By Ana Andjelic
All interesting conversations start on Twitter. A few days ago, Edward Boches noted that his elderly mom was on Facebook. My response was “we are all Millennials today.” By it, I meant that being a Millennial has become a set of habits, not an age.
What was once considered a behavior typical for a specific demographic group has largely spread through the rest of society. It impacts how other generational demographics are consuming media, shopping, reading news, communicating, and interacting with brands. The underlying dynamics of this change are the very properties of digital technology (interactivity, connectivity, visibility, engagement) that dramatically narrow the gap between early adopters and the mainstream.
But there is also something else. Now, maybe more than ever before, the coming generations of super-consumers have a potential to imprint their media habits to the rest of the population. Whoever is in touch with this generation changes their media behavior, too. Parents (and grandparents) are now on Facebook to keep tabs on their kids (or, maybe just to connect with their long-lost high-school friends, or play Farmville); they watch YouTube; they go on Twitter (can’t beat all those coupon deals); and maybe even occasionally take a peek at Foursquare. Typical parents are typical anymore. All bets are off.
And then, there is this: The “Millennial” is really not that young anymore. We are way past college, with a completely new set of needs, and as a consequence, demands for products, services, and brands that can respond to them. The thing that we are not, or will ever not be past, is their media habits and behaviors. We won’t crucially change the way we use the web and behave online just because we grew up: we will just expand it further according to our new set of interests.
The expectations from media and brands that we have formed earlier are going to stay. Don’t expect that someone who watched TV shows online will suddenly sign up for Time Warner; it is more likely that we will just hook up our computer to a flat-screen that we can now afford. Someone who shopped on Etsy may upgrade to Net-a-Porter, but the deal is the same. A person who used Twitter just to play around with friends, may now expect customer service from their brands there. A person who texted 1,000 messages a day is going expect, for example, “pay bill” alerts from their banks, nudges about their upcoming meetings, and trip reminders. And so on.
The bottom line is, through interactivity, or just through plain aging, the Millennial behavior spreads. Today, it’s almost a norm. Tomorrow, it will definitely be such. At the same time, advertising agencies seem to have an uneasy relationship with Millennial behavior, to say the least. This is, to a great extent, still a brand-dominated world. The campaigns are approached from the brand’s point of view, and retrofitted to appeal to consumers.
True, every client presentation today is adorned with stats on Millennials’ media use, slides on behavior trends, and audience insights and landscape overviews. But there remains the question whether the ad world really, truly understands how today’s digital-savvy consumers behave online, why and how they use the web, and – most importantly – how to build digital campaigns that resonate with the new behaviors.
Because soon, it’s all going to be the same media habits, brand expectations, and consumption patterns with everyone. It’s time to stop talking about the Millennials, and start thinking about the influence of Millennial behavior.