Based on conversations (in an InSites Consulting research community) with millennials from 15 different cities around the globe we were able to gather 10 interesting evolutions describing the daily lives of Generation Y. This youth generation is the most marketing savvy generation ever. On a global scale, this new consumer cohort is much larger than the previous generation X and their impact on society will soon surpass the Babyboomer’s largely documented influence. But what drives this fickle generation and how can global brands really connect with youth worldwide?
1. Social media as their most important news channel
Because they are the most up-to-date news channel and also the most tailored and targeted since you choose yourself who you follow or what kind of information you want to receive. In the same way brands should empower Gen Yers to tailor their product experience to their wants and needs.
2. Minimizing environmental impact
This generation feels ecological responsible. Organic and green products will find a more interested audience in this age group and they stress the importance of locally produced stuff. Responsible branding is also about PEOPLE. Creating safe working places and offering a fair wage instead of exploiting them are synonyms to social branding. They like companies that put clear societal goals forward and act upon them without bragging. They dislike companies that actively communicate about CSR programs, which is seen as “green washing” with McDonald’s as a bad example. Because eco-claims became just another advertising strategy in the first decade of the 2000s, Gen Yers are very cautious in really believing what a brand is telling about protecting the environment. When sports fashion brand Puma worked together with Yves Behar’s Fuse project to design a shoe box that would reduce the ecological footprint, many of them reacted sceptically on blogs. Puma’s viral movie explained that using a bag instead of a box reduced the cardboard by 65 per cent, eventually resulting in lowered usage of paper (trees), energy, water and lower emission of carbon dioxides. But youngsters called it brand propaganda, questioning the positive impact of the design, uttering that 77 per cent of the carbon footprint in shoes come from raw materials (leather, rubber and cotton) and only a mere 5 per cent from the packaging.
3. Renting and sharing property
Economic downturn on one side and exponential house pricing on the other have spurred youth to rent properties rather than buy them and even share flats to cope with the high costs of living. Sharing expensive stuff is not only smart but also has positive side effects on the environment. That’s why recent start-ups like Buzzcar in France (to share cars) or Frents in Germany (sharing and renting belongings whenever you don’t need them) are getting the attention of youth worldwide. Gen Y will embrace brands that show the same type of smart thinking. Think of the way Apple is positioning all its innovations as cutting edge examples of smart and efficient design.
4. Working or studying a semester abroad
Life is all about experiencing something extraordinary or new. Young people have always been involved with exploring the unknown, but today they have so many more possibilities to make that happen. Studying at least a semester abroad or starting an international career is seen as a must to obtain language skills and improve intercultural understanding. Taking a gap year is much more common today than it was for past generations. Brands that radiate this cosmopolitan feeling, connecting youth from all parts of the world with shared interests and passions will hit a sensitive spot of Gen Y.
5. Settling down late
As stated before, Gen Yers want to get the best out of their lives and really enjoy it before getting married or leaving the family home. The ‘Hotel Mum’ trend has been boosted by the economic recession. It has also led to an increase in ‘boomerang children’, returning to parental homes after a period of independent living. In 1980 in the United States, 11 per cent of the 25- to 34-year-olds was still living with their parents. By 2008, this figure had already risen to 20 per cent. (Robert, 2010) For brands targeting Gen Y, this means they’re often also targeting parents of Gen Y since they are still very much involved with the buying decisions of their children.
6. Reality TV
It’s been on every possible channel in every possible format since the start of the new Millennium and yet it still doesn’t really get boring for the Millennials who grew up with reality TV content such as Big Brother, Expedition Robinson (a.k.a. Survivor), the Osbournes or Pop Idols. Like Rose & Wood stated in Journal of Consumer Research, the popularity of these shows on TV can be seen as a quest for authenticity within the traditionally fiction-oriented entertainment industry. (Rose, Wood, 2005)
7. Urban cycling
From the colourful scraper bikes craze in Los Angeles and the Bay Area, to the cheap fixed gear bikes painted in bright colours (“fixies”) in Jakarta or even the more organized urban bike renting in cities such as Barcelona or Paris: urban cycling is big. It’s the easiest way to get from A to B without traffic jams or the need for scarce parking spots and like Graham Brown mentioned in his Youth Marketing Handbook: it’s all about reclaiming the social space in busy city centres around the world. (Brown, G. et. Al., 2011) Nike has launched some brilliant campaigns (Run Unleashed) to activate leisure running with Gen Y. In a number of cities like Stockholm and Antwerp the brand set up a competition between runners living in different districts of the city and “take Stockholm”. The campaign was an enormous success.
8. Customizing, co-creation and smart crowds
Generation Y believes in the social economy. If they had to start up a business today, it would incorporate social networking. They believe in this medium since involving and engaging them individually and communicating with them on a real one-to-one basis to build a sustainable and meaningful relationship is essential. It’s about giving the brand back to the fans/consumers. Gen Yers firmly believe that both products and marketing actions should be co-created and they feel the crowd will always outsmart the individual. Peers are the most trusted source of information, which explains why user ratings are very important to them and will always be consulted before making purchase decisions. Their favourite brands are the ones that offer customization of their products and communications. Ben & Jerry’s in the Netherlands for instance co-created their Facebook fan page with Millennials.
9. True heroes are close to them
For young people emotional connection (closeness and friendship), real humanity and achievement are the most important aspects of “heroes”. (see Figure 4). They are rather sceptical about traditional celebrity role models. They see their friends and parents as the real heroes. The former because they can always rely on them personally and the latter because they were capable of raising their children in more difficult and challenging times. This shift means that brands should be careful when picking celebrity-endorsed campaigns, and think through how they can use the feeling of closeness, humanity and achievement in communications.
If they talk about other types of potential heroes, who are not so close to them,
other criteria are important:
- They bring change for the better in the world, lighting examples are Ghandi and Nelson Mandela, together with other activists, revolutionaries and politicians
- They are extremely skilled in their field of expertise, to the extent that their
skills and achievements evoke real emotions. Examples here are sportsmen
(at least as long as they are capable of staying top of the bill)
- They are involved with charity work, for instance Bono.
10. Everything starts with an E(xperience)
Gen Y is an emotions-driven generation and more emotional than previous generations. Especially the quest for happiness is key in their lives. (Van den Bergh, Behrer, 2011) Leisure time activities such as going out, food and drinks, travelling will all need a strong emotional component that allows them to escape and relax from everyday reality. They are looking for both indulgence as well as adrenaline provoking thrills. The trend of “gamification” of society, offering competition and challenge, fits perfectly in this experience driven life. Brands should challenge their young target groups and position their products as achievements or a moment of indulgence or escape after hard work.