and saying Digital Natives aren’t different might feel safe, but it is ignoring our new reality. What can we do instead?

•  Transparency and easy access to information are critical. Give them the information they need so they don’t find it elsewhere. 

•  Companies that dissolve internal barriers and encourage conversation across departments are much more aligned for success.

•  Brands that are working with customer profiles like “budget conscious” and “value driven” are missing the interplay of price, value, and meaning.

•  Bring meaning to your brand.

4 comments about "Overcoming Millennial Fatigue (They Really Are Different)".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, May 25, 2016 at 2:40 p.m.


  2. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, May 25, 2016 at 2:53 p.m.

    I still not sure about all your conclusions in terms of UNIQUEness. I think the desire for information drives X and Boomers also. It started with Consumer Reports and the Age of Nader. Now because it has expanded, I can't think of a single person that doesn't do some digging into a product/service before they purchase. 
    We all want to feel wanted by a brand. And that we're still talking brands is an indication that branding is as important as ever. Legacy brands have to try harder, as many of them have lost relevance. 
    We all price shop. I still think they will look at a luxury car, one that offers them the human value of satisfying pride and ego, and be willing to pay more for that. Not sure that has changed. I think there is a new plethora of new brand and products popping up that are unique, but that has to happen in capitalism.
    The no-brainer purchases are usually the least interesting purchases, especially packaged goods. Again, that behavior stretches across generations. And new and better was once called New and Improved. If anything, there might be INCREASED cynicism to that, and that might be due to the broken promises of legacy brands. Brand loyaty has always been one of MAJOR concerns of good companies, as we know you make more money off existing customers than you do searching new ones. This is a basic tenet of marketing.
    If anything, it is a generaly ease with new tech that is more a differentiator. There is also a point where governments and companies CAN'T be TOO transparent. And great companies always try to reduce internal barriers. And MEANING and STORY are the cornerstones of branding, for the past 100 years. Some do it well. Some do it not at all, and those don't exist for long. 
    I thinik all generations are becoming more and more additcted to their devices, and thats proving problematical across all generations, with reduced nurturing of children and generally lower communication skills. 
    That might be the slow evolution/de-evolution of current society.

  3. Anglyn Hays from Free Lance Writer Hire Me!, May 26, 2016 at 10:36 p.m.

    The Millennials on average are not narcissist, but the political pundits who who like to call them such, like that term.  Madison Avenue spins again, but can't cognate the change.  

  4. Brian Nakamoto from Tightrope Interactive, Inc., May 27, 2016 at 1:06 p.m.

    "I can't think of a single person that doesn't do some digging into a product/service before they purchase."

    Fortunately for marketers (and policitians), there are still plenty of people who barely scratch the surface with their research.

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