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Keeping Up with Millennials

December 18th, 2014
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Although it may be difficult for many in the older generation to accept, the most recent cohort of the American population to enter the labor market (dubbed the “Millennial Generation” in 1991 by renowned authority on generations, Neil Howe) is now rising to prominence, exerting massive influence on culture, politics, and business. As the baby-boomer population continues to decline, the age-distribution in America invariably shifts towards the younger end of the spectrum. A scary thought for some, to be sure. In order to remain relevant, businesses will have to increasingly consider the preferences of Millennial consumers in the marketplace. Fortunately for business owners, Forbes compiled a bunch of research on the topic about a year ago to make those nebulous Millennial consumer preferences clear.

Experiences over “things”: Say what you will about the self-centered egocentrism that characterizes the Millennial crowd (everyone loves a good selfie every now and then, right?), but members of this generation have displayed an overwhelming partiality for experiential, rather than materialistic, commodities. According to a 2014 study conducted by Harris and Eventbrite, 78% of Millennials would rather spend money on a desirable experience than on a coveted good.

This valuation of experiences over commodities implies that, although Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Dr. Dre’s Beats, and other luxury items will probably still enjoy a large consumer-cult following, intangible goods are far more likely to entice the younger crowd. Events like music festivals, opportunities for travel, and expositions will therefore be more attractive purchases for Millennials than material commodities. But this does not imply that those businesses specializing in tangible goods should abandon their model entirely. By tweaking the brand experience to cultivate a holistic, satisfying journey for the customer, businesses can create a memorable experience and generate loyal Millennial customers. For example, if any of you have been in an Apple store, you know that the experience inside (with the clean layout of the electronics, hip-to-death employees, and superior customer service) comprises an integral part of the overall brand.

In addition to their preference for experiences, Millennials also exhibit a not-so-subtle infatuation with their mobile devices. Data from Zogby Analytics (2014) shows that 90% of millennials say phones never leave their sides, 80% say first thing they do in the morning is check their smartphone, and 78% spend more than two hours a day on their phone (texting, surfing, talking, tweeting, shopping, banking, and pretty much everything else you can imagine that is possible on a phone). This has especially important implications for retailers, as 90% of Millennials snap shots daily or weekly, and guess what: they aren’t just selfies (a shock, I know). Many of these pictures are of products like shirts or stereos they see when out shopping, which they then send to their friends to get varied opinions.

But this “shopping by crowdsourcing” is only the tip of the mobile consumer iceberg: Millennials use the cameras on their phones to deposit checks, pay credit card bills, get car insurance quotes, and more. In a society where waiting more than a minute for a red light to change means it has taken “forever,” the convenience and immediate gratification a camera-based mobile app provides represent important elements of Millennial consumer desire.

In short, Millennials want memorable experiences (preferably to share on social media) to enrich their lives, and mobile functionality to simplify their lives. But finally, and perhaps most notably, Millennials want businesses to show they care about something deeper than the bottom line. According to 2014 Deloitte research, 92% of Millennials believe businesses should be measured by more than just profit, and, in 2012, 83% gave to charities, up from 75% the previous year.

So when you are thinking about how to nail down that Millennial target market, take into consideration factors beyond your product and profit: What experience can the consumer claim from going to your brand? How easily applicable is a mobile function to facilitate widespread, consistent contact with your brand? What productive service is your company providing to society? Understanding the answers to these questions will help you capture, compel, and close with Millennials.

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