The New Normal: Meet the Gillennialby Audrey Morris on July 23, 2012
One of the most inspiring moments I had in my career occurred a few years ago at a communications team meeting with Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. It was on that day that I realized Ford is much bigger than a car company but it is in fact a company that has a finger on social, technological, economic, environmental and political arenas to better understand shifts that may influence consumers’ values, attitudes and behaviors. The company has charged Sheryl Connelly, Ford Global Trends and Futuring Manager to be the ring leader of all things “crystal ball” and through her role, she tracks consumer trends and collaborates with people throughout the Ford system to see how that information may impact future products.
After hearing Sheryl’s presentation that day, our team went on to plan several speaking engagements for her in the Southeast region. Through spending time with Sheryl and sitting on the sidelines for many of her presentations, including an event in conjunction with Mashable and Alloy Media + Marketing titled Cracking the Code on Millennials, I have started to think more about how the younger generational cohorts are shaping a smart way of thinking about the new normal in the marketplace. (View the Cracking the Code on Millennials presentation here for a great overview on Ford’s approach to targeting this audience).
I was recently introduced to the term Gillennial, which according to Ford defines a new breed of consumer that is a trail blazer in shaping the new normal. Ford explains the Gillennial as consumers who might under traditional definitions would be characterized as either part of the Generation X or Millennial (Generation Y) cohort profiles. In their mid-30’s, they are establishing themselves in the professional world and facing new life stage milestones. Popular convention will have you believe that they are likely to soon marry, move to the suburbs, buy a home and start a family. Under the new normal, these assumptions no longer hold true. The Gillennials refuse to be pigeonholed nor are they ready to commit to any sort of pre-determined path.
No wedding bells? No diapers? No home ownership? In my experience, this really IS the new normal. Many of those in my network and generational cohort (Generation X/Y) are exploring new limits in their careers, traveling the world and leading a more independent life than in generations past. Owning a home with a white picket fence doesn’t hold the same weight as it did with the Baby Boom generation or the generations before it. And while the economic recession has certainly impacted what was once a staple component of young adulthood, the desire to avoid being tied to long term financial obligations is also a major driver of this trend.
Speaking of avoidance of long term commitments, the U.S. Census Bureau survey shows that since 1970, the median age for marriage has increased by 4.3 years for women and 3.6 years for men. This increase is being attributed to several reasons, such as more women pursuing college education and focusing on career to ensure financial stability. After all, financial stability provides Gillennials the means to live an experience-rich life. What’s more, today’s career decision is more driven by gratification than ever before. The Gillennial, who is likely experiencing growth and opportunity in their line of work during their mid-30’s, strives to ensure their job doesn’t feel like work and their mentality is often to work hard in order to play hard. They are also shaping a new environment for the workplace, including flexible hours, a more laid back dress code and changing the notion that productivity doesn’t always equate to being tied down to a desk.
Gen Y accounts for $136 billion of the global travel industry alone. Idris Mootee, author of High Intensity Marketing and 60-Minute Brand Strategist, was quoted in a Travel Market Report that Generation Y’s desire to see the world is strengthening and that social value is shifting from material to experiential. He went on to say “they believe those are the experiences that give them capital, in the sense of investing in experiences that will enrich them. Their Flickr account is their treasure chest. Visits to the little town outside of Budapest and the little village in the Ukraine all become their social capital, in the way a Louis Vuitton bag used to be.”
Underlying all of these trends outlines one important factor: experience. There is psychological research that suggests that in the long run, experience makes people happier than possessions. According to the research this result is partly because the initial joy of acquiring a new object, such as a new car, fades over time as people become accustomed to seeing it every day. Experiences, on the other hand, continue to provide happiness through memories long after the event occurred and this is no better demonstrated than in the hyper-experiential Gillennial cohort.
So what can we learn from this? As communicators, conveying a brand story to a variety of generations is critical to our success. So how can we ensure our audience experiences our brands, especially the Gillennials?
• STOP marketing to them and give them what they want. One of my favorite Gen Y articles explains the importance of giving this generational cohort what they want; after all, that’s how they were raised. Fields references the critical decision of Apple to provide 99-cent download that took eight seconds to transact: cheap, experiential and it provided instant gratification. The music industry was forever changed just by simplifying the distribution model.
• Listen, really listen, + then engage. This isn’t that difficult of a task as Gillennials sure are talking. The more challenging task is knowing how and when to respond and being sincere all the while. A Gillennial feels power and control through staying connected through text, Facebook and Twitter and you’ll often see them rallying support for brands they love and speaking out against brands that have let them down. Domino’s Pizza put their ear to the ground and reengineered their pizza utilizing the feedback the company received from their consumers, largely through social media. The Pizza Turnaround campaign rallied consumers to share their opinions for not only the food, but to make a real change in the company’s model, from the outside in. The company received a ton of credit not only for the improvement in the pizza, but for the approach the company took to improve their business, and it worked. Not only did the company experience an increase in sales, but they also have nearly 7 million Facebook fans and Twitter followers.
• Get involved with the issues that they care about, and let it infuse everything you do. In a recent Small Business Advisor article, Morely Winograd, co-author of Millennium Momentum highlighted that the brands Millennials love the most tend to support the causes they care about. "More than 85 percent of Millennials link commitment to a cause to their purchasing decisions and their willingness to recommend a company's brand to others," Winograd said. Millennials are likely to switch brands of equal price and quality if one is tied to a good cause. "Environmental causes are of particular interest," he said. "Eighty-six percent of Millennials want to learn about environmental issues from brands when they are shopping." Toms Shoes is an excellent example of a company that has a deep connection to giving back. For every pair of shoes the company sells, Toms gives a pair to a child in need. With more than 1.6 million Facebook fans and Twitter followers, Tom has flawlessly cornered the cause marketing and social media engagement corner with the Gillennial.
• Play to their need of instant gratification. Gillennials expect to have what they want delivered easily and quickly. Gen X was raised with the remote control in their hand and watched the birth of the internet, and Gen Y had the internet play a large role in their lives and watched the evolution of hand-held technology like cell-phones and laptops. Everything they’ve wanted has only been a click away. This fact alone demands that businesses of all sizes consider the technological avenues available to them. Is your website compatible for smart phones? Do you know if there are customers in your database that would prefer to hear from your company via text than email or phone? Just the other day, I was asked by our new veterinarian if I would prefer their office to text me to remind me of my next appointment rather than e-mail. Now you’re speaking my language.
• Be real. Gillennials have seen real. The attacks of 9-11, natural disasters, televised murder trials, the list goes on and on. Being authentic in your communication is critical; otherwise, a Gillennial can see right through your message and will disregard it all together. Generation X in particular does not want to be marketed to the same way their baby boomer parents were - they see it as too traditional or old-fashioned. In order to find your authentic voice, as yourself, “What does my company do best?” Or to dig a little deeper, ask yourself “What would my company do pro bono?” These answers are your passion points and will help drive the authentic communication a Gillennial will respond to.
It’s exciting to think about how the new normal can impact the opportunities we have across generational cohorts. In fact, I bet if we had a crystal ball, we would see how these shifts in the norm will only continue to change. It’s those businesses that keep a careful eye out on the horizon and have a commitment to flexibility and change, like Ford, that are best poised for long-term growth and opportunity.
What do you see in your crystal ball and, more importantly, are you ready to respond?