Anna Peters

Compare a 21 year old from the 2001 with a 21 year old from 2013 and you’ll see that they share many of the same traits; self-obsessed, individualistic, and in constant search for validation. It’s just that today Facebook exists, and so now these traits are there for everyone else to “like.”

Millennial’s aren’t a different species, argues Time Magazine’s provocative cover story this month, they’ve just mutated to adapt to their new environment. And from where I sit, brands & businesses also have to mutate.

Fundamentally young people are the same as they always were – it’s just that the world around them has changed. But this contextual change isn’t to be ignored, and it carries with it 3 implications for the way in which young people view themselves, their world, and the brands that they consume.

Below we explore the 3 implications, and what I think brands must do to mutate at the same time as their younger consumers:

Implication no. 1: The Cult of Me
Somewhere between the ages of 17 and 27 we become ‘ourselves’ – those years of teenage angst are behind us and between moving out of home for the first time, finding our first jobs, and having our fist meaningful relationship, and we also go through the arduous task of deciding who ‘me’ is.

Understanding who ‘me’ is takes a lot of diary writing, a lot of emo tumbler creation and a lot of bad fashion choices. These are all important – if a little cringy – developmental processes, but the thing that helps us most understand who we are is recognising what our identity means within the context of the wider world; and that is defined by a recognition of our skills and the value that they can add to society.

The task of defining ‘me’ isn’t unique to Millennials, but in recent years individualism and ‘the cult of me’ has been exaggerated because we all have access to technology which allows us to define, in an ever more public domain, who we are and what we can offer to the world.

What happens when brands treat young people like just another consumer, ignoring and undervaluing the skills they have to offer?Organisations have recognised for years that undervaluing employees skills leads to lack of motivation and creativity and more recently brands have also started to benefit from treating customers as individuals, through the Millennial expectation of personalisation of mass goods.

And the expectation of personalisation doesn’t stop there: when it comes to solving insight and brand challenges, treating millenials as 2D-consumers wont get the best results. Instead, for this age cohort, methodologies which recognise and maximise the skill sets of consumers will lead to better engagement your brand challenge, more considered answers, and ultimately more creative solutions. Everyone has a skill, and when it is recongnised and utilised properly it can add an enormous amount of value.

Implication no. 2: The Experience Economy
Reality TV star, and occasional philosopher, Kim Kardashian has is got it right when she says that Millennials have an assumption of co-creation with brands and businesses: “they want relationships with businesses and celebrities, whereas Gen X was kept at arm’s length”

It’s not news that brands need to co-create with their customers to succeed, but despite this many companies are still rewarding co-creators solely with financial reward. But this isn’t co-creation, this is an antiquated exchange which pays people for their time, it is a job.

And we have to be aware that young people don’t have the same approach to jobs as the middle-aged marketing managers that sign off the incentive budgets. Instead of cash as king, it’s the experience economy that carriers a real currency. Evidence of this is the renewed appetite for Burning Man festival, where money has no value as a mechanism for trading.

What happens when you apply the experience economy to brand challenges?
The economics of true co-creation isn’t too dissimilar from the economics of Burning Man: both are about creating mutual value, via shared experience. This makes financial rewards a little irrelevant and increases the importance of fun, learning, experience and skill within the co-creative process.

As such, the best way to reward to reward the younger cohort in the co-creative process is to supplement monetary reward with a useful acknowledge skills learnt and experience gained in the form of professional references for jobs, endorsement of skills on LinkedIn, and the creation a network which the young people can leverage in the future.

Implication no. 3: Meet Me in My Space.
Not the slightly out of date social networking site, but rather the space which Millennials have colonised. Technology is, of course, a huge part of this ‘space’ – but it is ignorant to just assume that young people are making a distinction between the reality behind their screens, and the reality behind their front door.

A slightly older generation may well have drawn a distinction between the online and offline world, but true Millennials slide seamlessly between the two mediums: bulky computers which sit static in bedrooms have been superseded by tablets which are used in public spaces and passed amongst friends. And of course there is Google Glass.

What benefits are there to using a Millennial methodology, as opposed to a medium-specific methodology?
When you consider the world like a Millennial does, it seems silly for brands to draw a distinction between online and offline methodologies, especially for researchers and brand owners who are trying to gain insight and solve real challenges. Brand owners that recognise this are benefitting greatly: Lambeth Council has recently run a very successful program of community engagement that has managed to straddle the online and offline worlds to great effect.

So, when it comes to meeting younger consumers on their terms, the decision shouldn’t be about whether you should use an online or an offline methodology the decision should be about are we connecting with this group in their space.

In short, if we are to connect with the younger cohort in any meaningful way, we must acknowledge these implications and find solutions. Here’s my stab at what the we should do when trying to solve innovation and insight challenges for our brands:

Implication no.1: The cult of me.
Solution: make use of the diverse Millennial skill sets.

Implication no.2: The experience economy.
Solution: reward co-creation in a way that is meaningful to the co-creators.

Implication no. 3: Meet them in my space.
Solution: Don’t draw arbitrary distinctions between the offline and online worlds.

Anna Peters is Director of Co-Creation, Bright Young Minds