Authenticity and the Opt-Out Generations

Eric V. Holtzclaw
Marketing Insights
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Key Takeaways
  • Establishing relationship and ultimately driving milennials to become consumers requires tapping into their desire to understand and be understood.
  • Technology is seen as an enabler for authentic connection.
  • New experiences drive milennials' choices.

    Insights into the digitally native mind

    Although often presented as generations that are out of touch and endlessly buried in their smartphones and tablets, millennials and the “always-on” generation that follows them are the most connected and most influenced by their peers than any generation in the past.

    In their efforts to understand millennials, companies tend to focus on how this generation accesses content or what they do on different platforms or mediums. What they miss is that the key to reaching this generation is to understand why they are participating in a campaign or reacting favorable to a product or service.

    These digitally native consumers seek connection—tangible, first-hand experience—and they want their efforts to make an impact on the world locally. Authenticity is the lynchpin that holds all of these drivers together. Establishing relationship and ultimately driving them to become consumers requires tapping into their desire to understand and be understood, and to do that, marketers should understand some universal truths about this generation.

    Technology is seen as an enabler for authentic connection. Previous generations were fascinated merely by advances in technology. They were amazed with the new ways they could use it: to pay a bill, make a phone call or send an e-mail. These advances changed the way previous generations worked, lived and played.

    Digital natives in the millennial and following generations see and use technology as an enabler rather than a novelty. It allows them to lead their lives the way they want. This digitally savvy group knows it’s not about the technology; it’s about what the technology allows them to do and experience. They use technology to its fullest to supplement their lives, not as substitution for living it. One of their primary drivers for technology use is to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences or beliefs.

    According to a 2012 study from Boston Consulting Group, millennials are more likely to use social media to connect than other generations and are much more likely to socialize and hang out with people outside of their immediate family. They use technology as a way to both plan for and research where they will spend time with those they connect with.

    The mistake many companies make is in only supporting online connection and channels. However, marketers must develop offers and solutions that support and encourage offline connection. 

    New experiences drive their choices. Millennials were raised on a steady diet of experiences. They saved princesses in their video games, traveled to exotic locations either physically or through the movies, and participated in others’ lives through the specter of reality television.  The need for new experiences drives both their personal and professional choices. With unemployment among millennials at a staggering 16%, they understand and have accepted that there is much more to life than a job.

    In a team-building study, I interviewed an executive at Haliburton about a position that had high turnover. He shared with me the fact that they couldn’t keep millennials in a job that traditionally paid $150,000 per year. After approximately three years, the millennial would leave for significantly less money.

    In talking with this generation about why they would choose to leave a stable, high-paying job, they cite a lack of diverse experience and too much routine. This generation is not driven by money or climbing the corporate ladder. They have witnessed their parents and grandparents spend hours pursuing jobs and careers that ended suddenly or were unfulfilling. Therefore, marketers need to capitalize on the desire for new and interesting experiences in order to reach them with marketing and product offers.

    They trust each other for the truth. As a group, millennials are skeptical of mainstream media and other institutions (government and otherwise) that are out to enforce rules or make money. They prefer to receive their information from those in their social circles.

    We did a study on the problem of showrooming in 2013 to understand why 91% of mobile shopping carts were left abandoned. Our interviews and analysis mapped to the results of other studies, including one by BazaarVoice. Millennials are not likely to buy anything—online or offline—without input and a nod of approval from their peers. They believe what they find in user-generated content like blogs, reviews and social media is authentic and an important driver in their overall decision.

    The 2013 Millennial Impact Research study confirms that this generation prefers to support a cause first and pays little attention to the organizations involved. In fact, an organization’s website becomes only one of the content sources for information. Millennials expect to learn about and follow the causes they care about through the same channels they use to connect with their friends and make decisions about other products and services.

    Providing exclusive information to the influencers of this generation is a way to help them spread your message and content for you. Let these influencers experience your product, service or message early and allow them an open forum to share their thoughts. Additionally, make sure it is easy for millennials to get to user-generated content about your company on your site or elsewhere. View your role as one that involves helping them along the process of validating their choice.

    They desire to make an authentic impact. The millennial generation is very interested in and driven by the social impact of what they do in their jobs and how they spend their money and their leisure time.

    In a presentation at South by Southwest Interactive in July 2012, Stacy McCoy, the co-founder of Give to Get Jobs, noted that the millennial generation is the most cause-oriented generation since World War II, buying cause products at much higher rates than the general population. McCoy shared what our direct research with millennials has confirmed: This generation is more willing to take a pay cut in order to work at a company that supports a cause. If they can’t find a job, they will create their own and are launching social enterprises in increasing numbers.

    Highlight the good your company does, how it gives back or how your products support social causes. As millennials become more and more important to the consumer landscape, marketers need to take heed that this generation will demand an authentic approach that is based on direct relationship. Marketing plans should include ways of reaching these consumers via a continually fragmented landscape of user-generated content in which the company is only a participant, not the controller.

    Author Bio:

    Eric V. Holtzclaw
    Eric V. Holtzclaw is the founder and CEO of Laddering Works and a consultant on consumer behavior and entrepreneurship. He has spent the last decade running his research firm, specializing in unlocking product and service potential for Fortune 500 and other companies.
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