Out-of-town houseguests change the Thanksgiving holiday dynamic quite a bit. After the meal is over, the pies have been sliced, the kitchen restored to some sense of normalcy and only the televised highlights of football remain, family & friends who gathered for the big meal typically start to head back home – gradually restoring quiet and calm to our humble abode. But like the leftover turkey & stuffing, holiday houseguests remain, in this case for many days. “They’re my family”, I was sternly reminded, so I did my best to put on the rose colored glasses and think of glasses half full. Then it hit me: three of our guests were Millennials.
Yes. Millennials. The most feared and largest of the generational segments (see Millennials overtake Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation Pew Research 4/25/16). Much has been published about this group of 19 to 35 year olds, but I’ve personally only witnessed them from a distance – mainly nieces and nephews for a few hours at a time. So I decided to do a little research on my own.
Here are 3 things I learned about Millennials over the holiday:
1) They are pragmatic
From the way they choose to be entertained, to how they shop, to how they communicate, they are willing to try new ways of doing things – and will change quickly without hesitation if they think there’s a better way. Take Facebook for example. My Millennial houseguest sample rarely posts and mostly “creeps” – or checks out what others are posting. But they do see value in having a legitimate Facebook profile, as a kind of social id card when meeting new people (particularly in a dating scenario). But for the most part, they’ve moved on to Snapchat – as it seems many have (see While We Weren’t Looking, Snapchat Revolutionized Social Networks, New York Times 11/30/16).
This also plays out in terms of the brands they use…because they use them all. Google, Amazon, Apple, etc,…They seek out and reward utility. For example, Apple’s FaceTime is simply impractical to them given that all of the people they want to interact with must own Apple products in order to use the service. But they also aren’t Google loyalists: they have Gmail accounts but don’t use Google Assistant – instead favoring Amazon’s Alexa. Spotify at home; Pandora at work. FitBit instead of Apple Watch. Brand loyalty gets you into the consideration set, but utility drives the purchase/adoption decision.
2) They are skilled at operating on a budget
Family life is looming for this group. Housing costs and school loans are a big weight, so they’ve had to prioritize their spending and become resourceful to stretch their dollars. Their overall interest in food makes cooking less of a chore – saving on restaurant markups – while shopping a handful of grocery stores (i.e. Trader Joes, Kroger, Sprouts, Price Chopper) reduces their overall food cost. They’re even willing to make regular trips to the outlet mall to reduce what they have to spend on clothing.
Their frugal side can definitely be seen in their entertainment choices. No cable. No dish. Netflix is a no brainer, followed by Amazon Prime Video. They prefer YouTube Red – since it comes with a Google Play Music subscription – effectively getting video & music at 2 for the price of 1. No room for Hulu as a stand alone subscription. They’d much rather play Battlefield 1, Ascension or Civilization 6 than turn on a TV and watch whatever happens to be on. The age-old movie theater remains as a place to meet friends and see blockbusters like the soon-to-be-released Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
3) They can hunt a deal online…but a physical store still dresses them
Cyber Monday (yes – they were still here on Monday) found our 25 & 27 year old guests side-by-side on the sofa – shopping deals from their iPhones. To the disappointment of my email marketing friends – the thought of surfing their inboxes never seemed to cross their mind – since, to them, email is just a work & parental thing. They had previously researched and created a list of things they were interested to buy, so the actual shopping process was very efficient. This was definitely a social activity, as I heard quite a bit of conferring back & forth on decisions around product specs and color choices. Much of this was on Amazon, by the way.
Like Netflix, Amazon Prime is also a no brainer – and they outright challenged me to find a Millennial who isn’t a Prime member – so good news for Amazon. Why walk around a Target store when they can have many of the same items delivered to their door the very next day. But for clothing – the “try-it-on-before-you-buy” in-store experience still resonates. Getting clothes via the mail that don’t fit is a hassle to be avoided.
The house is empty. The bar has been raised.
It’s now been just about a week since Thanksgiving – and our last guest headed back to the east coast this morning (to point #2 above, they took full advantage of our free room & board). My Millennial guests have left me with an unexpected gift – a unique look into life from their perspective. I distinctly remember moments like these in the past – when you, the marketer, are suddenly presented with a crystal clear picture of the customer’s perspective.
One December many years ago I helped a young mother, crying baby on her lap, design her family’s first Christmas card over the phone. She had called Shutterfly customer service just to be sure everything was perfect before clicking to submit her order. While customer service got some help in answering the phone, it was the marketing team that really came away with a new appreciation for the customer’s needs and challenges.
These small sample, intimate customer moments get ingrained in your memory and energize a marketer’s commitment to do right by the customer. You can bet I thought of that Shutterfly Mom often in the following months as we crafted the segment messaging strategy. My Thanksgiving close-up view of a Millennial perspective has had a similar effect, making me once again contemplate what needs to change in order to better deliver impactful experiences that resonate with this unique audience.
Millennials are forcing marketers to up their game. Following them to the next, yet-to-be-determined social network won’t be enough. Marketing to “Generation Me” as they establish their place in the world, plant their roots and begin building families will require a tailored approach that probably looks very different than what has worked in the past.