By Helen Donald

Under One Roof: A Changing Paradigm

Whilst multi-generational households may have been stigmatised in the past, they are fast becoming the norm for certain generations and social groups. Recent data from UK insurance provider Aviva suggests there could currently be 2.2 million people living in multi-family households in the UK by 2025. In the US, In 2014, a record 60.6 million people, or 19% of the US population, lived with multiple generations under one roof, according to analysis from Pew Research Center census analysis.

Factors such as increased cost of living, high unemployment among the young and rocketing house prices have contributed to this trend. And it’s not only the young affected; families are moving in with grandparents and vice versa to pool resources and take-up caring responsibilities.

There is an opportunity for brands to use this trend to their advantage, to not only deepen relationships with customers but also to extract greater value from those living in multi-gen households. A 2013 Mintel report into US ‘non-traditional’ parents for example, found that those with adult children still at home were spending more on groceries and other categories such as clothing and accessories compared to the more traditional empty nesters.

A New Brand Experience

The way multi-gen householders decide on, buy and experience products is changing.  Brands must take account of this as they map their customers’ journeys:

  • Who is the decision-maker with multiple responsible adults in the household?
  • Does the influence of ‘mother knows best’ run deeper and longer with grown-up children in the home?
  • Does a grown-up version of pester power exist?
  • Do young adults disrupt their parents’ deeply engrained purchasing habits?

Ruth, a 35 project manager in London, found out when tightening finances forced a move back to the parental home:

“I didn’t really have any living costs when I moved back in with Mum and Dad. To be honest, they were pretty set in their ways.  But because they were helping me out, I would often buy them little treats – like a nicer bottle of wine to what they might usually buy.”

Ruth has since achieved her goal of buying her own home but believes the time spent with her parents has had a big impact on how they spend their disposable income now:

“I’d say the big difference had been giving them confidence to try new things like online shopping, taking them out of their comfort zone, and getting them into buying more treats and luxury products.”

The End of a Dog and 2.2 Children

As households across the UK and US become increasingly varied, so too should the depiction of the family in brand communications. Narratives built around young couples in a spacious and modern apartment may be an aspiration too far for many millennials and ultimately lead to brand disconnection. Equally, adverts that depict parents excitedly waving off their youngest (teenage) child in anticipation of a new-found freedom and increased expendable income are unlikely to resonate as strongly in the years to come as perhaps they would have five or ten years ago.

Reflecting the realities of the new normal is one way brands can demonstrate that they understand and can relate to their customers. Ikea is a great example of a brand doing just that. Its recent UK campaign ‘Make more than just food’ showing a grandfather and granddaughter having fun cooking can easily adapt to a variety of modern-day scenarios: the grandparent who has moved in with his offspring, the family who have moved in with grandpa, or the grandparent who visits regularly to help out with childcare. Similarly, the brand’s focus on providing rental friendly furniture or inspiration for furnishing small homes directly taps into many of the challenges faced by younger generations wishing to find their own space.

Celebrating Multi-generational Living

Ultimately brands can play a significant role in not only adapting to but also celebrating the changing face of the modern family. In order to do this, brand planners should understand what specific role they can play in this context, asking themselves three broad questions:

  1. Targeting: Are you talking to the right people? Do you need to review how people are discovering and purchasing your brand? Have multiple generations living together prompted younger / older consumers to consider and try your brand?
  2. Storytelling: Are the stories that you tell about your brands at risk of alienating a certain portion of our target? Are we using stereotypes that are outmoded? Are we celebrating the modern family?
  3. Innovation: has the rise in multi-gen households created new territories to exploit? Can new tension points be resolved by your brand through better products and services?

By Helen Donald, Principal, Incite