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Let’s Be Clear: Transparency Drives Millennials’ Consumerism

Millennials’ Consumerism
December 2018

Perhaps the reason so many companies struggle to understand the differences between Millennials and other generations “may be because such differences are overblown,” according to a recent Economist article.

Market research firm Ipsos-MORI is quoted in The Economist as saying that Millennials are “the most carelessly described group we have ever looked at.”

The article says that Millennials respond to three major themes: Transparency, experience over possessions and flexibility. They cite examples such as:

  • Everlane, an online clothing manufacturer offering “radical transparency” by disclosing both the conditions under which each garment is made and the profit being earned;
  • A large company, ConAgra, has succeeded in growing sales by eliminating all artificial ingredients from its snack and ready meals;
  • Airbnb is the classic example of enabling more experiences through both reducing the price of stays and selling experience-oriented programs;
  • AllyBank has offered flexibility with checking accounts that have no minimum balances and no fees;
  • Carmakers are experimenting with subscription services, rather than ownership—another example of increasing flexibility even in a durable goods category.

Are apartment marketers making the mistake of overblowing the differences?

According to my 23-year-old, daughter, Erika, who attends grad school at Rutgers, she agrees with The Economist’s more subtle descriptions. Her full response:

Transparency, experience over things and flexibility resonate with me.

Transparency is a big one; Millennials as a group are cynical and can tell when companies are pandering. Another big thing related to that is Millennials don’t like conducting conversations over the phone. We want to be able to do as much online as possible and write things out instead of talking. There are a lot of Millennial memes about “successfully avoiding human interaction” as much as possible; it’s why things like iPads at restaurants where you can order food without talking to waiters are big hits. The equivalent in the apartment industry is having online systems for leasing, paying rent, making maintenance requests, purchasing amenities, etc.

I'm not sure if “experience over things” is a universally Millennial value or just one among its more affluent members, but I think it is valid among my circles, at least. Generally, Millennials are more practical and would value, say, a well-made and reliable car over something super flashy. But that is a belief that is valid for anyone who is reasonably well-off but not wealthy, regardless of their age. Millennials mostly have this mindset because we are young and most of us are not wealthy. You do hear about Millennials “killing the diamond industry,” which ties into all three of these things. We recognize that diamonds are kind of a farce and there is questionable ethics around their mining and production (low transparency); we can’t really afford expensive jewelry anyway (low flexibility); and we feel that, because zirconium looks the same anyway, why not get that and instead spend the money on a nice honeymoon or invest it toward a house so we can have a more comfortable life (experience over things).

In The Economist article, a failed marketing example given is when MillerCoors tried to sell to Millennials by creating TwoHats, a light-flavored fruity brew they said would appeal to Millennials taste and budget with the tagline, “Good, cheap beer. Wait, what?” Replies my daughter:

Good beer that isn’t expensive is definitely a product that would appeal to Millennials. The advertisement isn’t effective because Millennials don't like the feeling that we are being told what to think/how to react (“wait, what?”) If you're telling us what our reaction should be, you probably aren't actually eliciting that reaction, and it feels disingenuous and pandering to boot. ‘Good cheap beer’ is, in our experience, something that doesn't exist, so we are immediately skeptical because we are a cynical bunch. The solution to that is to convey how and why your beer is both good and cheap. Increase transparency. What is different about your beer that lets you sell it at a lower price, but still have it taste good? We want to know what that is before we believe that it is both good and cheap. Maybe the actual reason isn't at all sexy but then it's the marketer's job to figure out how to sex it up.