“That which seems the height of absurdity in one generation often becomes the height of wisdom in another.”
I’ve never been one to use traditional demographics in my product or marketing. I acknowledge it, but don’t rely on it. I prefer to use psychographics as the driver of my consumer focus. It’s not how old people are or how much money they make: I’m more interested in how they think and feel.
I’ve also never been a very political person, but I think we would all agree that this year has to be one of the most dynamic (and surreal) political moments in U.S. history.
The Republicans have found themselves under fire by its own constituents, leaving 17 candidates and decades of party unity in the wake of a blond torpedo. The Democrats have found themselves nearly split down the middle by a candidate with no White House family legacy and who appealed to an enthusiastic constituency a third his age.
But after 16 months of brutal campaigning, both presidential candidates now score lower in popularity polls than any nominee at this point in the past 40 years.
I know you’re probably wondering why I’m discussing this in a retail context, but I can’t think of anything more important right now and how it relates to us a people…and therefore, consumers. We never really think about how politics defines style, but then again just ask the hat manufacturers when Kennedy became president. But I digress.
This current dynamic in American politics will certainly have ramifications going forward, not just in business, but in pretty much everything we do. And I mean that in a positive way.
What’s in a Name?
We loosely define generational structures as a population’s influence on culture and society usually triggered by conflict, economics, or technology. Over the last 100 years, we’ve had the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, GenX, Gen Y/Millennial and Gen Z.
But what is significant is that the millennials are the first generation to cross from analog to binary thinking driven by the access to technology. Marketers find generational structures useful for many reasons, not the least of which to figure out how to maximize revenues to that age group.
But to me, there is a new generational persona emerging that is an accumulation of all of the previous ones, which is what I call “ Perennial Millennials”. I define Perennial Millennials as a group of generationally agnostic individuals, equally committed to seeking out societal solutions, who respect the ability and intelligence of future generations to guide, be guided, and even ignore the follies of the previous generation.
Millennials now represent the largest workforce in the country, as well as the nation’s largest living generation weighing in at 75.4 million. And yet, I still get the sense that marketers treat this segment as if it’s some kind of fringe; a mysterious and emerging element of society.
If you add in Generation Z at 72.8 million, who are likely to follow a more defined but similar political path as the millennials, you’ve got a huge and powerful constituency coming into power, currently representing almost 50 percent of the U.S. population. To put this into context: The president in 2024 will likely be a millennial. By 2020, Gen Z is projected to represent 40 percent of all consumers. And guess what, there are 361,000 more born every day.
In the primaries, Bernie Sanders pulled a net favorable rating from millennials of 54 percent; Clinton 37 percent; and Trump pulled 17 percent. That pretty much speaks to the sentiment of this group.
What is so powerful in this election (as with Obama’s first election) has been that the millennials have made such a profound impact on its outcome, and which speaks to a positive future.
As marketers we are obsessed with trying to understand millennials but I think we are totally missing the point. The ramifications are much bigger than that. I think they are trying to understand why we are trying to understand them, which makes it even harder for them to trust us. They are perplexed why we are so obsessed by them.
The point here is that while we’ve been researching, questioning and trying to understand what makes them tick, this generation is already deeply affecting our culture. We’ve had our noses so deeply in the cultural petri dish analyzing the data that we forgot to look up and see that the laboratory had already been taken over.
Even though he didn’t win, Sanders resonated with a clear and defining message, one that is more modern and significant to show the way the country should be headed. Millennials ought to be one of the most respected generations we’ve ever seen because of their intelligence, knowledge and even their circumspect opinions of the status quo. Even their intrinsic distrust will make the world a better and more honest place.
Voting itself is a critical component for this generation, as it can lead to real change. Just ask the same millennials in the UK who stayed home and didn’t vote to stay in the European Union. About 78 percent of voters over the age of 35 voted in that referendum, while only 47 percent of voters under the age of 35 did. Had they voted, it’s pretty certain there would not have been a Brexit.
The March Forward
The transformation of the country under millennials’ emerging influence and leadership is significant. This is a generation that has accumulated the bulk of the $1.2 trillion in student debt, which is the equivalent of two years of the defense budget of nearly $600 billion annually. And shockingly, the huge chunk of this debt has been accumulated in the past two years.
This is a group who challenges and questions the loopholes in tax laws , seeks job opportunities that are both meaningful and satisfying, believes gun laws are antiquated and dangerous, and without question, accepts that climate change is a real and urgent issue.
Someone graduating from college instantly in debt might not take the entrepreneurial chances they would have otherwise taken debt-free. But that’s not the case for many of them, even though 72% of the next generations want to own their own business.
Someone who doesn’t trust the economic system as fair and equal will be discouraged from buying something from that system. And that is the case with most of them. Transparency is critically important, and technological peer-to-peer contact facilitates that. And those are the qualities of the entrepreneurial businesses they have built and are building.
I am convinced that the U.S. has a huge positive upside ahead, and where we go the world usually respects. I know it’s somewhat messy now, but what we are feeling is the change of a natural generational transition that will inevitably occur between our analog past and our digital future.
That being said, take a look at the definition of Perennial millennial and see if it may fit you. Especially the part that says “Perennial millennials…respect the ability and intelligence of future generations to guide, be guided, and even ignore the follies of the previous generation.”
To me this speaks volumes to our opportunity. Just because we created the problem, doesn’t mean we are the best to solve it. Let’s stop analyzing the millennials and engage them. It’ll eventually be their responsibility anyway.
And as marketers and retailers how do we make this an actionable opportunity?
I often say that marketing (and branding) is the ability to create an emotional relationship with an inanimate object. Products are products, but emotions are human. So perhaps we should put away our bar charts and reams of statistics and appeal to what is important to ourselves and everyone else.
And that is to be human.