Every generation has occupied researchers, marketers, advertisers and advertising agencies for the last few decades. In fact, the study of generations has been a full-time occupation for some time. Each generation is a mystery to the generations before them, who spend hours and many tons of research trying to understand them. Unfortunately, while the generation gap was supposedly seventeen and a half years, my suspicion is that the generation gap is shrinking and it is about half that already, in the new age of the technology and the internet where human progress is accelerating.
But first a little about millennials.
- They will become the largest generation of any living during the century. Immigration will contribute significantly to their growth, unlike previous generations.
- Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are born between 1980 to mid-2000s, so they range in age from 15 – 35. Because of that big age range, their needs and interest differ drastically.
- Millennials are very active in sharing online. In fact, 70% of millennials share feedback, ideas, opinions and customer experiences on social, proving to be a goldmine of data for marketers.
- They have a different set of values than the generations before them. According to CEB Iconoculture Consumer Insights, millennials value Happiness, Passion, Diversity, Sharing and Discovery over previous generations’ values. (Baby boomers, for instance, value Integrity, Family, Practicality, Duty, and Justice)
The other day I was privy to a social media conversation between millennials and I thought that they were having a good laugh at what the research on millennials was saying about them.
"If we are supposed to be lazy at work like all the millennial studies say. why am I working my butt off?"
"This millennial research is bullshit man. It says that we only shop online. I love going to stores to check out a piece of clothing"
"Who said I am happy with earning less for working less? This millennial research seems to treat us like we are a generation that is about to retire."
"Who says we would rather climb the Himalayas than climb the corporate ladder? I am not a hippie. I thought that was the Baby Boomer generation".
"I don't understand this thing about us having bad manners. I am as well behaved as any other generation in the world".
But the problem with traditional research methods is that quantitative research which asks a lot of questions through a structured questionnaire, doesn't always work, because people are either lying or they are trying to project themselves most of the time. And in focus groups, one person in the group can often exert pressure on another person or an outspoken person in the group can often lead the discussion and sway opinions, unless you have a savvy researcher conducting the group. And how many times have I heard research presentations that tell me what consumers are saying, (which I don't want to hear) rather than telling me what is behind what people are saying.
So what is the best way perhaps to find out about millennials?
I think latching on to social media conversations might well be the best way given that millennials are engaged most of the time with social media. (at least that can't be denied and there is hard data to support it)
Social listening is not only the process of monitoring conversations related to a brand, product, industry or competitors. It’s also analysing those messages to see who is behind the conversations and what their intent and interests are. Billions of conversations occur over multiple social networks every day. By inputting keywords into your listening tool you can define your listening programmes to derive some rich insights.
The process of Social Media Listening: courtesy Smart Insights
Through social listening, brands can identify relevant conversations to engage with, plus they can build relationships, trust, and brand awareness. They are also better positioned to improve services and offerings, enhance customer service, gain a competitive advantage and influence conversations within their industry.
Plainly, what I’m saying is: if brands would just shut up and listen up they will hear what millennials are saying.
Says Dahcia Baston in her article Why Brands Need to Shut Up and Listen on Social Media
"If I could pinpoint the most important thing we millennials want out of life, I’d bet on the significance of the opportunity for our voices to be heard. Having the medium in which to voice our opinions is important to us, but knowing people are actually listening is crucial."
So, I think we should stop getting carried away and over-analysing what millennials are about. Sometimes just plain listening, observing millennial behaviour or talking to a millennial one-to-one might just give a marketer more insights than going through tomes of research. And frankly, human nature doesn't vary that much from generation to generation. I can see most of Shakespeare, our great insight marketer, still being played out everyday in every sphere of life, which means human beings really haven't changed that much in the last 500 years.
About the Author:
Prabhakar Mundkur is an ad veteran with over 35 years of experience in Advertising and Marketing. He works as an independent consultant and is also Chief Mentor with Percept H. All previous posts of Prabhakar can be found here.