For millennials, (those born between 1979 and 2001), the Internet has always been a fact of life.  So, too, has climate change, widespread socio-economic injustice, threats of mass extinction, terrorism, unchecked human consumption and waste. 

Every generation is shaped by its times, and many social historians focus on marrying awareness of parenting strategies of the day with knowledge of the state of the world to better understand a particular age cohort that is one day going to mature into dominating the world’s economic and political spheres.

Millennials’ time of influence has come.  In 2014, millennials in the workplace outnumbered baby boomers, and just a year later they also surpassed Generation X workers. By 2020, the global workforce will be dominated by millennials and they will subsequently control the largest portion of the world’s disposal income. 

This is something that, naturally, captures the attention of marketers and makes them interested in understanding the characteristics of this generation so that they can predict how to draw millennials’ attention to their brands and hopefully, foster loyalty and community.

Millennials were also born into a child-centric world where there have never been so much information and research, data-processing and insights. 

According to the Centre for Giving, millennials are family oriented and globally oriented. They have grown up feeling valued and protected thanks to more involved, child-aware parents who have nurtured family bonds and emphasised the availability of family support.  This has been boosted by a political climate that has appreciated the importance of caring for and engaging with the youth and focused on this.  Millennials and their parents relate openly, which leads to better understanding of each other and greatly reduces the classic friction of “the generation gap”.

Millennials have also grown up connected and engaging with the global community. They find it easy to bridge the distances of geography and culture. This leads to a wider perception of community and obliterates obstacles such as geography and cultural differences when it comes to caring about others.

The big take-out:

Going green and doing good have shifted from “nice to have” to being essential for success, thanks to millennials.

As far as characteristics are concerned, while on the one hand they can be criticised for a sense of entitlement, on the other hand they are optimistic and self-assured achievers.  They appreciate the guidance and coaching they get from their elders. They’re positive, civic-minded and socially aware on a global scale. They are ambitious, and feel compelled to make the world a better place.  They want to make a difference and embrace the spirit of co-operation and teamwork.  They regard themselves as friendly, open-minded, thoughtful, caring and responsible.  Rates of volunteerism and giving are particularly high among this generation.

So how should marketers engage with this next generation to dominate the consumer landscape?  Part of their notorious sense of entitlement is a demand for brands and organisations to relate to them in an individually meaningful way.  They’ve always been understood, and they go forward with an expectation of that.  They also want to make a difference and believe confidently in their capacity to bring about change for the better. This will drive them to seek out brands and consumer experiences that make an authentic difference.  Their sense of community is not limited to their physical reality.  They may be just as passionate about opposing deforestation in Sumatra by a multi-national palm oil producer through the Avaaz online campaigning organisation as they do when they stand up in their local community against a restrictive refugee policy.

They want brands to resonate with them and care about the things they care about, and they like brands that contribute to a better world. They’re opposed to being part of the problem  of the world and want proof that brands and companies walk their talk.

If brands want to tap into the major buying power of this generation successfully, there’s no doubt that they need to cultivate authentic care, act meaningfully on their concerns and transform their marketing communications into compelling stories of their positive impact on the world.

Greg Viljoen is founder of cause marketing agency Bigger Than Me.

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