When a disruptor invades a market, a predictable ritual ensues. The invader makes threatening, exaggerated claims. This is the chest-thumping, attention-seeking stage. And the attention it seeks is media attention. Which duly follows. The prey will either publicly shrug it off, pointing out to the same media the strategic changes they’d made recently to address the very shortcoming being exploited (guaranteeing more media attention), or they’ll play the insouciance card, pretending to ignore the interloper, while working desperately undercover to determine if the problem is real.
Markets being what they are, the situation sorts itself. The would-be disruptor departs bloodied, or moves from outsider to insider, becoming themselves subject to future disruption. The result: a more efficient market. Such is the cleverness of our free enterprise system.
But what if the disruptor is not a new market entrant, but an entire existing demographic? What if the renegade in question happens to be the most powerful, trans-national, consumer market in history — and growing? What if the disruption takes the form of total disdain for the old marketing rule book? What if their rejection of traditional marketing messages and methods is not analytical, but emotional, visceral — completely instinctive? What if the successes that marketers enjoy with this demographic are a matter of chance, of hitting values they weren’t even targeting? What if the subsequent repeat of their “successful” approaches is akin to what psychologists would deem “superstitious behavior”?
If all competitors are in the same boat, it’s “move along folks, nothing to see here,” the status quo prevails (subject to other circumstances). But what if the penny drops for one competitor? Then that disruptee becomes a mammoth disruptor for the others, because they not only inherit a competitive advantage but are able to forge further ahead with the knowledge and experience they gain — while others are flailing.
The fact is Millennials are not just an ultra-weird version of the previous generation. Sure, you can detect similarities. The well-known sense of entitlement had started to show through with the later Xers. But the educational, social, cultural and technological dynamics that shaped Gen Y were a tsunami. The result was a genuine paradigm shift. They don’t just march-to-the-beat-of-a-different-drum, they won’t march at all.
To successfully engage this consumer group, the starting point is not to log their points of difference from other generations and use these to tinker at the edges of marketing practice. It’s to recognize that the differences are too deep-seated and fundamental for this, and solutions will come not from knowing how they are different, but why they are as they are. It means coming to grips with the forces that created the generation:
self-esteem – its status-driven flip sides image and identity, along with generational FOMO obsession and its alphabet soup spinoffs (FOLO – fear of living offline – anyone?)
celebritization – and all the variations of fame-fascination that come with it
psychologicalmodellng – of peers and favored celebs rather than authority figures
relationship dominance – social currency is to Millennials as $s are to GDP
technological saturation – tech as both means and end.
These five dynamics find their expression in a range of 20 aspirational values that direct Gen Y lifestyle choices. These values are optimistic, confrontational, unrealistic, contradictory, image-affirming, identity-defining, peer-inviting and elder-alienating. Targeting Millennial consumers requires a strategy for targeting these values.
The needs and wants of Boomers and Xers, with their accompanying marketing tactics and paraphernalia, represent the past. “The past is a foreign country,” as novelist L P Hartley had it, “they do things differently there.” And to succeed in the present marketers must do things differently here.