Millennials Research: Surveys Are Just a Start

surveyYesterday, we announced the launch of the Millennial Marketing Wiki, a resource for those interested in learning more about Generation Y. It is our hope that, in the spirit of Web 2.0 sharing and community building, it will become a go to resource for the great free survey data that is being published everyday.

Why a Wiki? Because it will make it easier to keep track of and share the new material becoming available every day. The velocity of Millennial survey research has accelerated. Last month, Pew Research announced a new initiative focused on Millennials.  The Girl Scouts and Junior Achievement have both published longitudinal studies of young adult values. Fidelity, Microsoft, and AOL have created generational profiles, along with many others.  With the help of the Wikispace, we can work together to stay on top of all this great material.

All this activity is evidence that, as I have long predicted, marketers are waking up to two realities:

1) Millennials represent a ‘blue ocean’ for brands wishing to acquire new customers. According to AOL, 14-24 year olds spend $2,200 a year of their parents and their own money on fashion, music, cell phones and other discretionary purchases. 25-29 year olds are purchasing their first everything – first portfolio, first new car, first home, first home appliances, first baby supplies, and more. They love new experiences, to eat out, travel and cook new things.

2) Millennials do not respond the same to marketers’ programs as young adults of the past. They are on the go, split their media time across ‘three screens’, and want immediate results, when, where and how they want it. They are smart shoppers who research, reuse, review and resist purchases more often and more effectively than older consumers.

If you doubt either of these ‘facts’, stop reading now. If you are a brand, school, non-profit or other organization with an interest in Millennial marketing, you have no doubt realized that surveys and free research only take you so far.  Often a proprietary study is required to really investigate your issue or category.

Millennials are not only different in their consumer behavior, they are a challenge to traditional research methods. On the one hand, online research is tailor made for Gen Y. After all, they are accustomed to exchanging opinions semi-anonymously in an online setting. But they are also highly skeptical of marketing.  And this can make research a challenge.

Tom Anderson, Managing Partner at Anderson Research had this to say about researching Millennials in a recent article in QRCA Views (Qualitative Research Consultants Association):

… (Anderson) remembers one online quantiative survey effort that was foiled when a few students on a discussion board pointed to it as a way to pick up a few dollars in incentive payments. “A lot of them had stopped caring about surveys because the quesitons were repetitive and boring. They felt it was okay to cheat, ” he says. “One person had calculated that he could make $40 to $60 an hour just by taking surveys.” Anderson’s advice to researchers it to make engagement tactics stimulating and fun, talking to Millennials in their own language.

At Brand Amplitude, we draw heavily on free, secondary research surveys. But we have learned the really useful insights about Millennials come from qualitative “deep dive” research. Studies of Gen Y attitudes and behavior for Vogue, Notre Dame, Purdue North Central, Corona, and many others have shown us young adults and teens are uninhibited, collaborative and authentic in research studies, just as they are in other areas of their lives. You just have to know when and how to ask the right questions.  By far the best way to meet them is online. This is a group that barely remembers a time before Google, and who communicate almost entirely electronically (telephone calls are a last resort, something you do with your parents when all else fails).

Barbara Bylenga of Outlaw Consulting, a firm that specializes in understanding trendsetters, says ‘Generation Y consumer are comfortable expressing opinions online. “They’re motivated to be seen as individuals and less inclined to be judged by society’s expectations. They will answer questions about topics that are sensitive to Boomers, such as diversity or sexuality.”  They also tend to express themselves more completely than older consumers. Our focus group transcripts for Gen Y can be twice as long as the same group with older adults.

Tomorrow –  what we’ve learned about conducting qualitative research among Gen Y.