One of the things I love most about working at Boundless is that the company is constantly moving forward―always innovating in an effort to reach new audiences. I have the pleasure of being on the frontlines of this innovation, building and customizing personalized stores for an ever-expanding clientele. As a Millennial, I have a unique perspective on how technology impacts our generation, and the type of experiences and interactions we demand from brands.
It is necessary for organizations to make a constant effort to “change with the times.” Especially as older generations fade out and make way for new ones. I graduated college during the recession and struggled finding work. People were being laid off in droves and job opportunities just weren’t there. Simultaneously, there was this influx of reporting on people within my age range. That is, people born between the years 1983 and 2000. I don’t know how many news pieces I’ve begrudgingly read about the behavioral patterns of Millennials that say “They’re narcissistic.” “They’re disconnected.” “They all wear shorteralls with strident, Lena Dunham confidence.” The same criticisms have been recycled over and over again about every generation. But through the haze of such negativity, there are a few aspects of Millennial behavior that organizations should take notice of. This can be seen in their consumer habits.
To set the scene, I was driving to dinner with my friends Adam and Matt* to partake in the traditional Austin pastime of eating Mexican food. Matt sat in the passenger seat, fingers frantic, eager eyes wide and glued to his phone, unable to look away. He was so lost in his Snapchat conversations that it seemed he forgot we were even there. Then, in a final act of social faux pas, he began to video chat with two of his friends from New Mexico.
It goes without saying that Matt received a talking-to. And once the initial shock of my friends’ discourteousness faded, I had one of those Carrie Bradshaw-sitting-at-the-computer-pondering-life’s-biggest-questions kind of moments. I know I’m not the only person to ever pontificate about the intersection of Millennials with technology (that’s what The New York Times is for), but it made me wonder if the hyper-saturation of technology in our everyday lives gives us something we wouldn’t have otherwise if we were just our primal, cave-people selves. We have the incredible ability to transcend time and space, in a heady, metaphysical way of course. But if we hold this strange power, does technology enable us to be ubiquitous? Are we everywhere all at once?
And as social networking has become a fixture in daily life, advertising has adapted to those mediums. You can’t look for a rug online without later being bombarded by ads on your Facebook page, all displaying the same rugs you just looked at fifteen minutes ago. If we can be everywhere then the same can be said for advertising. Does that make us the generation most susceptible to marketing?
The answer is “no.” Forbes states, “Millennials believe that advertising is all spin and not authentic. That’s why they use TiVo to skip commercials regularly and avoid banner advertisements on Facebook and various news websites.” This notion of authenticity is important for the companies they purchase products from and led to the rise of what is probably the most powerful Millennial attribute: utilization of crowdsourcing. Peer reviews have become integral to this generation’s consumer habits. Because they’ve come of age in the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, they have to be budget savvy. Deals actually account for 31 percent of their shopping dollars, and many of the top apps used by Millennials are either retail- or discount-focused, with Amazon Mobile and Groupon topping the charts (Source: Nielsen).
Let’s go back to Matt, our model Millennial consumer. He utilizes Amazon Prime religiously and is a frequent contributor to their product reviews. Similarly, he consults such reviews if making a large purchase. In fact, 93% of people who conducted research on review sites typically made purchases at the business they looked up (Source: Mashable). This cyclical relationship is powerful, beneficial to both the consumer and the producer. Consumers can research and contribute product reviews to ensure they’re making the most informed choice, while companies can respond to negative criticisms about their goods and services. Gone are the days of companies developing a product and hoping it reaches their core demographic. Instead, with the use of technology and social media at their disposal, Millennials have become co-creators of products along with these companies and also the key marketers of their brands.
Symbiosis is at play here: Companies have a constant stream of product research at their disposal while Millennial consumers mold and shape the kind of products they buy. By 2017, the Millennial generation will comprise the largest online audience and will have more buying power than any other generation that has come before it, including the baby boomers (Source: Wired). Millennials, though criticized for their work ethic, actually possess highly influential consumer power. Their ubiquity across social media, along with their desire to crowdsource creates a symbiotic relationship with companies which produces better goods and services and ultimately a better consumer culture.
As a member of this generation, I can include myself in some of these behaviors. I, too, am deeply ingrained in Internet culture and get lost in the infinite wormholes of cyberspace―but sometimes, I long for the opposite. Sometimes I just want to disconnect. In fact, I just purchased a Groupon for a 90-minute session in a Sensory Deprivation Tank. Now tell me: has there ever been a more beautiful irony?
*names have been changed to maintain privacy