Tapping Millennial Passions

Millennials define themselves more by their interests and passions than their careers or even technology. The desire to connect with brands that share their passions is a key motivation, both online and offline.

Consequently, identifying and understanding Millennial passions is an important first step in designing effective marketing programs.

Last week the Kansas City-based agency,  Barkley, shared new research that shows Millennials have a greater range of activities they are passionate about than those over 35. Significantly, Milennials are more likely to define success in personal terms and to put greater importance on it than older generations. “Seventy-nine percent* define success as “doing what you are passionate about“. Today’s youth are not influenced by money or the image of success. In fact, even in their online communities, only 6% feel that “having lots of friends on Facebook” is an influential quality. The vast majority believe “Being True To Yourself” is inherently more influential in life (62%).” *

Millennials  want to be defined by their passions, not their careers.

Last week I moderated a panel at the conference Barkley sponsored to reflect on the findings of their research and its implications for marketers,  “Share.Like.Buy” in San Francisco. The panel was titled “Tapping Millennial Passions,” and the panelists were noted Millennial researchers:  Barbara Bylenga, CEO,  Outlaw Consulting, Alex Smith of Mintel, and Tracy Panko, CEO, Spiral16.

The session focused on how Millennial passions are expressed and how they differ from those other generations. The panelists also discussed the potentially disruptive implications of these differences for marketing products and services across a number of categories.

Alex Smith began by noting that while Millennials’ passions may be similar in some ways to those of older cohorts – the environment, causes, music – the way they express and pursue those passions is very different. They have more tools to express their passions, which are used to curate their personal identities and gain attention.  Their overall goal is to express themselves in a way that is true to who they really are.

Barbara Bylenga added that Millennials are especially passionate about things that impact others: the planet, the environment, social justice, poverty. They see their passions as a way to define themselves as ‘changemakers’. What other generations might consider an ‘interest’, Millennials see as central to who they are. They define success in terms of their ability to turn these interests into accomplishments or even a career. Hence their passions are especially motivating.

Use a lifestage lense to predict and plan for Millennial impact

Bylenga says lifestage is a good lense for thinking about how Millennials will change categories.  The latest Census data confirms Millennials are putting off childrearing, staying single longer.  Currently they are in the ‘explorer’ lifestage, but as they mature, many are entering the ‘spinner’ stage, forming households and settling down, and in some cases readjusting but not necessarily abandoning their passions. They still want to make a difference, but will realize (rationalize?) that making a differences lies in the cumulative effect of small decisions, little actions, not necessarily a big career accomplishment. Every little decision is going to take on added significance. Marketers can leverage this insight by helping them feel like their consumer choices are helping make a difference.

Bylenga went on to say Millennials will increasingly see it as a stepping stone to independence, with many aspiring to be entrepreneurs rather than bind themselves to a sure paycheck.  (In fact, this prediction may be already coming true. There was a 250% increase in the past two years in the number of Millennials who choose freelance work over a job.)

Characteristics of brands that generate passion among Millennials

When asked the characteristics of brands that generate the greatest amount of passion among Millennials, panelists repeated mentioned the importance of authenticity. According to Barkely’s research, Livestrong is the number four most recognized charity among this age group, a position it achieved by being authentic according to research by Spiral16, said CEO, Tracy Panko.

Despite dramatic and controversial events surrounding Livestrong founder Lance Armstrong, the Spiral16 data shows that Livestrong has continued to successfully engage their community and turn them into passionate evangelists. Besides amassing a huge following on Twitter, Livestrong has also spread its influence and message across other social media platforms with a clear and concise message. Eight out of the Top 10 most influential web pages in the study are components of the Livestrong organization, while the remaining two pages were created by passionate Livestrong fans. (The RSS feed for the Livestrong blog ranked even higher — number two — than blog URL itself.)

Panko points out that this kind of community and presence is impressive. As much as brands would like to, they cannot just control online attitudes at will. A digital presence this dominating, nonprofit or not, can only be built up from years of consistent hard work and clear strategizing. She also cited Patagonia as another brand with a strong authentic brand with special appeal to Millennials. Patagonia’s willingness to willingness to show the less desirable parts of their brand suggests an honesty that allows them to win with consumers. Other brands cited for their authenticity were Trader Joe’s and In ‘N Out Burger.