The new Next Great Generation blog is written for, by and about Gen Y. As a non-Millennial, I was flattered when site founder, Edward Bocches, invited me to answer a few questions about marketers are interested in Gen Y for the “interview” section of the blog. Here are the questions and my responses.
TNGG: How long have you been covering and researching Millennials?
CP: The first Millennials were college sophomores about 2002. That’s when I started teaching marketing at Notre Dame. You would have to be blind not to notice they were different. I wrote my first article about this generation in 2007, and started blogging in 2008. At the time, not much had been written about them. Now, it’s a flood.
TNGG: Is there that much to know about them?
CP: Sure. Eighty million people are worth talking about. The question is whether the differences are simply age-related or whether this generation represents something new? Sometimes it’s hard to know the difference. That subtle distinction, the generational difference, is what most interests me. For instance, are Millennials drinking less regular beer and drinking more wine and craft beers because they are growing up or because of a generational shift in tastes and sophistication? I think the latter, but it can be hard to tell.
TNGG: Why is that marketers are so interested in this generation?
CP: The oldest are now 29. They’ve moved out of the classroom and into the workforce, have incomes and are important targets for a lot of consumer goods and services. Marketers are always interested in young adults because they represent the future market. Loyalties formed now will inform their future choices. But there’s more to it than ‘youth-marketing-as- usual’. Millennials are the first generation to have grown up digitally, to not rebel against their parents and to have unprecedented tools for self-expression. The magnitude of the current ‘generation gap’ is something that we probably won’t see again as marketers for a very long time.
TTNG: There are a lot of stereotypes about Gen Y: entitled, apathetic, disloyal. Are there any truths in this?
CP: Of course there is some truth, but it’s a matter of perspective. Where one person sees entitlement, another sees self-confidence. Where one sees laziness, another sees a desire for efficiency. Where one sees disloyalty, another sees a desire for diverse experiences. There’s a flip side to each negative. Over time, I think that the positives will be more apparent.
TTNG: There’s also a sense that every single Millennial is techno-savvy. Are they all truly digital?
CP: No, not all. There seems to be a dividing line around the birth year 1990. Those that came after grew up more digitally-adept than the earliest Millennials. Even among those born after 1990, some are simply less interested in using the web beyond the basic tools. Those that are interested are truly expert. The professional appearance of my students’ work often blows me away.
TTNG: What’s the most surprising characteristic of this generation?
CP: Their creativity and lack of cynicism. They don’t even realize how special that is. Obama did realize it early on, and that’s why he’s in the White House.
Do you think that Millennials will be as acquisitive as previous generations? Will they buy as much stuff?
CP: No, I don’t for two reasons. First they are likely to be the first generation that isn’t as affluent as their parents. They are worried about this, very worried. But I think it will cause them to reevaluate what it means to be successful. I also think we are seeing that Gen Y values experiences over things. They don’t aspire to have a McMansion of their own, to have the latest car or any car if they can help it. What they do want to do is travel, eat out, and nurture their passions. Product marketers need to find ways to add services and experiences to their brands to engage Millennials. Apple is a master at this. Service marketers need to find ways to keep their experiences meaningful and exciting. When I teach marketing now, I focus more on services than products. It’s the future of marketing.
TTNG: Some older generations joke that Millennials actually bring their parents to their job interviews. I’ve never witnessed that, but if so, isn’t it the parent who’s to blame?
CP: Boomer parents have lead a child-centric life for so long, it’s hard to stop. I’ve had parents dispute grades for their sophomore students. It’s absurd. Millennials need to help their parents pull back. The problem is not the parents but the Millennials that enable this kind of behavior.
TTNG: Boomers brought sexual liberation, rock and roll and a distrust of authority to much of society. What do we think Millennials will or are bringing to pop culture?
CP: Great question. There’s evidence to suggest they will bring a greater sense of social responsibility. The “Next Great Generation” expectation is based on a theory of the ‘fourth turning’ that predicts Millennials will be more civically oriented. I think there is evidence to suggest that is true in values, if not always in behavior. The recession is a wild card; Millennials may not be able to fully live their values. I worry about the drag of college debt and national debt on their aspirations.
TTNG: This is a tough time to graduate and enter the work force, or even get secure in a career. Do Millennials have any traits that will fare them well in this recession?
CP: Creativity and entrepreneurship. Many who can’t find jobs are creating them.
TNGG: What do your clients want to know about this generation more than anything else?
CP: “How can I reach them?” This is the question I hear most often. Gen Y has so many filters it’s hard to know the best way to break through.
(For TNGG readers’ responses to this question, see comments: TNGG’s The Question, “What a brand has to do to connect with Gen Y“)
TNGG: Would you rather have grown up a boomer, or would you like to go back in time and be a Millennial?
CP: A Millennial growing up in the 60’s and 70’s as I did would be incredibly frustrated. Parents were very different (just watch Mad Men and you’ll know what I mean). Believe me, no one helped me with my homework or toted me around to lessons. What I am trying to do now is resist my boomer tendencies and think more like a Millennial. I am a Millennial-wanna-be. I have a long way to go. Perhaps I need body-art?
TNGG: If you could get them to answer any question at all, what would it be?
As a professional market researcher and brand strategist, my biggest questions are about their brand relationships. Why aren’t there more Millennial-specific iconic brands? Even though they are so different, they like the same iconic brands as everyone else – Vogue, Apple, Coke, Nike, Coach, Trader Joe’s. That’s curious to me. I think it has to do with ‘authenticity’ but that word is overused. Can you help me understand this?