The past 100 years has many examples of countercultures, long defined as “a subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.” The Beat Generation and Hippies are some of the most iconic examples to date.
The concept of Millennials is no different. Emboldened by technology, many of those between the ages of 18 and 34 are shirking nine-to-five desk jobs in favor of paving their own paths at rates never seen before. Some blame the recession for setting this generation on a path of few roots, while others talk about the sharing economy, instilling in Millennials a more collaborative existence that’s tied to peers’ experiences and interests.
Headlines also refer to their steep shortening of attention spans and a generational malaise toward brand messages. In what’s become this generation’s philosophical debate, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” today everyone’s asking, “If Millennials don’t see something in their social feeds, did it really happen?”
As someone who is both on the high end of this generation and employs more than 100 young people across New York, London, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, I’m fascinated by this because that hasn’t been my own experience. Our employees are unbelievably unique, with intense personal opinions and beliefs, which they unabashedly feel capable of sharing and defending in both office and social discourse.
So we decided to do a survey of U.S. Millennials to see whether, through the lens of content marketing, we could debunk some of these misconceptions. We found several interesting truths. The first notable finding was self-definition. When we asked respondents if they considered themselves a Millennial, 29% were clearly in the yes column, with 39% being unsure and 32% saying no. There’s clearly some misunderstanding of what it means to be in this category and what self-identifying as a Millennial says about oneself.
Aside from how they see themselves, we’ve been told that Millennials really only care about what their friends share with them or care about. But for our survey, when asked simply what brands they prefer, only 26% said, “I prefer brands that my friends use.” That is in comparison to the 77% who said they prefer brands with a great product and 60% who said they prefer brands that fit their price point.
By far the most interesting data point we found was in relation to what qualities of brand messages garner a positive response from Millennials. We expected to see one clear truth: that Millennials love celebrity endorsements or those of other “respected figures,” be it politicians or authors. We found that to be actually the lowest result, at 24%, while 64% of respondents stated they respond more positively to brand messages that are tailored to their unique cultural interests, be it music, sports, movies, or entertainment. Some might say they all go hand-in-hand, and perhaps that’s true, but it’s interesting to see how Millennials self-describe.
What does this all mean? Millennials may be pushing back against the analog and sometimes linear-looking life experiences of generations that came before them, but they’re asking to be treated as individuals. As they leave information about themselves all across the Web, from social networks, to browsing patterns, to full shopping carts, they’re begging brands to get to know them on a granular level and use that information to inform how they’re communicated with. They want you to use your marketing muscle to bring the personal and human touch back to brand communications.
Millennials’ true counterculture characteristic? They are fighting against being treated like one of a herd, both in how they act as a part of their generation as well as how they’re treated by the brands that want to capture a share of their wallets as they grow up.