They are the largest generation on our planet. By 2018 they will also be the generation with maximum spending power. It's no wonder that marketers drool pool-fulls at the thought of a bunch of 'Millennials' with moolah. But before we jump headlong into rolling out the red carpet, let's just take a step back and see what makes them tick. Why do they do what they do? (Or refuse to do, as the case may sometimes be!)
Millennials tend to be a maligned bunch, kind of like the new age version of Polish jokes. Enough has been said about their callousness, oodles of attitude without substance, and reckless proliferation of gadgets that connect them with the world from the comfort of their unmade beds. But I am not about to get all preachy about this. In fact, I am actually fascinated by their sense of adventure. One can argue that this comes from the fact that they have just had it too easy.
Gen X was the 'latchkey' generation that dealt with working parents and being left at home to fend for themselves. Millennials on the other hand, are probably the most parented bunch in history. Gen X has not only built the comfortable ground from where they can happily dive off, but a safety net as well. This allows them to fearlessly experiment. This triggers off a whole new world of possibilities... possibilities that are neither tinged with cynicism, nor smell of compromise. And this is where things to start to get interesting. This is a generation driven not by the possibility of failure but the scent of success. With the right triggers they can shape a future that's rich and saturated with creativity and opportunity.
Their approach to social change is fuelled by a desire to make the world a better place, remixed with an understanding that doing so requires building new institutions while working inside - and sometimes outside - existing institutions. Take their sense of adventure and combine it with their smug definition of success and you have an entrepreneurial spirit that is not just unmatchable, but an inspiration for marketers. Don't just embrace this spirit; use it, wring it out and make it central to your marketing plan and communication... because if you want to start talking to Gen Y, you need to be brave enough to shed everything traditional. This is not just 'Wake up and smell the coffee' time; it is 'Wake up and smell the plantation' time.
I like to use the word 'Adventurists' to describe Gen Y. They are like modern day Indiana Jones-es. They take leaps before seeing the bridge because they know that if they don't, someone else will get that Holy Grail. One may balk at their scanty sense of success - 'You have 50 followers on Soundcloud! That's it?' But shift the camera and you get another perspective - 'Well at least someone is following me... and more importantly I DID something'.
Gen X's collective failure has been the constant weighing down of 'What if' like an incubus. Gen Y has no such limitations or rather they don't let it get in the way. They are adventurous, born problem-solvers, they have something to prove, they trust their gut and they are happy to burn the midnight oil and two minute noodles. This is the stuff great entrepreneurs are made of and perhaps that is why Gen Y finds it harder to succeed in environments that require traditional conformity.
They are more likely than any generation to move from one job to another because their expectations are set high and their spirit for compromise, low. While success is important to them, they don't allow it to be defined by anyone else. So they are happy with what others may label as meager success, because for them each venture is an experience that makes their fabric even more bling.
While some may see them as buried eyeball deep in their tablets and phones, for Gen Y, technology is more than an addiction. It's how they discover, understand and experience the world around them. Gen Y is busy mashing up the entire world's content on the internet and it's time to rave to the beat of 24/7 connectivity. As marketers and communication experts, the opportunity for us is to adopt this spirit of entrepreneurship and adventure. Though they are demanding, they are also sophisticated consumers and optimistic visionaries.
Learn to speak their visual language. Invite them to participate in the making and remaking of your brand. As uncomfortable as it may be, it's worth it to get this generation deeply involved in your business and pass your management books through the shredder. Is it about a big idea or a hundred small ones? Will launching online campaigns every year cut it, or is it time for a new campaign release every Monday? Is it about TV, cinema, print and digital or maybe a solution that exists outside the gamut of media as we know it?
A solution that we have never tried, or tested, before and requires a brave and wonderful collaboration. Is it about finding new and alternative revenue systems and ways of charging clients?
Like someone once said, 'It's time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable'. Be bold enough to bungee jump with Gen Y because while it's easy to brush them aside saying they don't know where they are going, the fact is at least they are on their way.
(The author is Regional Creative Director at Publicis Singapore)
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