HAPI’s Take: Using Millennials to predict the habits of Gen Xers and Boomers.
Millennials are an intriguing generation of kids. I am still undecided whether or not I like them. Dealing with them as individuals who will one day run our country, they make me want to pre-register for Swiss citizenship, just in case. But I refuse to jump onto the dog pile of criticism that research has heaped on their young shoulders. If you view Millennials through the lens of an advertiser, you’ll see them in a completely different light. Their social behaviors give advertisers a glimpse into the future behaviors of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers and, in doing so, give advertisers the inside track on developing new marketing strategies to connect with Gen Xers and Boomers.
An advertiser’s dream is to sell consumers a product or service before they even know they want it. Study behavioral habits of Millennials and what’s trending with them today and you have a pretty good idea of how Generation Xers and Baby Boomers will consume goods and services, and interconnect with each other in the near future. Millennials give advertisers valuable insights on what new channels to use to market new products, technology and ideas to older generations of consumers.
Millennials “have taken the lead in seizing on the new platforms of the digital era– the internet, mobile technology, social media.” (Millennials in Adulthood, March 7, 2014, Pew Research)
Everett Rogers’ famous Diffusion of Innovations Bell Curve demonstrates the behavioral influences Milliennials have on Gen Xers and Boomers. Rogers’ Bell Curve breaks down the process by which “an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.” When our three consumer groups – Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers – are superimposed over the Diffusion of Innovations Bell Curve, they correspond almost too perfectly with each of the Bell Curve’s categories – Early Adopters, Early and Late Majorities and Laggards.
CAPTION: Millennials are on the forefront of experimenting with innovative new ways to connect, behaviors that influences how Generation Xers and Baby Boomers will connect with each other.
Millennials represent Early Adopters who are the first to snatch up new technologies and products. They are the ones waiting in line all night to get the first new iPhones. They filter out which new innovations will be successful and which ones will fail. We recently got a good chuckle at a digital media recommendation that included a MySpace ad buy. How quickly Millennials decided that Facebook was a superior communication platform to MySpace, and for advertisers a much more effective way to reach millions of Gen X and Baby Boomers.
“[Millennials] are the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding. (The Millennials, Scott Keeter and Paul Taylor, December 10, 2009)
As a consumer group, Millennials are reliable lab rats, continually testing new ways to communicate with each other. Gen Xers, like the Early and Late Majorities, take their behavioral cues from Millennials. As a group, they won’t aimlessly test new innovations until Millennials give them the thumbs up. Baby Boomers are the Laggards and the last consumer group to embrace anything new – especially technology. Boomers take their cues from Gen Xers. When my parents finally traded in their rotary phone for new iPhones, I looked out the window to make sure hell hadn’t frozen over. Smartphones and texting and posting are no longer a Millennial phenomena. They are now a cultural phenomena.
Millennials are a millions-strong focus group.
Millennials are savvy at testing new ways to connect and determining which ideas will go mainstream. But they also build the audiences for them that advertisers can leverage in their communications strategies. That’s valuable data for advertisers who are on the lookout for new ways to connect brands with Gen Xers and Boomers but also want to minimize the risk that comes with untested technology and media channels.
Millennial behavior is good for advertising. Is it good for the rest of us?
It is embarrassingly cliché to say that Millennials get a bad rap. They have been referred to as Generation Me for their constant posting and pictures and “look at me” narcissistic behavior. But are Millennials really worse than the rest of us? We live in a much more exposed world today. As a Gen Xer, life was easy in my twenties. The world didn’t have instant access to my whereabouts and I could misbehave in relative anonyminity. Millennials don’t have that luxury, and in fact, today’s society as a whole doesn’t have that luxury.
“Although Millennials have earned a reputation for viewing the world through a uniquely digital lens, our results found some remarkable similarities between them and their predecessors: the Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964) and Generation X (1965 to 1979).” (Who are the Millennial shoppers? And what do they really want? Christopher Donnelly and Renato Scaff, Accenture, June 2013)
Millennials help advertisers predict how Gen Xers and Boomers will connect with each other in the future. From the technology they use to the new products they embrace to the new ways they communicate with each other, Millennials influence what products and services Gen Xers and Boomers are going to want. That’s akin to insider trading, allowing advertisers to hedge their bets on Gen X and Boomer strategies that utilize communications channels popularized by Millennials. Never before has there been a group that provided such predictive metrics. And as for the skeptics who still don’t like the way Millennials behave? Get used to it. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be adopting the same behavior.