Generation Y

Generalisation Y?

Isn’t it strange how in this age of ever smaller micro niches of ‘targeting’, powered by digital ‘big data’ engines, and the promise of ever-more accurate psychographic profiling, that the use of the term ‘Millennial’ is still used with so much unthinking and carefree abandon. Ahhh…the intoxicating, beguiling whiff of pseudo-expert terminology. “Millennial”. It’s like it has some magic power – to impress, to confound, to enthral. Marketeers, despite their intelligence and above-average ability for rational thought, are swept into the alchemical vortex created.

In fact, ‘Millennials’ wear many cloaks. Echo Boomers, Generation Me, Generation We, New Boomers the Net Generation and possibly the most interchanged name, Generation Y. The one factor that connects them all is that they’re a generation, sharing nothing more than a birthdate somewhere between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. That’s a full 20 years. And that’s everyone born during that period – or approximately 14 million people in the UK alone. Yet somehow, they’re too often seen as a homogenous mass, sharing traits and attitudes and behaviours that somehow, make them a useful targeting profile. Generation Y? Generalisation Y more like.

Here are just a few of those Generalisations.

  • Millennials are confident and team orientated with a greater sense of civic duty and social responsibility than generations before them. They want to achieve; indeed, they expect to achieve, and they expect to do it in their own way.
  • Millennials are lazy and work shy, apparently, and more like to have narcissistic tendencies – either a high degree of attention seeking and a quest for power or more of a self-orientation, being defensive, idealistic and having a keen sense of entitlement.
  • In the work place, work-life balance is valued more highly; they’re likely to pursue creative roles, or possible multiple roles to fulfil their different life goals. Not bound by loyalty to institutions, they’re also much more likely to hop from job to job, like ambitious rabbits.
  • Millennials are supposed to be more liberal – both socially and economically – yet they are typically less politically active (witness Brexit, where ‘Millennial’ voter turnout was lower than all other age cohorts)
  • They are ‘always on’ these super-connected digital natives, not knowing any other way of living – using digital for getting the news and connecting with friends with social media habitually –creating alter-egos
    for themselves in the digital world vs. the physical world

Slide1I’m sure you know a ‘Millennial’ or two; indeed, you could well be one. You may recognise yourself in some of this – both positive and less so. But here’s the rub: you’re just as likely to recognise people who are older, maybe even younger – who share these traits. I don’t fall into the Millennial age bracket, but I’m socially liberal and fiscally conservative (a trait of Millennials apparently). I’m not lazy or work shy, yet neither are many younger people that I’ve worked with or mentor. In fact, I’ve not known a group of young people who have had to work so hard as this one: to afford to rent in London, to pay down student debt, or just to get or hold down yet another low paying internship for some much-cherished work experience. It’s as hard graft as the Industrial Revolution, just very, very different work – and slightly less grimy. And I’ve not known a generation who have been shown so little genuine loyalty by employers, many of whom are more concerned with metrics rather than real engagement. No wonder engagement is lower and little loyalty is shown.

Rather than targeting a whole generation, what’s more useful to brand owners and brand builders is striking the right balance between identifying a meaningful market segment – defined not by birth year, but by attitude and behaviour. One big enough and recognisable enough to the people you are targeting to actually move the needle commercially and ‘small’ enough to be differentiating and informative for targeting your brand or your marketing activities.

So, don’t think ‘Millennial’. Don’t think ‘Generation Y’. Think ‘Why Generalise?’ Why generalise when you can build a consumer targeting profile yourself. Why generalise when you can develop a whole consumer market segmentation if needs be – one that is more useful, more usable and more commercially valuable than crude brushstrokes.

David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that helps discover the direct route to success for brands and businesses.; +44 (0) 1283 246260 © The Crow Flies, 2017

The Emperor’s New Apparel

EmperorBack in the mid ‘90s I witnessed first hand the explosion in ‘alcopops’ …. or were they ‘flavoured alcoholic beverages’ (FABs)? Or even, as they were more widely known globally, RTDs, (“ready to drink”) – an odd name given that (a) it is way to close to STD and (b) most alcoholic drink products already were / are ready to drink. In the UK, it was kick-started with Hooper’s Hooch, quickly followed by Two Dogs that had already had rip-roaring success Down Under; both of these ‘alcoholic lemonades’ and swiftly followed by a raft of products, flavours, bases (vodka, rum, schnapps). To use the current vernacular: ‘Boom!’ … in the space of a few months, young adult drinkers were snapping them up; a new category was created, suppliers struggled to keep up, retailers, who months previously couldn’t find space for new products, were now creating acres of space wherever they could find it.

And there was a hoo-ha as well. Alcohol Concern were beyond concerned; they were deeply disgruntled and very worried. Here were products with a drinking profile that could appeal to minors. This, it was argued, was a dangerous new precedent, an easier form of alcohol, deliberately designed to lure defenceless people in.

Yet, it was highly unlikely to be top alcohol executives hatching some nefarious plot to attract underage drinkers. They were too busy scoffing claret, eating black pudding topped amuse-bouches around wood clad tables in meeting rooms with portraits of their venerable forefathers. That, and counting up their bonus and share options, to have such deep concerns. And more to the point, it was nothing new.

Rather, this was just the latest manifestation of a trend that we all too often miss in brand building. It’s drummed into us as aspiring brand managers to look for new: new positioning; new target consumer; new innovations; new trends. Sometimes it’s valid. Sometimes what you are doing just isn’t working, or perhaps a competitor is giving you a solid trouncing.   But more often than not it’s jumping through unnecessary hoops. And Alcohol just happens to be a good category to illustrate the point.

And it’s happening again, flying in under the cover of “Millennial” or “Generation Y”. See, they’re different, because they grew up in a connected, internet-fuelled world, where, rather than socialise down the pub, we tell our “story” via some App. They’re not the golden generation with final salary pension schemes and houses that have leapt in value twentyfold because they happen to be near the station in Berkhamsted. No, they’re well educated but impoverished techno-geeks with no real-world friends and therefore they’ll behave totally differently to how we did.

But lo! What is this I see before me? Flavoured Cider? With elderberries and strawberries? Kiwi and raspberry? Served from a bottle with a bright, textured label and into a glass over ice. Yet…, yet, it smells like an alcopop and… it tastes like one. Could it be? Could it be that really it is one? And what of Pimms Cider Cup? Or Lambrini? Or Fosters Rocks? FABs by any other name, catering to the same need that I had when I had the time and money to socialise!

Despite what is reported, those underlying needs and their manifestation in consumer behaviour is defined more by how similar it is, rather than how different it is to times past. We’re still human after all. Maslow still seems relevant today as it was a few years ago. It’s a basic life lesson that we seem to ignore, and a basic brand lesson which we treat with equal disdain – to our peril as tomorrow’s innovation is out there today.


Slide1David Preston is founder of The Crow Flies, a research, strategy and innovation company that finds the direct route to long-lasting success for categories and brands.; +44 (0) 1283 246260

© The Crow Flies, 2015