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.