It’s the Millennials’ world

Discussion
W. Hunter Thomas, PricewaterhouseCoopers; Gabbi Baker, OgilvyOne at Shop.org - Photos: James Tenser
Oct 25, 2016
James Tenser

For Baby Boomers like me, demographics have in many ways defined our lives. There are a lot of us, and retail marketing has long revolved around our needs.

Along the way we’ve had a lot of kids. So many that we engendered an echo boom larger than our own. Today, 75 million Millennials now vie for dominance in cultural, political and marketing discourse. Not to mention our consumer economy — the 18-34 cohort wields $2 trillion in purchasing power.

The recent Shop.org conference brought together retail leaders and a cadre of experts in digital tech and unified commerce. In a presentation, “Beyond the Meme: How to Reach Millennials,” W. Hunter Thomas, a consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Gabbi Baker, assistant account executive with OgilvyOne, delivered a Millennial’s eye-view of Millennials.

“We even have our own language,” said Ms. Baker, drawing both knowing and puzzled smiles from audience members when she asked who was familiar with the social media shorthand, “BAE on fleek.” (BAE = before anyone else; Fleek = flawless and sleek.)

In crisp, tag-team fashion, the two presented observations about how to market to Millennials:

  1. “I want consistency across channels, based on my smartphone.” Two-thirds say they use mobile apps in stores. This presents opportunities for store-based digital platforms and interactive displays.
  2. “I want content that engages me, not pushes me to buy.” Thirty-one percent of Millennials are more likely to buy if content is not sales-y.
  3. “I want to shop right here, right now.” Sixty-two percent use smartphones to shop. Innovators are embedding shopping tools within social media platforms to lessen friction.
  4. “I want this to be specific to my needs (which you should know).” Sixty percent provide personal information to sites they patronize, so they expect relevant personalization in return.
  5. “If I like you, I want a relationship.” Millennials are 1.5 times more likely to pay a premium if there is a mechanism for earning loyalty points.

“The best platforms will be the easiest to use,” said Ms. Baker. “They should accept all payment types and provide multiple forms of access.”

Last I checked, most Boomers liked those things too. Just sayin’.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Millennials assume dominance over the marketing landscape or are Boomers unlikely to give in without a fight? How can retailers and marketers design their offerings to satisfy the preferences of Millennials without jeopardizing their relationship with Boomers?

Braintrust
"The successful retailers will design multidimensional ways to engage customers on their terms regardless of their generation, language or acronyms."
"The issue really is concentration of wealth. With historically unprecedented longevity Boomers and Generation Xers aren’t going anywhere too soon..."
"I’m in this camp with Peter and Ralph. There is no unitary Millennial customer."

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28 Comments on "It’s the Millennials’ world"

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Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust
I think Millennials will assume domination over certain parts of the marketing landscape. While they are coming into their high discretionary spending years (watch a Rocket Mortgage commercial or the car commercial that trumpets the buying experience “didn’t suck”), I think there are two other factors that we must consider: The luxury market is dominated more by Generation X, who by most accounts is the generation running things now. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the U.S. has been run by a Gen Xer for the past eight years. As Boomer CEOs retire, it’s Gen Xers that are taking their place in the workplace. We spend a lot of time talking about marketing to Millennials, but not nearly enough time talking about what they expect to see in the workplace. As the retail enterprise becomes dominated at the top by Generation X and in the middle by Millennials, should the technologies reflect the values and desires they have, rather than Boomers? Boomers may demand to stave off Father Time, but at the end of the day, time wins. I feel it in my bones. And Jamie, you and I are not “typical” Boomers. Most of my… Read more »
Max Goldberg
BrainTrust

James said it all in the last sentence of the article. Boomers and Millennials share many expectations of the retail experience. The two generations don’t need to fight for dominance. Both generations expect retailers to meet these similar demands. The one big difference is that Boomers current have far greater disposable income, so retailers ignore them at their own peril.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

The demand for greater value at the convergence of globalization, technology, omnichannel in our time-starved, marketing dominated, credit-rich economy is most felt by boomers who have points of comparison as change occurs, or should occur. Voting with feet and wallet now adds typing fingers to the opt-in/out proposition in consumer behavior. While Millennials set the standard of expectation, boomers and savvy seniors happily fall into step. Gen Z will be even more demanding.

Chris Petersen, PhD.
BrainTrust

The five point list for how to market to Millennials could just as easily be a blueprint for how to personalize marketing in the age of omnichannel.

With all of the cloud, Big Data, digital and mobile technology available, retailers have unprecedented capability to engage customers in a one-to-one relationship. Personalizing the language, the individual offers and making it easy for the customer to choose what is best for them is becoming embedded in shopping tools and retail platforms.

So why can’t retailers have it all? Why do they need to choose Millennials or Boomers? The successful retailers will design multidimensional ways to engage customers on their terms regardless of their generation, language or acronyms.

Dick Seesel
BrainTrust

Eventually Millennials’ spending power will surpass Boomers’ on the basis of sheer numbers. And as more younger consumers move into their home-buying and child-rearing years, they will find that they will need to buy “stuff” (not just experiences) … just like their parents did. Meanwhile, the tables may have turned with Boomers’ diminished appetite for products, especially if their disposable income is pinched by lack of savings or tight retirement income.

As the article suggests, the other key issue is how to reach each group of customers. Boomers are probably still receptive to “old media” (TV, newspapers) for all the online shopping that they do. Their children want to receive their information in a completely different way, and any marketer not yet embracing mobile marketing is not following the money.

Jasmine Glasheen
Guest
Jasmine Glasheen
7 months 30 days ago

As James alluded to in his last sentence, Boomer customers want a lot of the same things as Millennials. It isn’t a competition. We should talk about the Millennial mindset rather than Millennials specifically because this isn’t purely generational: The consumer mindset has changed.

Sure, certain terms and abbreviations are generationally specific, but I caution retailers not to use slang they aren’t comfortable with in marketing campaigns. Unless someone familiar with the jargon creates the content, it ends up feeling contrived. Which feels sales-y and embarrassing, deterring customers of all ages.

Most consumers want omnichannel consistency and personalized customer service. This isn’t a generational thing. Focusing on similarities rather than differences will create cohesive, appealing campaigns.

Tom Redd
Guest

Millennials are still inconsistent shoppers and part of a press over-spin that used Millennials as the reason for retail’s shift to phase three of its life. Retailers and big AR and consulting firms saw that retail was making its typical slower transition into the new consumer world. The retail writers, press and good marketing shops blamed the retailers need to change on Millennials and Generation X.

The Millennials are not changing anything — the TECHNOLOGY is! Technology is the foundation that instilled change the mindset of consumers. All this noise about Millennials and Generation X can be ignored. The trick is just simplify the want/seek/find/BUY model within any retailer and your products will meet the desires of the shoppers. Designers need to leverage the same electronic sources that are feeding the brains of the younger generations and then design.

The key point is that technological change is the real reason that there is a PIG in the PYTHON. Leverage technology faster and the PIG will pass.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Experience and serious studies show a few critical realities. Millennials are driven by the same essential motivations as everyone else. They sometimes use their own language. They tend to use different media. And they don’t have free money to spend.

In other words, they are what every generation is when young — desperate to claim to be different but lacking sufficient funds to deserve the attention they get. As they age, like every generation before them, their media habits and culture will look like Generation X and Boomers.

Retailers should be careful not to commit too much effort to Millennial marketing.

Jasmine Glasheen
Guest
Jasmine Glasheen
7 months 30 days ago

Agreed. There is nothing to be gained by mythologizing a generation.

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

The stewards of the mobile revolution are Millennials and as such their expectations, needs, preferences and aspirations drive what, where, when, how and why marketers cater their efforts towards this significant commercial lobby — $2 trillion worth! I too am a Baby Boomer and as the author notes, I too would enjoy and welcome those issues highlighted by Ms. Baker and Mr. Thompson. Retailers and brands that meet and exceed the expectations of ALL digitally-empowered shoppers will find a receptive and financially rewarding audience regardless of our age.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I agree with Max and others that James ended the article with a profound thought. So, as much as Boomers and Millennials want the same things, I have also said that not all Millennials are alike. I think that is a critical point that marketers tend to overlook when targeting this largest group of consumers.

Peter Fader
BrainTrust

Allow me to expand on Ralph’s key point: “not all Millennials are alike” — in fact they’re vastly different. All these efforts to stereotype and target Millennials are doing more harm than good for retailers. Any effort to paint all consumers in a large demographic group with the same brush is a terrible mistake.

A modest proposal: let’s stop stereotyping and focus instead on finding/leveraging *meaningful* differences across consumers …

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

I couldn’t agree more, Peter. Thanks!

Martin Mehalchin
BrainTrust

I’m in this camp with Peter and Ralph. There is no unitary Millennial customer. It’s better for marketers to instead focus on specific sub-segments (that may or may not cut across generations) or to build the data set that allows them to personalize at the individual level. Sucharita Mulpuru, the former Forrester retail analyst, has a good presentation that debunks a lot of the hype around Millennials. It’s worth looking up.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

It has always been dangerous to attribute uniform wants and behaviors to any large demographic segment or cohort. Older boomers had a very different experiences than those who trailed 10 years behind in the snake, for example. Millennials are not one thing any more than I am a “typical” boomer (nod to Paula above). Thanks all for the spirited and thoughtful comments here.

Naomi K. Shapiro
BrainTrust

The biggest challenge on the front end is to woo customers through adroit use of socials and then win them over with unique customer experiences in the store. I heard this challenge from a Generation Zer, but it seems it would resonate across all the different generation groups. That’s why I think the mandate across the board is “to meet my preferences (and know them).”

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

That’s the $64 billion question! Funny thing is though, it’s not just Millennials, it’s anyone born after 1990. i.e.: digital natives. A global group of humans who have never known a life without Amazon, eBay, Google, Match.com, Apple, smartphones, etc. The way anyone (operative term) who arrived on this planet since 1990 thinks and acts, let alone shops/buys is much different than generations prior (digital immigrants). Faster, more expectations about “new,” open-minded and fearlessness of failure are just a few of the attributes and mentality that have changed retail forever and will continue to do so ad infinitum.

“Millennials” was just the first group of digital natives we named, but we’re actually talking about a population, not a generation. I’d say the digital immigrants are just going to have to adapt. Here’s to the future.

Mark Price
BrainTrust

The attributes that Millennials are seeking in their e-commerce experience are the same as many other consumers. the difference is that Millennials are not willing to settle for sub-par inauthentic communications and behavior, while Boomers have learned to accept what they feel cannot be changed.

With the increased transparency on the web, Millennials can move their patronage to companies that fit their needs more precisely. As a result, many of the marketing and sales techniques that retailers have honed their teeth on no longer work.

The behavior required to succeed with Millennials benefit all of us at the same time, so if they raise the bar, more power to them. Boomers will happily patronize retailers who are transparent, authentic, interested in relationships and market with content as well.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust

I absolutely agree that not only Millennials but Boomers can also agree to the five marketing points mentioned by Jamie.

The main difference between the two groups is that while Boomers were satisfied to be marketed to (passively receive), Millennials are more willing to take control of the message and demand to be part of the process (active engagement).

So I don’t see this as a fight between the two generations over dominance, but rather one over how quickly the existing marketing paradigm will better reflect the newly realized power of the consumer — all consumers.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

I agree with Paula about Generation X, but Millennials are the ones who are purchasing furniture, stand mixers and a fair number of cars at the same time that a lot of Boomers are thinking about downsizing. Lifetime brand affiliations are being made; the smartest retailers are the ones who saw this coming five years ago and started to move beyond the daily email to multifaceted engagement.

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust

What we shouldn’t miss is the impact Millennial children make on their more affluent Boomer parents; they are the ultimate influencers.

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

The issue really is concentration of wealth. With historically unprecedented longevity Boomers and Generation Xers aren’t going anywhere too soon, and that means capital won’t follow historical intergenerational transfer patterns. To make matters worse for Millennials, the next cohort — Generation Z — will be larger than they are and are already drawing as much, and sometimes more, attention from marketers. There’s a new notion retailers ought to be paying attention to — the concept of the Perennial, i.e., individuals who take on the characteristics of other cohorts irrespective of their chronological age. If you look at the list of so-called Millennial preferences, many if not most of them would be shared by Boomers, Generation Xers and soon Generation Z.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
BrainTrust

The technology and shorthand language may be different but the basic needs are not between Millennials and Boomers. Boomers are also inconsistent shoppers because there are so many of them with different needs that change over time. The same is true of Millennials but their timing may be different, like getting married at an older age. Many retailers have not adjusted to the different needs of Boomers or the need for multi-channel consistency amid changing technology. Now another huge group of consumers with all the complexity of the Boomer group using technology with a different view of the world is here. Retailers who do not integrate the use of technology to provide a consistent experience across channels, understand the variety of their valuable consumers and provide relevant messages and experiences will not do well. Marketing as usual is doomed to failure.

Tom Dougherty
BrainTrust

Of course Millennials will move to the forefront. It’s a natural process called death and dying. If you want to remain relevant then find a way to engage the market you want to influence.

I find the five points about marketing to Millennials downright silly in their point of view. The same values apply to EVERY market segment.

I especially enjoyed the irony of “‘I want content that engages me, not pushes me to buy.’ Thirty-one percent of Millennials are more likely to buy if content is not sales-y.”

That means 69 percent of the opinions point in the other direction. Many of the “new” ideas reflect majorities of much less than 69 percent.

The failure of any marketing and branding initiative can be predicted by its simplicity of use and relationship built with the target market by being as personal as possible.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

I don’t perceive it as a battle between or for the two generations. In my Millennial research conducted over the last six years, I found many of the same results. In sum, these group wants a personalized, convenient relationship with their brands and retailers. Millennials are always connected, checking their smartphones 45 times per day. However, almost four in 10 agree with the statement, “The majority of companies don’t know how to market to my generation.” In addition, my research found that for food shopping, their behaviors were significantly different than the rest of the population. Retailers need to understand what job Millennials want them to do.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
BrainTrust

Millennials’ attitudes are certainly demanding more of the customer experience and value from all retail. If every generation has the role of improving our world, this demographic, even by the default of being demanding, are stepping up, with other segments echoing their call for improvement.

Babs Ryan
Guest

In the same breath as “personalization,” we’re discussing Millennials and Boomers (age groups) as if they are segments, like horoscope signs. With big data, data science, analytics, and the magic of technology, we are all “segments of one.”

Statements above that Millennials stated things like “I want this to be specific to my needs (which you should know),” “I want content that engages me….” people of every age say that! Do we really believe that age groups that have 15-year spans are what we should be designing for? Age groups?

What appeals to any age group is continually ITERATING, superior, unique and better products and services. It’s why we’re still shopping at Whole Foods, buying American Girl dolls and waiting in line for the latest iPhones.

I’d love to read more about unique, world-beating products and services retailers create and less conversation about how massive age groups are dominating a “marketing landscape” — whatever that means.

Bill Hanifin
BrainTrust

The premise that a silent competition exists between generational groups to garner the attention of brands is flawed.

The attention afforded to Millennials by marketers over the recent past is founded in Millennial comfort with personal technology and their expressed desire for authenticity from their favorite brands. These characteristics have influenced the way many Boomers and Gen X’ers interact with brands. Effectively both groups have learned from Millennials and have incorporated similar approaches to making purchase decisions into their own lives.

The lesson for retailers is how to become more proficient at data-driven marketing and how to incorporate new communications channels into their marketing efforts. Doing so will not jeopardize their relationship with Boomers, it will widen the net to become more relevant to all customers, regardless of their generational affiliation.

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"The successful retailers will design multidimensional ways to engage customers on their terms regardless of their generation, language or acronyms."
"The issue really is concentration of wealth. With historically unprecedented longevity Boomers and Generation Xers aren’t going anywhere too soon..."
"I’m in this camp with Peter and Ralph. There is no unitary Millennial customer."

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