By Lindsey Plocek
When will marketers stop obsessing over Millennials? With an estimated $200 billion in predicted buying power by 2017, it’s safe to say that recent fixation on Millennials is just entering its heyday.
Most Millennials now fall between the ages of 23-33 with the youngest members of Gen-Y entering college this September. But what might Millennial aging mean for marketers whose go-to research methodologies rely heavily on consumer attention, transactional surveys, and face-to-face dialogue as Gen-Y moves into the hotseat?
If you’ve heard anything about the Millennials it’s that they’re a distracted, fragmented bunch that’s near disorientingly multi-tech. On average, Millennials switch screens 27 times per non-working hour. They’re also heavily influenced by group-think. 54% prefer to make decisions by consensus and that number rises to 70% when among peers.
These traits and others will fundamentally change how marketers conduct consumer research. Here’s how:
1. Move from Transaction to Collaboration
Millennials grew up with the Internet. Tools that foster ongoing exchange like communities, message boards, and social networking sites have ushered in the generation’s preference for democratic, collaborative processes. At odds with the Boomer mentality that “stuff” equals status, Gen-Y is also acutely focused on acquiring experiences, preferring to allocate time and attention to opportunities that permit personal growth.
For consumer researchers dependent on engaging Millennials, numbered are the days where transactional research like surveying and a handshake or paycheck after the fact do the job. This generation is motivated to participate in formats that allow for feedback loops, impact, and a chance to develop ideas through peer dialogue. To successfully mobilize Millennials think iterations that bring participants into multiple stages of the research process so they understand how their efforts drive progress; greater adoption of gamification and up-voting features to reward quality ideation; and tools that facilitate productive group conversation at scale.
2. Democratize Product Development
While Millennials may be fragmented and tough to pin down, when done right, they are perhaps more willing than any other generation to contribute thoughts and opinions. 60% of Millennials spend time uploading videos, images and blog entries online. This fact is no surprise to Gen-Y’s most notable entrepreneurs, dozens of which have spurred successful businesses by harnessing ideas from peers willing to participate rather than observe.
Take Ben Kaufman, who at 26 started Quirky. Quirky was developed to help consumers crowdsource new inventions that the company then designs, manufactures, and sells. If an idea is moved into production, the inventor, as well as any other influential members from Quirky’s 405,000+ community receive a cut for their contributions. Quirky’s members also help guide pricing strategy, write taglines, and refine product concepts driving a predicted $50 million in product sales.
Organizations that embrace models that efficiently tap into Gen-Y’s willingness to contribute will develop more and higher quality insights than those who approach areas like product development and innovation with an agenda.
3. Communicate in Bite Sized Bits and Think Mobile
To truly engage Millennials in research, do so in formats that allow for participation in short bursts. Think tweet or text-like contributions that help researchers develop a qualitative relationship with consumers over time rather than afternoons spent in live focus groups. Time and attention are at a premium, but members of Gen-Y know how to make use of 140 characters and a camera phone to express how they feel.
Crowdtap client Old Navy does this well by leveraging an on-demand panel of Millennial consumers called the Old Navy Style Council to help the brand refine in-store experiences. Old Navy Style council members snap and submit photos of items that catch their eye while shopping at Old Navy. Style Council members also snap photos of outfits they put together in the dressing room to help Old Navy guide apparel displays, as well as weigh in on emerging fashion trends through pulse-check polls and moderated online discussions.
During the last few decades marketers have grown comfortable with research methodologies that are not designed to fully engage the onslaught of Millennial consumers who will become their new target. Millennials will require greater investment in technologies that allow for rapidfire collaboration between brands and consumers. Marketers who are quickest to adopt collaborative, multi-tech tools and to understand trends driving shifts in Gen-Y participation will be quickest to market with offerings designed for – and by – the largest consumer generation in history.