Digital Native. Echo Boomer. Generation We. Generation Me. Generation Flux. Unemployed. Entitled. Self-absorbed. Selfish. Selfie? There’s no shortage of terms that come to mind when the word “millennial” is mentioned, and no shortage of opinions.
The media is rife with punditry – cliché anecdotes of a generation apparently both too self-centered to bother with the terrible dogma of spelling, and so technologically gifted it will cure cancer and rescue legions of economically inefficient baby boomers still banging their keyboards with the hunt-and-peck finesse of a chimpanzee. What’s lacking are the insights.
Sure, perhaps a few misguided millennials have brought their helicopter parents with them to a job interview, or hashtagged their way into the Darwin Awards. Maybe a few more have made millions before turning 30. But the broad range of those ages 18 to 34 are brought together by common behavior in milder shades of grey. With their current 36 percent share of the workforce set to reach 46 percent by 2020, accommodating and anticipating those behaviors will soon become crucial to businesses and advertisers alike.
A Fast-Growing Influence
Business marketers who have abjured the social tactics and new media associated with the generation may soon find they can’t afford to remain so conservative. Half to two-thirds of millennials are interested in being entrepreneurs, and 27 percent are already self-employed. These young people may be in a position much earlier to make purchases usually reserved for senior management.
Among those more traditionally employed, 47 percent work in businesses with fewer than 100 employees – where they may wield influence sooner in their careers; 30 percent work at companies with 100 to 1,500 employees; and 23 percent work at companies with 1,500 or more workers, where they may be the first “gatekeepers” to view content when a purchase decision is being considered.
Millennials are notable for their lack of employer loyalty. Sixty-two percent of recruiters say that retention is an issue: The youngest employees’ average tenure is half as long as the overall average, and 90 percent of millennials themselves admit they do not plan to stay at any given job for more than three years. Having seen the generations ahead “betrayed” by employers in whom they staked trust during the economic downturn, millennials have expectations that have shifted.
Instead of looking for stability, they expect employers to give them a chance to pursue their own goals and make an impact. In fact, 15 percent said they would take a pay cut to work at an organization that matches their values. They want greater flexibility and alignment with personal growth: 93 percent want jobs where they can “be themselves”; 83 percent want jobs where their creativity is valued; and 70 percent want “me time” at work.
For B2B advertisers, these findings mean it’s imperative to develop deep brand relationships based on values rather than contextual cost benefit – loyalty that will endure even when an employee changes companies. A strong social purpose appeals to the millennial way of construing value and organizing the world. In actuality, 91 percent of millennials trust, and 89 percent have loyalty to brands with strong corporate social responsibility. The reality is that 89 percent would consider switching to a brand that better aligns with their values, all other factors held equal.
The Power of Social Influence
Peer networks and social identity are also very important to this generation. Millennials generally disdain traditional group alliances: 50 percent consider themselves political independents, and 29 percent are religiously unaffiliated – the highest percentage among any group since the figure has been measured. Membership in professional associations is also declining.
Instead, millennials use digital technologies to form personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups – networks that exert heavy influence on emotions and behavior. Seventy percent of millennials are more excited by decisions they’ve made when their friends agree versus 46 percent of all non-millennials. User-generated content, including peer reviews, is 50 percent more trusted than traditional content, 35 percent more memorable and 20 percent more influential when it comes to purchasing behavior.
For B2B brands, this insight means leveraging social networks and non-traditional media outside of formal trade groups, as well as providing a place for current and past clients to share their feedback, can be extremely effective.
The “experience economy” of the millennials runs on the currency “you are what you share.” Their proclivity to broadcast and share artefacts of experiences – photos, updates, videos and articles – can be effectively used to spread messages organically across a wide network of people, provided they help reinforce the tribe, identity or aspiration that the millennial target in question ascribes to.
Of course, the millennial generation is one of the most diverse demographics in the history of the United States – and no survey, study or thought piece can predict the actions of all of its members. But we’re better off taking a balanced view of the generation than relying on anecdotal stories of success or folly.
By Liz Lee, Strategist, gyro
After graduating with degrees in psychology and linguistics from Columbia University, Elizabeth set out to study how peoples’ minds, emotions, and words work in the real world. As an independent branding consultant and at boutique NYC agency CreativeFeed, Elizabeth has crafted compelling stories for international industry leaders in luxury fashion, cosmetics, publishing, wine & spirits, financial services, and technology. At gyro, she helps lead the agency’s global strategy team, uniting a network of thirteen offices in the pursuit of human relevance.