Millennials: Starring in Their Own Stories

The constant stream of media updates on social networks is seen by some as evidence of generational narcissism — a desire on the part of Millennials to be a celebrity in their own world.

However, research shows that this narcissism is exaggerated. Very few Gen Yers consider becoming famous an important life goal (about 4%, the same as for older generations).  Nevertheless, Millennials do have a need to be unique. As Joeri Van den Bergh puts it, “The continous media and peer benchmarks, as well a society and partent stimlating Gen Yers to turn their life into a success story affects their thinking and behavior.” (How Cool Brands Stay Hot, p. 29)

My Life: The Story

In his book, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life“, Don Miller describes how it happened that his best-selling memoir, “Blue Like Jazz”, came to be made into a soon to be released indie-film, with seed funding gathered through Kickstarter.  His aha moment came when he realized that he was to be the star of his own story, and yet it would be a ‘fictional Don’ on the screen, “the person I wanted to be, the person worth telling stories about.”

The book describes Miller’s exploration of what makes a good story, how life stories differ from real life (there are rarely any climatic moments in real life, things don’t always work out at the end) and the ways they are similar (the importance of overcoming conflict, positive and negative turns, inciting incidents, memorable moments, character transformation).  He notes that characters have to face their greatest fears with courage to make a story good, and something needs to be at stake more than whether the protagonist will get a new car or promotion. In this way, Miller challenges himself and his readers to consider whether the story your life is telling is the story you really want to tell? It’s a great book, and I’m looking forward to the movie.

Miller’s book prompted me to think about the stories Millennials are telling themselves and each other.  I think many Millennials already conceptualize themselves as characters in their own narrative.

They are challenging themselves to create meaningful lives, and this means building more into their plot lines than the usual education, career, marriage, and retirement. They want their stories to be interesting, to them and others. In other words, they are making a movie, figuratively and in some cases literally.  They are directing and sharing their stories with friends via Facebook, Flickr, and Youtube. Every status update is designed to engage their audience by pushing the narrative along.

Those with a more creative bent and a camera have taken this a step further and create actual movies. I’m told that engagement videos are now hot among Gen Y, and indeed, there is an entire engagement video community on Vimeo.

My favorite engagement video is “Luck  – S + J Wedding Proposal at the Bowery Hotel“.  It made me laugh and cry – very romantic and definitely worth watching if you have the time. What makes this video so wonderful is that it tells the story of their entire marriage as the way to propose. The groom to be has already envisioned the entire narrative arc.  I won’t spoil it by revealing the ending, but I am struck at how much of a MOVIE this is. It has character development, conflict, a beginning and a cool resolution.

According to Forrester’s Technographics segmentation, about 24% of web users are ‘Creators’, defined as those who who have, within the previous month, posted to a blog, updated a web page or uploaded a video that they themselves may have created. They tend to be younger and are somewhat more likely to be male.  33% of those 25-34 are classified as creators, and 36% of men in that age group are Creators.

For marketers, understanding Millennial’s desire to shape and broadcast their stories is the insight that can make any marketing program, campaign or promotion more participative.  Rather than tell your brands’ story, why not give your audience an opportunity to tell theirs?