Marketers are collectively hounding this cohort of consumers. But who are these Millennials anyway? And are they really going to drive growth for every brand out there?
I was witness to a recent report on Millennials which claimed among other things, that they are risk-taking and the most purposive generation yet. It was heady stuff, except that I remember seeing a deck almost identical to this one, presented about 18 years ago on Generation X.
Some of the glorifying of Millennials, I think, comes from millennial researchers themselves. I put down a lot of the vilifying to typical generational differences and constant evolution.
Defining ''Millennials'' by age and by characteristics also muddies the waters since that includes Gen Z. Also, there are phrases like 'Young Millennials' and 'Old Millennials'. So, before we really consider marketing to those we loosely consider Millennials (Young Millennials + Generation Z) by attitude, we should consider two points.
1. There are some truths about the young which are always true. Using these characteristics to create communication may be relevant and even help create great affinity, but we should recognise that it's work that would have appealed to the young, irrespective of their generation.
2. If we are really to characterise Millennials, perhaps we need to strip away what is true only to them and not to the generations that come before or after.
There is, however, a line of separation, at least between Gen X and the Millennials. And it's not just characterised by those who remember looking forward to 'Chitrahar'. In India, Millennials weren't just the first technologically native generation; they were also the first to grow up in a liberalised India. With 24x7 cable TV. They've had fewer left-leaning years and less of the constant dread of growing up with scarcity.
If Gen X and Baby-Boomers were forced to maintain a longer view of life because Socialist India had little to offer in the short-term, liberalised India has been more generous. Most people today, believe that tomorrow will be better and this sense of long-term improvement and a slow-rising tide, has shifted the emphasis to the short-term.
So, it should be no surprise that the Millennials and Gen Z look for immediate gratification. There is no greater advantage in playing for the long term. Just like technique and game strategy in a T20 era needs to be different from that of a test match.
We should treat the emphasis on experiences over a career as a product of the same phenomenon or that of seeking the new, over valuing patience and resilience. These seem like values that genuinely separate those that grew up post-1995 from those who grew up before.
Then there is the phenomenon of social media which burgeoned perhaps after 2007 and led to many personalities and characteristic changes that we so denigrate. These would include vanity, shallowness and the premium placed on projection over reality. And also, in the developed world and, perhaps, metropolitan SEC A India, of a generation growing up with a sense of entitlement.
I believed Social Media and its effects would separate Generation Z from the early Millennials, but I was proved wrong. On reading some research on Gen Z, I met the same character attributes that I had in my Gen X study: A need for authenticity, for truth and to not be defined by one's identity.
So, I find the separation of Gen Me (for the Millennials) and True Gen (for Gen Z) untrue. Instead, it feels much more like qualities compared to flaws or comparing the best of a generation with the worst. We've vilified the Millennials for about a decade, so I think we've decided to cut Gen Z some slack and see in them the best of what the Millennials are also about.
So, what are the big differences? Well, statistically, the Millennials rent much more than Gen X and don't consider owning a house a big deal. There is also enough evidence of their hunger for all sorts of consumption compared to Gen X's hoarding and status-seeking behaviour. Marketing to these characteristics makes sense to me.
And vis-à-vis Gen Z? I think that is less a binary division and more one of standards or a scale. It's best illustrated by this anecdote - I thought that Millennials were spontaneous and less into planning, but when I asked a bunch of Millennials how they differed from those leaving college now, they said, "We can plan and have patience, but these guys just can't wait."
I asked one of 'These guys' whether she agrees with that reading and the response was, "Yeah, we are spontaneous, we never plan for things, because they seldom happen to plan; and I never plan long-term."
I asked what she meant by 'long-term' and her reply was "One year."
(Shujoy Dutta is senior vice president and executive planning director, Wunderman Thompson. The article reflects the author's personal views, not the organisation's).