Management Briefing

The Millennial Consumer - What are they like? - March 2016 Management Briefing, Part II

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For full details of this management briefing, click here

In the second part of this special just-drinks management briefing, which considers the Millennial consumer, Richard Woodard provides an in-depth look at what Millennials are like.

What are Millennial consumers like?

What are Millennial consumers like?

There are two key, overriding points made about the character traits and personalities of Millennial consumers in the BCG report: they describe a number of qualities that are not shared with other demographic groups; and they exhibit several traits that are, or appear to be, somewhat paradoxical.

Boomers, Generation X-ers and Millennials do, however, share a number of common traits – but then, how many of us would not want to describe ourselves as 'educated', 'open-minded', 'active', 'positive' or 'optimistic'?

Let us focus, then, on the brand personalities that should appeal to Millennials, by their own account. It's an intriguing list:

  • Modern
  • Risk-taking
  • Spoiled
  • Self-centred
  • Snarky/sarcastic
  • Dramatic
  • Entitled
  • Lazy
  • Anxious
  • Unpredictable
  • Rebellious
  • Hip
  • Moody

It's also worth listing the brand attributes Millennials share with Generation X-ers:

  • Social
  • Tech-savvy
  • Creative
  • Diverse
  • Funny/humorous
  • Ambitious
  • Individualistic
  • Creative

Millennials also show distinct differences with older generations when it comes to the concepts that they view as important in life. Again, there are plenty of shared ideals across the generations – 'altruism', 'fun' and 'environment' to name a few – but the generational shift is quite marked.

'Craftsmanship' has become increasingly important to Millennials since 2013 (although this is shared with non-Millennials), as has 'change', while 'festivity' has fallen from favour somewhat. Other concepts important to Millennials include 'adventure', 'excitement', 'glamour' and 'professional success'.

Look at Millennials along gender lines and more variations emerge. Female Millennials are more likely to see concepts such as 'spirituality', 'charity', 'optimism', 'health' and 'sustainability' as important: This has changed little since 2013, although 'beauty' and 'professional success' are emerging as more important ideas now.

For men, vital concepts include 'luxury', 'status', 'wealth', 'quality' and 'travel', all of which polled at similar levels to 2013; but, while 'professional success' decreased in importance, 'isolation' and 'fitness' both increased.

It is when we analyse Millennials' thoughts about the future, and about their current mind-state, that what we might term the 'Millennial paradox' emerges most clearly.

Some 61% of male Millennials are anxious about the future, but that figure rises to 70% for their female counterparts; compare that to 51%/56% for male/female Generation X-ers, 42%/48% for Boomers and 37%/39% for Silents. Age clearly has an impact here, with under-20s displaying even greater levels of anxiety (67%/81%).

But, ask Millennials how optimistic they are about the future, accompanied by questions about financial stability, and the picture changes. At 63% (both genders), Millennial levels of optimism are high – the same as those of under-20s, and well ahead of Boomers (51%) in particular.

And yet, they are also notably worried about retirement finances (61%, only just below Generation X-ers at 62%, and well above Boomers at 50%); and about the next recession (49%, the highest figure of all the generational groups). 

Dividing the genders, both male and female Millennials express similar levels of optimism for the future, but it is women who are doing the most worrying – in terms of generalised anxiety about the future in particular, but also in terms of retirement finances and the next recession.

Move on to look at current mind-state and the results are broadly similar. Ask Millennials if they are happier than they were two years ago, and 59% will say they are – the highest figure from any generational group, ahead of the younger Founders generation (57%), Generation X-ers (50%), Boomers (44%) and Silents (39%).

And yet, their stress levels are among the highest in the population too. Some 53% reckon they are currently feeling more stress than two years ago (only under-20s register a higher figure at 67%, and the figure for Boomers is just 32%).

Added to this, 56% of Millennials complain that they 'never have enough time' – the highest figure among all the generational groups, and again way ahead of Boomers at 27%; and 50% say there are more things in their lives out of their control than in their control. Only Founders register a higher figure (56%), and for all older generations the figure falls below 50%.

As might be expected from these findings on future anxiety levels, Millennial females over-index on stress levels, having enough time (where there is a marked difference with their male counterparts) and feeling in control. But, in another apparently paradoxical manifestation, they also display marginally higher levels of happiness.

What is happening here? It might be as simple as the natural optimism of youth running up against the economic and geopolitical circumstances in which the Millennial generation has reached adulthood. Perhaps the inherent Millennial confidence that 'everything will be ok' is being undercut by the uncertainties of the world around them.

We've discussed character traits, the concepts that are important to Millennials, and their thoughts and fears about the future, as well as current mind-states. But, there's one more practical and prosaic element of the Millennial character which is vitally important: the relationship with technology and the digital world.

Here, the BCG figures are taken from 2013, but they still offer an insight into the distinctions between Millennial and Boomer consumers – specifically when it comes to using mobile technology to aid in-store purchasing. Almost half of the Millennials surveyed said they checked prices on their 'phone in-store - more than double the number of Boomers who said the same. Similar numbers will look at product information on their phones while shopping, or look for coupons or promotions, or use search engines – and in all cases, Millennials are more than 1.5 times as likely as Boomers to do so.

It's a broadly similar picture when it comes to social media. More than half of the Millennials surveyed will 'like' a brand on social media (although there is evidence of this behaviour becoming increasingly prevalent among non-Millennials now as well).

Meanwhile, 35% of Millennials will share a link on social media referencing a brand or product – they're 2.5 times more likely to do this than Boomers – and 32% will follow a brand on Twitter (2.46 times more likely than Boomers to do so).

The clear conclusion is that this is a digitally-empowered generation for whom the practical use of mobile technology, combined with interaction and research via social media, is an indelible part of the purchasing process. While older generations are beginning to catch up in this area, they still have a way to go in order to close the gap on Millennials.

That's the current picture of the Millennial generation, but how is it changing? If we look back and compare the picture in 2015 to that in 2013, what changes have already emerged – and what clues do they offer for the future?

Click here for part three of this management briefing.

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