From the MxM Annual 2014: Oh Yes, Abhi! Really?

29 Mar,2013

By Shalini Rawla

 

Millennial youth as a cohort is not such a mystery really. Born circa 1990 they have grown up in front of us. We can see how they behave. We know what makes them laugh and cry. Sometimes we lament about them as their employers. Sometimes we are happy for them as parents. But when it comes to marketing to them, we feel at sea even as experts. We kind of know they are the ‘here and now’ generation, restless and impatient for immediate results, but is that really who they are?

The millennial’s back story

We all know that kids these days grow older, younger. So what an adult of my generation learnt at, say, age ten, a five year old in the new generation would already be aware of. They take to computers and smart phones as naturally as fish to water. By this logic, when the millennials became first time voting adults and employees, they should have been behaving like they are already in their thirties. Herein lies the dichotomy.

The millennial youth of today may be technologically ahead of its parental generation, but they are behind them by several decades in emotional maturity. It is as if this cohort has unanimously decided to push all other traditional milestones of ‘settling down’ or taking on newer responsibilities to a decade later. So they are choosing a career late, marrying late, starting a family even later and so on.

They are more comfortable with technology than their parents thanks to the liberalization of our economy – a time when the millennial generation and their parents both got exposed to technology almost at the same time. The younger, more curious and flexible minds adapted to technology faster than the oldies. In fact, the two generations discovered and experienced more things together as against the previous generations where the parents were looked upon as teachers – their guiding light – a part they played beautifully. There was very little that the previous generation’s kids knew more about or learnt much before their parents.

Experience junkies

Our ‘millennial’ economy and technology is responsible for democratizing knowledge and breaking the traditional patriarchal and hierarchical structures. When the parents were experiencing their maiden trip abroad, so were their millennial kids.

The parents were students of the new experiences themselves along with their children. And India suddenly embraced a new school of parenting – of discovering and sharing everything with their children. They were not authority figures to be respected but friends who did not just ‘provide for’ their children but indulged them in every form – be it branded possessions or more new experiences like swimming, tennis, drama, aeronautics etc.

The millennial generation was fed on scores of such new experiences. Parents felt dutybound to give to their child ‘the best of everything new’ – something they vicariously enjoyed when the kids shared those experiences with them. And somewhere around this time, Facebook happened.  Discovering and sharing became the millennial generation’s DNA and their parents forever lost their venerated top position in the family totem pole.

Helicopter parenting?

Some call this helicopter parenting. I call this mother-of-all parenting challenges. With the breakdown of joint families, the parents of this millennial generation were spreadeagled under the twin onslaughts of modern parenting and new age employment/responsibility – both of which they were learning for the first time and had to do it all by themsleves with no support from anywhere. Like each generation faces its fair share of challenges, this generation of millennial parents also faced theirs. They learnt by making mistakes. They did not experience any economic deprivation as their parents did, but a strange kind of emotional deprivation – a feeling of being out of depth with themselves as model parents, employees and children. Their own dreams seemed dangerously close to being compromised.

Each generation can be best understood only in the context of its earlier generation. And this paper is not about the Gen Xers. It is about the millennials, the youth of today. But I am sure much of what we think of as their inexplicable behaviour, can be understood better if we keep this context in mind.

The millennial employee

The just working, under thirties, a few years out-of-college kids are used to being fed on experiences. They treat each job as an experience. That is why they quit companies very quickly. It may just be that they were experiencing a new field altogether and joined your company to find out if they saw themselves continuing with the same job for a longer time, little realizing that the company may have longer term plans which completely go awry because of this trait of experience junking and dunking.

The millennial’s work place

The millennials are used to being indulged by their parents, so they expect the same from their employers. They do not respect structures, so they reject the 9am – 6pm routine. They like flexi timings and would love to work out of cafes. ‘Never Boring’ is what they seek out of life and even their jobs. Since most jobs are serious and the work atmosphere cubicled, they quit. Never boring is also their set of friends who they have to meet compulsively every weekend. Heaven forbid if the employer asks them to work on a Saturday. Their idea of work-life balance is more read as life-work balance in their minds.

They don’t like desk jobs – they like to move around, meet people, travel, after all experiences do not happen sitting at one place. They like managing people but don’t like a job where there is daily reporting to a boss. They have difficulty seeing their boss as an authority figure as they never did face any ‘real authority’ at home. If they face a problem at work, they expect their boss to solve it for them just as their parents helped them in their school projects.

 

They do not know how to react if the boss says, ‘Go figure’. Chances are they may call their parent to ‘figure’.

 

The millennial’s life goals

They want to earn money – lots of it. And they want it now. They know the end but have not figured the means to that end yet. They are celebrity struck. They want to dress up like them and wear brands they wear. Their parents indulged them so far. Now that they are working, they want to live the same lifestyle without asking their parents for money. They jump jobs for money. In that sense they are more risk taking. They do not feel they must secure one job before quitting their current job. They do not feel that many jobs in a short span would show badly on their resumes. After all, all stints tot up to a variety of experiences. A job is a means to an end of gaining another experience. A job gives them their right to stay out of home for longer hours. It is a like a date. You have to experience all kinds before you settle on the one you really, really like.

Width of experience is more important than depth in any one subject. To them knowledge and intelligence are inter-changeable terms. That is why they consider experience more important than education. Most of them believe that it is important to get some work experience after graduation before deciding which subject to major in for further education.

Millennials as consumers

Millennials are very appearance conscious. They are willing to spend money on fitness, beauty, apparel and accessories. And of course eating out. They are influenced by celebrities and brands. They believe in turning out well at any time as fashionable clothes are their confidence boosters. They feel less inhibited in making friends offline if dressed well. Online, of course they befriend loads of them within their most extended circles – but never a rank stranger.

They share fashion trends, clothes they like, jokes and party pictures which flatter them and make them look more affluent than they actually are. They are fitness conscious and try not to get addicted to any vice. Marketers can lure them with classy stuff that respects the environment and uses a lot of humour to market itself. They seek creativity and innovation in products and services as these two add to the ‘Never Boring’ dimension of consumption.

Millennials understand their own importance in the eyes of the marketers. Brands that give them due respect as a serious consumer while simultaneously engaging them as a fun shopper, are the ones that shall pass the loyalty test. Millennials are fans of brands. They respond to the personality of the brand more than its promise. A brand that becomes their fan is likely to end up being the most significant player in the game.

Millennial’s social quotient

Twitter is not a medium where they can show off or see others like them. They prefer to post visuals than 140 characters of text. They want to be famous in their contact list and change their profile pictures often. The number of likes and comments they get is a measure of their popularity and how much influence they have on others. They feel power begets money and fame and hence consider these ‘likes’ as symbols of power and influence. Yet, they know their virtual power is of no use without their friends. They value relationships over individuality. Egos have very little role in a team of millennials. They like to participate as a team member than be seen as the lone performer. Give them a relevant cause, and see them rally around it. Together they can make it happen. The solo angry young man wanting to change the system has given way to a collective power that wants to change the system by being in the system. Yes, most millennials want to participate in effective governance and joining politics is not something they are dead against. It is another route to influencing others by wielding their power. So don’t be surprised if most of them have already put in their efforts voluntarily in NGOs to help the oppressed. The share generation is willing to share their time, effort and money for the socially oppressed and the physically challenged.

Oh no! Abhi nahi

There is no urgency to divide life into key milestones like their parents did. Today, the journey is different, where the goal is the experience not necessarily the destination. Now is for the new. Later is for things that are passe – job, accomplishments, acquisitions, marriage and parenting. Think of the future only in the future. Commitment is not the ultimate goal, experience is. If that is construed as being confused, so be it. Use confusion as a badge – a leverage to explain your delayed maturity. You live only once. So enjoy each experience. Life is not a linear journey of responsibilities but a kaleidoscope of experiences. You have not lived a full life until you have experienced everything – the good, the bad, the ugly. No need to shut old doors and open new ones. Leave all doors open – you never know when you may need to pass through them again. Don’t burn bridges with anyone as success comes only with the help of others. Networking is the corner stone for a life full of meaningful experiences.

The beta youth

Millennials are fascinated when they get involved with “work in progress”, living in a beta world, they’re exhilarated by the challenge to participate and create collaboratively. They’re used to curating their own content– reusing, remixing, repurposing– and they’re empowered by discovering things on their own. They change quickly and don’t let attachments hold them back because for them, it’s about living in the present with no illusion with what the future will hold.

 

Shalini Rawla is Founder & CEO, The Key Consumer Diagnostics Pvt Ltd

 

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