1. Myth: Millennials are anti-corporate hipsters who are unpersuadable by advertising
Back in the days of Occupy Wall Street, Millennials poured into the streets to demand that the government fight back against the excesses and corruption of Big Business. Millennials, it appeared, were reacting not only to the Great Recession of 2008, but also to the high value placed within American culture on material possessions. Debates around enacting a maximum wage (while raising the minimum wage) circled around the Occupiers, as they protested against the top 1% and multinational banks and corporations.
Of course, not all Millennials occupied Wall Street and those who did were not successful in fueling a revolution. Most did not reject their corporate overlords by mining Bitcoins and boycotting Nike. (As a quick aside, according to a recent study, Nike remains Millennials’ favorite brand.) Millennials poured into Starbucks on their way to Occupy rallies to pick up their sugar-free soy Frappuccinos. (As another aside, Millennials have increased coffee demands to an all-time high. But they care, more than any other generation, where that coffee came from and what Starbucks is doing with all their money.
Today, Millennials demand more than just products out of their brands. The process of how those products are created and delivered matters to them, just as it matters to them how corporations treat their employees. And, they care about how corporations speak to and with them and from what channels. They seek authenticity or, at least as the researchers at Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) called it, “Authenticitude,” which is the feel of real. And, when it comes to consumer behavior, Millennials have shown they’re smart shoppers and want to be treated like it.
A recent Accenture study revealed that 75% of Millennials said it’s important that a company gives back to society instead of simply being an employer and being profitable. Philanthropic brand Toms first struck a chord with college students more than a decade ago with its “one-for-one” campaign and, more recently, Starbucks agreed to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide in the wake of President Trump’s travel ban. Though the latter example alienated some consumers, it also tapped into the inclusivity and tolerance of the independent-and-Democrat-leaning Millennial generation who, as we already learned, love coffee
The concept that Millennials want authentic brands that match their own values is not a new revelation. This desire for authenticity from brands and a general distrust of big corporations have led many to characterize Millennials as anti-corporate, yet shopaholic, social-media mavens who are too self-involved to actually pay attention to what brands are trying to communicate.
This is not the case.
“The Occupy Compromise”
According to the study, “Generation Nation,” by 747 Insights and Collaborata, we’ve learned that even while Millennials can be highly opinionated about brands and products, they’re much more receptive to advertising than you might think.
First off, few consumers of any cohort readily admit that advertising “works” on them; Millennials, in particular, are more comfortable believing that they’re making purchase decisions without undue corporate influence. According to “Generation Nation,” when asked if they pay attention to advertising, about half of Gen Z claims they do. This openness is encouraging for advertisers, especially considering that this younger generation spends little time in front of TV screens. But even more exciting, roughly 60% of Millennials admitted that they pay attention to ads.
Of the four generations surveyed, Millennials report being the most open to trusting what companies say in their advertising. Yes, you heard that right: Millennials are more trusting of corporate marketing than any other generation. While only 18% of Gen Z and 16% of Boomers say they trust what advertisers say, a full third (33%) of Millennials place trust in advertising.
After months of protest, the Occupiers decamped and returned to their lives, but at least part of the Occupy legacy remained. Millennials realized that big corporations aren’t going away. And, their pragmatic side tells them they can’t solely survive on homebrew IPAs and kombucha for sustenance; plus, they need good Wi-Fi. So instead of rejecting capitalism, Millennials have become some of the most educated and big-spending shoppers, demanding not only the highest quality and generationally preferred attributes (Is there gluten? GMO? Locally sourced? Environmentally friendly? How were the employees treated who made this?), but also that big brands give back to the community. This is essentially the “Occupy Compromise” — leveraging their pocketbook to demand positive change of corporations.
So, Millennials, more than other cohorts, are receptive to advertising. They are willing to pay attention to what you say — and reflect on your full message — before making a purchasing decision. But, they’re also looking for multiple opinions. They’re listening to brands, but they’re also checking in with peers, experts, and plenty of random people online.
Millennials know where to look to find their kind of brand. They read reviews online, see friends’ posts using new products, watch unboxing videos on YouTube, and scour the Internet for articles that compare and rank products.
A 2016 study by Monetate, a marketing platform for retailers, analyzed a random sample of 7 billion online shopping experiences and found that Millennials are more prudent than other generations when buying online. According to data reported by Time, “whereas seniors make purchases 72% of the time, [M]illennials pull the trigger only on 57% of their shopping (more like browsing) ventures.”
So this generation that you thought splurged on shopping sprees, while remaining anti-corporate, is actually thoughtful and careful when buying. And, as we know, Millennials do love to shop and are planning to shop more next year than any other generation. Millennials might actually be retailers’ greatest hope.
2. Myth: Millennials are self-absorbed, emotionally fragile, and wouldn’t know a hard day’s work if it hit them in the face
This is perhaps the classic Millennial stereotype.
Here’s a pretty worn-out caricature: “They are tapping on their smartphones, strolling into work late, and amassing Instagram followers faster than a twerking cat,” Sheila Marikar wrote in the New York Times last year. “They complain. They ‘disrupt’ stuff. They simultaneously (and somewhat improbably) like both Kanye West and Kenny Chesney.”
Here’s another one: “They’re a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately generation,” another ad exec toldDigiday. “A paycheck doesn’t seem to count as part of that what you have done. You have to give up so much more time to reviewing and patting them on the back. I can’t imagine ever asking for a performance review unless it was a way to up my salary, but I’m constantly asked for them. You do realize it’s only been four months since your last one, right?”
Are there some entitled Millennials who expect everything to come easy to them? Sure, just like there are in any other massive group of people. But after several years in the workforce, it’s become clear that the opposite is more likely the case for this group. Although Millennials might be looking for upward mobility (and lots of positive reinforcement) a bit too often, this is a group that cares about their work and works hard.
According to a 2014 survey of hiring managers conducted by Elance-oDesk (now Upwork) and Millennial Branding, bosses in general agreed that Millennials were more narcissistic than prior generations.
But other findings suggest that perhaps the different way that Millennials approach their careers isn’t such a bad thing for older generations. Almost 70% of managers say that their young employees are equipped with key skills that prior generations are lacking. Specifically, 82% of managers are impressed with Millennials’ tech savvy. And, nearly 60% say that the generation is known for being quick learners. And though Millennials trailed older cohorts, a 2013 survey from Ernst & Young found that a growing number of workers believed that Millennials were the best-suited generation to lead businesses in the coming decade, thanks in large part to their tech skills and commitment to diversity.
Millennials: An Employer’s Dream
Playing against type, Millennials are actually an employer’s dream. They don’t delineate their work and personal lives and are available to work pretty much whenever required (assuming employers offer reciprocity with flexible schedules so Millennials can attend to personal business during traditional work hours). In fact, a recent study by GFK revealed that nearly half of Millennials (48%) said it’s a good thing to be considered a “work martyr,” while just two in five Gen Xers and one in three Boomers felt the same. So, it comes as no surprise that a higher percentage of Millennials, compared to older generations, say they catch up on work outside of “regular” working hours.
So if work invades their personal lives, then Millennials expect personal time to be part of their working day. Asked how often they check their personal social-media accounts when at work, more than half of Millennials report “often” or “very often — a significantly higher percentage than other generations.
According to Michael Wood, principal of 747 Insights, who was the lead researcher on “Generation Nation,” “Millennials feel their work ethic will earn dividends. We had expected Boomers to index higher than other age groups on this measure, but we see parity in this regard. In our days at Teenage Research Unlimited (TRU) studying teens and twenty-somethings, we often referred to Millennials as ‘The And Generation,’ based on their belief that they could, and should, have it all. This is the same cohort that believes in the work-hard, play-hard mantra.”
Most Millennials (57%) consider themselves hard workers. And 45% say that work is one of their biggest worries (compared to 31% of Xers and 15% of Boomers.) So yes, Millennials truly care about their work. And they care about it beyond being simply a means to a paycheck. They want their employers to care about them, too, and give back to the larger community; so they want to choose to work at businesses that fulfill these needs. It’s not a surprise then that nearly half (45%) believe that their employers care about them since those are the type of employers that they seek out.
Gen X grew up with a reputation for being slackers. That cliché is as worn out as an overplayed John Hughes movie, as most are now in their 40s and raising Gen Z kids. So as Millennials have grown up and matured, they’ve followed a similar pattern in breaking some of their coming-of-age stereotypes.
Next week I’m going to look at a couple myths about Millennials that are actually true. Don’t worry; they haven’t grown out of all their quirks.
And in case you haven’t yet, you can still check out my previous two articles in this series that dive deeply into the data and insights from “Generation Nation.”