Take heed, the Millennials have a set of values and behavioral traits like no prior generation.
By Angela Velasquez
Meet the Millennial. Born between 1980 and 2000, he or she is part of the largest generation this country has ever encountered. By 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates Millennials will surge to 90 million, thanks in part to immigration and burgeoning Hispanic communities. Today, minorities make up 39 percent of Millennials compared with 27 percent of Baby Boomers, but don’t expect Millennials to take notice because it is considered the most color-blind and tolerant generation.
They are confident, emotional, liberal, optimistic and hungry for change. You won’t find them in church every Sunday, or as likely to enlist in the military. You are more likely to see them in a tattoo parlor, as four in 10 are inked. Or maybe they are in an artisan class, learning how to decorate their own cakes or brew their own beers, as Millennials are more interested in the experience than the product.
Their do-it-yourself approach to life is counterintuitive to everything you may have heard about their quick-paced nature, inability to hold undivided attention and dependency on their parents. They might have demanding Veruca Salt-like tendencies, but it stems from their drive to be efficient rather than entitlement. Their minds—and fingers—move a mile a minute, but the most educated generation in history has an iCal of tasks to tackle before they hit the gym and get drinks with their likeminded colleagues, with whom they share once taboo information, like their salary.
And if you think Millennials are lazy, self-indulgent, coddled and more in tune with their smartphone apps than global issues, think again. They are supporting politicians who they’ve developed a connection to through savvy politicos with robust Twitter and Facebook accounts (which are often updated by a Millennial staffer), donating money to victims of natural disasters and organizing online petitions on everything from gun control to student loan reform from said iPhones. In fact, Millennials contributed 19 percent of the vote in the 2012 election, forcing issues such as gay and women’s rights onto the agendas of stodgy, white males in charge. Add public education and immigration reform to the list of hot topics as the Hispanic Millennial population begins to reach voting age.
Scared yet? Relax. You’re in good hands. Millennials are prepared for the day when Boomers eventually retire (many for a second time) and responsibility lands on their shoulders. As children of the Great Recession, they are wary of falling into the same financial traps such as home ownership and large families, as their parents jumped into. That’s not to say they don’t value family life—most report having close ties with their parental units. Good thing too, because they anticipate multi-generational households as the wave of the future, as six in 10 Millennials believe it will be their responsibility to provide financial assistance or housing for their aging parents.
They make thoughtful purchases. They can’t be tricked into believing whatever style or color a brand chooses to promote is the must-have item. Millennials will get that confirmation from their peers and online consumer reviews. The youngest members of this generation are still economically dependent on their parents, but by 2025 money will be in their pocket with 75 percent of the workforce being Millennial. As Enrique Figueroa, a professor in Latino Affairs at the University of Wisconsin puts it: “I hope it is obvious to companies that Millennials will be making the buying choices for the next 50 or 60 years. There are no demographics that large that have ever had that much buying power.”
Pampered and lazy? Not exactly. A Pew Research Center survey from last December reports that 63 percent of young adults aged 25 to 34 knew someone who boomeranged back to their parents’ homes, or never moved out to begin with. The allure of free cable and pressed laundry might have tempted some back home, but let’s be real, most twentysomethings would sacrifice Meatloaf Mondays for a place of their own. Despite the fact that millions of Millenials waited out the recession in graduate schools, colleges and community colleges in hopes to land that perfect job, Joan Snyder Kuhl, a Gen-Y speaker and consultant, says nearly a third of this generation is underemployed, meaning they are working part time while looking for a full-time position—amounting to an income that is difficult to live on independently.
Underemployment, combined with increasing living expenses, student loan debt and degrees in low-demand pockets of the workforce have driven Millennials back home to parents (with arms stretched wide) out of necessity. Lisa Orrell, a generations relations expert and consultant, adds that Boomer parents have turned society into a warm and nurturing place for children—even adult children. “Millennials have been asked about their feelings, have been encouraged to tell their opinions, have been told they are a super star and that their parents are there to love and support them for their entire lives,” she explains. “They are wired that way.” It’s not just parents who smothered their kids with gold stars and glitzy trophies for participation, either. As Orrell notes, the government has become more pro-kid with bike helmet and car seat laws—something she can’t say she ever experienced in her own childhood.
Millennial advisor and leadership expert, Erika Dhawan, believes older generations confuse Millennials’ desire to share their opinions with self-indulgence, where in reality they just want to be heard. For instance, if they have a problem with a restaurant, they’ll take it to Yelp. “We have to debunk the myth that all Millennials feel entitled. They grew up in a different time where not only it is more acceptable to share your opinion, but that they can share it online with a much greater audience,” she explains.
As a result, their buying habits are based on recommendations. Forget traditional print media. Jacqueline Van Dine, brand manager of Ahnu, calls Millennials a “truth-seeking generation” that want third party endorsements from reliable sources. “Millennials are a social dependent generation,”
Dhawan adds. Whereas Boomers are attracted to sleek websites, Millennials are swayed with user-generated content Facebook posts and reviews. “They are three times more likely than Boomers to turn to social channels. They trust people more than what a non-voice recommends,” she explains. In general, Pew Research Center reports Millennials cast a wary eye on media, perhaps a by-product of protective parents or “Wharholism,” a term Tina Wells, CEO of Buzz Marketing Group, coined to describe the influx of celebrities who are famous without any real credibility (a.k.a. the Kardashians).
That might be why more companies are investing in revamped, user-friendly websites rather than signing endorsement deals with the latest celeb. Rolando Garcia director of marketing at CMerit and a Millennial himself, says, “We’re well-informed customers. If you can put enough data about a product out there, we will feel better about the purchase.” His brands Gotta Flurt and Evos will launch new websites in the first quarter of the year that are built for customers to post content. “We want to make a forum where they can discuss any topic they want. Millennials need a sense of community and they are willing to share their experience,” he adds.
Similarly, Facebook and Twitter have been essential forums for Bearpaw to connect directly with its consumers. Jessica Rennie, Bearpaw product line manger, says, “The interaction we have on a daily or weekly basis has created a strong sense that we are a brand they will stick with.” By keeping the content light and fun and asking for feedback, Rennie says consumers feel like they are friends with the company and, in return, the company hopes to earn their loyalty.
Chelsea Krost, Millennial expert and radio talk show host, agrees: “You have to have a stellar social media presence, a solid following and produce great content to capture their attention.” She notes the Obama campaign did an excellent job at this during the 2012 election by reaching out to liberal Millennials on every social outlet, including Pandora. The Boston Consulting Group reports Millennials maintain significantly larger social networks than non-Millennials and that they feel validated when the community “likes” their posts. Then, that digital connection carries over to reality, as Millennials tend to dine, shop and travel with people outside their immediate family. Or, in Obama’s case, turned 30-second podcast ads into votes.
“They want close ties and that’s the big difference from older generations,” Orrell notes. From her workshops at corporations such as Procter and Gamble, she’s found that Millennials are highly communicative, expect to speak to their managers at least once a day and befriend colleagues and bosses. They share information about bonuses and look out for one another, despite the fact that it’s a competitive job market. “It’s a kumbaya group. They like to work as a team. They got each other’s backs and it makes employers crazy,” she explains.
And this is when one Millennial stereotype becomes fact: If they don’t like something, they don’t stick with it. In her report Chasing Youth Culture and Getting It Right, Wells says Millennials are eager for experiences and are committed to live life to the fullest. “They don’t think they are any better than the Boomers; Millennials just have different tools to make changes,” Dhawan offers. And they want change quickly. From the time they were born, they have seen the same problems—climate change, unemployment and mass shootings, to name a few—rotate on repeat. The problems slip into the media limelight only to fade out unchanged and then rear their ugly heads again a few years later, often bigger and worse. Dhawan says, “They want things done quickly because they know that in order to make a difference you have to act quickly.”
This Millennial trait is especially true when it comes to work. “This generation grew up with wires out of every part of their body,” Orrell says. As a result, they have become incredibly efficient, something that she encourages her clients to embrace. Contrary to the lazy label, Millennials are extremely hardworking and have mastered multitasking like no other generation before. Their childhoods—a balance of demanding school schedules and an agenda of extracurricular activities—have kept them moving from one thing to the next. Orrell says, “They just don’t understand why they have to continue to do things the old way. If something can be done remotely, or could help more people, then they want to do it that way.”
While experts don’t think Millennials are changing jobs any faster than previous generations, Orrell reports 73 percent say they would leave a job if the company’s corporate social responsibility values didn’t hold up to their expectations. “That’s a big deal. There are companies that have to implement CSR into their structure because it attracts good employees,” she explains.
The same goes for brands. As Garcia suggests, “They don’t buy Nike anymore just because it is Nike.” Krost agrees, “Companies with giveback programs, like Seed, Toms and Warby Parker, are traits that Millennials love. And then they share it online with their friends and family.” For example, Teva has struck a chord with feel-good stories like Lucky the handicapped penguin the company built a shoe for and with its clean shoreline initiative, A Pair For a Foot. “It’s not just a Santa Barbara problem, or a U.S. problem. It appeals to a wider demographic,” says Erika Brakken, Teva’s marketing director.
According to the Boston Consulting Group, Millennials prefer to engage in a cause campaign by encouraging others to support it or by participating in fundraising events. It makes sense since Millennials have had to volunteer for school credit and scholarships for most of their childhoods. And access to technology and globalization has stretched their altruistic nature across borders. Dhawan suggests Facebook has helped humanize big issue problems, now that users can friend people from all over the world and put a face to the names and issues.
Orrell suggests that when you put all the pieces together it makes a generation that wants to enjoy life and improve the quality of life for others. “They’ve seen their parents’ 401K accounts erode after years of dedication to one employer and they’ve been raised by parents who missed their baseball games because they had to work. They want to break that tradition,” she states.
Might the generation called every bratty name in the book actually become one of the kindest, brightest and efficient generations we’ve seen? “They’ve twisted a bad situation into a positive,” Krost says. Sure, she admits to have come in contact with fellow Millennials who are spoiled, but Krost believes that as her generation matures it will learn from these mistakes. “We have too many smart people who are already brainstorming and planning ways to implement change. It’s going to be exciting to see what they are capable of.”