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Are millennials really the silver bullet?

Having recently spoken to this generation on a number of projects, we were surprised by some of the learnings they shared with us.  Our observations suggest millennials display many behaviours that we wouldn’t typically associate with this generation and show how easy it is to make assumptions based on age that don’t always hold true.

1- Brand loyalty already entrenched

As younger people are growing up faster and embracing consumables more quickly, it figures that brand loyalty maybe formed sooner than we think. There is a suggestion it can start as soon as 14 – 15 years where brands can quickly become ‘cool’ and prompt mass affiliation.

Conversely it seems some millennials feel the notion of blindly signing up to a brand is beneath them. That smacks of the younger generation whereas in their age group, brand choice is very much a part of defining yourself as an adult.

That said there is the dichotomy of claimed and actual behaviour: doubtlessly brands that are ‘in’ carry influence even if millennials don’t want to admit it!  Nonetheless it begs the question as to whether millennials are quite the silver bullet marketeers believe them to be.  Is there also a need to look at even earlier age groups as brand sophistication is evident among the younger?

2- We are more similar than we think

There is an amazing gulf in perception between what millennials think about the older generations and how they actually are.

We were running workshops with groups of people in their early twenties.  The conversation moved towards talking about initiatives that were designed to promote social welfare. One respondent carefully initiated a story with the preamble ‘there’s this rapper right called Snoop Dog…’ Obviously it was assumed that people beyond the millennial generation would not know the rapper let alone like them. I  actually confess to being quite a fan and yes I am not a millennial!

There are studies supporting the notion that the generations are merging in terms of attitudes. The US commentator Gina Pell noted that age is no longer a key driver in attitudinal differentiation and age gap friendships are flourishing.

Are we at risk of assigning this generation a whole range of assumed behaviours that actually may be replicated in other age groups?  Admittedly some aspects are unique to this generation but are we missing some close parallels with other generations in our bid to focus on the differences?

3- Tight purse strings

There is a real sense of the world-is-not-their-oyster in financial terms. There is a genuine realisation that ‘things are tough’, and studies compound financial concerns.   That means there is a general feeling of being grounded overall and the need to budget carefully for the future. Life is regarded as expensive.

Millennials are now quoted as planning their finances more than previous generations.  In a study carried out in the States 74% of 18 – 34 year olds save every month.  (Report by Mizuho Securities among 1,500 millennials, http://uk.businessinsider.com/new-report-sheds-light-on-millennial-spending-habits-2017-1).

Millennials are typically couched as experience-hungry and less brand loyal. Morgan Stanley analyst Kimberley Greenberger claimed millennials had been psychologically scarred by growing up in the recession. This has led to a complete change of habits with them valuing experiences over ownership.

But ultimately the fundamental life goals remain true.  Whilst housing feels like a pipedream, our millennials still spoke about home ownership as an ultimate goal and the above study confirms this. It identifies saving goals as a home in first place, then a car and finally for retirement.  This is a reminder that brands can chase millennial spend but the scope of their spend can taper off as bigger ticket items like housing gain in relevance.