By Karen Schofield
As researchers, we aim to uncover the deep motivations that drive consumers’ behaviours, and connect the dots between human psychology, market needs, and cultural relevance. Like deconstructionists, researchers look to dissect what we know, and what we gather, and delve deeper into the very heart of the matter – the deep insight, as we would call it. Like other categories and labels in which we attempt to put things together, it is important for market researchers to understand what this label mean, and its implications.
It is also ever more important not to fall into the trap of generalising consumers based on such demographic categorisation and labelling. While there are unique characteristics that are shared across Millennials from different age groups, across different cities and with different cultural backgrounds understanding the specific characteristics brought up by the context in which they live and with which they interact will allow researchers to emphasis on cultural relevance and specificity, an understanding of distinction that is growing with importance.
For example, while we talked about Millennials in China in our previous articles, our insights focus on the cultural specificity and societal context of Shanghai in order to deeply understand Shanghai Millennials. China’s cultural backdrop serves as an important context to understand the larger cultural factors that imprint on our everyday lives – such as the desire for success and achievements in a collectivist society. Yet Shanghai’s unique position as a first tier city at the intersections of globalisation and tradition highlights different cultural context that shapes Shanghai Millennials’ needs. Their search for meaning in life manifests in their need to carve out spaces of freedom through finding their individuality, allowing themselves to engage in work hard, play hard, and spend hard.
Hence, ‘Millennials’, ‘Baby Boomers’, ‘Gen Z’ etc. are important terms to help market researchers understand general demographics. However, the terms themselves have varied definitions and interpretations, and the best way to practice and understand consumers as more than just generalised labels is to contextualise their experiences to cultural specificity, lending even deeper relevance to the insights we as researchers can generate.
Methodology and Framework: Happiness Matters
In the previous articles, our analyses began by looking at national culture and then understanding the key forces of change within each market context. Rather than generalising Millennials as a global collective, we looked beyond the label by applying our Drivers of Happiness model to explore how Millennials are responding to the world around them, grounding their experience in local and cultural context. This methodology allows us to apply cultural and psychological frameworks to mitigate against cultural bias while delivering comparative insights on consumer mind-sets in each market, better identifying target opportunities for brands to effectively reach this target group.
With an understanding of the centrality of happiness and wellbeing in our lives, we build the methodology on the studies of positive psychology, and in particular, the PERMA framework developed by positive psychologist Martin Seligman. Happiness is an important, yet often difficult phenomenon to achieve or understand. Psychologists and researchers are still trying to grapple with the significance of how and what happiness means to different people, and what impact it might have on their everyday lives – from motivation, to family dynamics, to consumerism.
So how does this allow cultural specificity and relevance? We believe that if researchers understand that consumers have a desire to satisfy basic human drivers which overall increase their happiness, they can leverage on this in-depth and broader contextual knowledge within which these drivers occur, resulting in rising consumer trends unique to each city/country. Cultural differences will always shade comparisons and insights. In our framework, we understand that happiness is culturally contextual. Happiness in some western cultures may mean achieving self-esteem, confidence, while happiness in some cultures in Asia may take on the form of balance in the world, peaceful state of mind, and fulfilling one’s duties. And as the world become increasingly more multi-cultural, transcultural forces will have an important impact on societies. Hence, it becomes ever more crucial to understand the degree to which these external forces impact and shape consumers’ behaviours and needs.
Yet, while difference and specificity matters, as researchers we also aim to look at similarities and broader strokes of comparison. While Millennials in London may seek more independence, Millennials in Shanghai and Mexico value the search for meaning and social causes respectively. Yet, what is interesting is how the channels with which Millennials in these cities share their stories, and demonstrate their own individualities.
As Millennials are well-known for their digital savviness as online experts, Millennials in cities utilise platforms from Facebook, to Instagram, to Pinterest, and Snapchat to curate their lives, and share it with the world. Collectively, these different channels allow Millennials in cities to express different dimensions of their lives. For example, someone might use Pinterest to curate their lives according to specific themes (cooking, wedding, home design etc.), and use Facebook to share more day to day stories intimately with friends and family. In their search for individuality, be it through stamping independence, or searching for meaning, or engaging in social causes – Millennials want to be able to showcase different dimensions of their personalities, and desire to curate their lives in a way that expresses their happiness.
Understanding the cultural specificity, and the different avenues which Millennials in different cities use to express themselves will allow researchers to use multiple research techniques to reach and get closer to their consumers. For example, digitally savvy Millennials are always on the lookout for interesting and engaging ways to capture their attention – the utilisation of gamification strategies can provide a highly stimulating and exciting way for them to open up and engage with research. It allows room for personalisation of tasks, catering to the Millennials in different cities.
Additionally, qualitative tools such as mood boarding, or diary tasks and community discussions, will allow Millennial participants to curate their thoughts and experiences in a way that they enjoy most. For example, partaking in online communities in China forms a big part of the Millennials’ everyday lives. As a collectivist society where its members are trying to search for their own individualities, online communities allow them to share and engage their ideas. By engaging with them in ways that they enjoy in their day to day lives will allow researchers to generate closeness with the Millennials.
Complexities of Millennials
Through the articles, we have taken you on a journey to understand the complexities of the Millennials in cities. We emphasised the importance of cultural specificity by examining 3 different cities and their Millennials. We have also shown that while Millennials in London, Shanghai and Mexico have very different outlooks and goals that drive happiness in their lives, there are also similarities that connect these global Millennials – their need for individuality. It becomes ever more important for brands to understand how this desire for individuality translates into opportunities for them to stretch beyond authenticity, and to give the feeling of realness that Millennials look for. Simultaneously, understanding what this means also allows researchers opportunities to play around with different research techniques to engage with this important group of consumers.
By Karen Schofield, Managing Director, Join The Dots Singapore