When it comes to lifestyle choices, does the term millennial refer to a demographic, or has it come to mean a state of mind that spans age groups?
Are we all leading a millennial lifestyle?
The dictionary definition of a millennial may well be people born in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, most of whom are currently reaching the peak of their spending power, but experts – and millennials themselves – often beg to differ. The nomenclature associated with this generation is almost as colourful as the traits assigned to it. Generation Me, for instance, suggests a selfie-obsessed group that motivational speaker Simon Sinek has described as “entitled, narcissistic and self-interested”. At the same time, they are credited with being successful, socially conscious, famously frank, multitaskers and creative problem-solvers. Millennials are also sometimes classified as the Peter Pan generation, which indicates a tendency to delay their advent into adulthood – in terms of the “right” age to get married, have children and live in or buy their own homes.
The ability, or lack thereof, to purchase property, possess expensive things and indulge in luxury experiences is one indication of the fluid concept of millennial-hood. For instance, according to an HSBC report released earlier this year, only 26 per cent of millennials in the UAE own property, a figure that stands at 28 per cent in Australia and 31 per cent in the United Kingdom. Often, the young people credited as the most lavish spenders, whom every brand and company is oh-so-anxious to attract, simply cannot afford the latest It bag or five-star holiday. Some of them don’t even earn or save enough to be loyal consumers of the cooler, younger brands and designers that they have purportedly dragged into the social-media spotlight.
Personal finance expert Nima Abu Wardeh says: “Many millennials are worse off than their parents. This is partly because they earn less than Generation X during their first few years of employment. The fear is the young will not save [enough] money because their earnings don’t stretch enough to cover the increasingly expen-sive cost of living.”
The one thing that Generation Y is responsible for, though, is popularising stuff – from brands and experiences to trends and travel destinations. Outside of their own peer groups, these “echo boomers” also hold sway over people who are younger or older than they are, effectively converting them into millennials, in the current context of the term.
Speaking at the Arab Luxury World conference earlier this year, Cyrille Fabre, a partner at Bain & Company, said: “Technically, millennials are people who fall under a specific age group, but in reality, the term refers to a state of mind, because millennials cast a big influence on others around them.” The chief executive of Piaget, Chabi Nouri, adds: “It’s what we call reverse mentoring, where younger, more connected consumers – millennials, if you will – embrace digitisation, they don’t fear it. And they, in turn, pass on this attitude and confidence to people in other age groups. This means that it is no longer enough for brands like ours to classify customers as man or woman, or young or old.”
Why and how this is happening may have its roots in yet another moniker tacked on to millennials – digital natives. This is a generation that has grown up with technology and the internet, and has a “built-in obligation to respond”, according to Sherif Seddik, the vice president of sales and services in Europe, Middle East and Africa at Citrix software. In other words, they are always “on”.
Most millennials moonlight as reviewers, sharing their opinions – good and bad – which then influence other potential consumers, some of whom may be more voracious, as well as more able spenders, especially those who are in their 40s and 50s. “Brands need to do a lot more and a lot less, in that they need to be more digitally savvy and yet present this in a way that’s more natural, more casual, in order to attract millennials,” says Fabre.
Even if the tech-savvy and style-conscious members of Gen Y cannot afford a particular product, there’s nothing stopping them from endorsing it through the many social-media roosts they rule over. In fact, Gen-Yers are characterised as being more browsers than buyers, and a Goldman Sachs report found that 57 per cent of millennials compare prices in stores and online. Then, through Twitter handles, Instagram hashtags and Facebook likes and posts, their glowing recommendations – or cutting criticisms – trickle into mainstream consciousness, much in the way that advertisements worked a decade or two ago.
Historian, economist and author Neil Howe, the man credited with coining the term millennial in the 1980s, says: “Millennials have greater social and digital trust, which is very much a generational trait. The older generations came to the internet under the guise of various avatars, but millennials create a vital sharing community, under their own identities.
“In that sense, they created social media, and they are not afraid to use it or express their individuality and their opinions. Also, while millennials may have very little respect for the civic achievements of baby boomers, they have tremendous admiration for their culture. By extension, they are more drawn to heritage brands, they want to go back to the true, the honest and the time-tested.”
Shelina Janmohamed, author of Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, and a columnist at The National, adds that millennials rate brands based on their social values. “The brands they choose say something about their own social conscience. It’s a badge of their ethics. In an era of fake news, the brand is seen as an entity that can be held accountable and therefore must stand for something.”
This could include faux-fur products, hormone-free food, underdog designers and relatable brand ambassadors. For instance, Piaget reports that enlisting popular actresses Olivia Palermo and Yang Mi in a jewellery campaign had a direct and measurable impact. “We had 4,000 new followers on social media and 10 million video views in one day,” says Nouri. “Status goes beyond purchasing power. It’s about the experience, being part of a happy few, no matter your age.”
The reverse-mentoring theory suggests that even though a millennial fan’s older siblings, colleagues and parents may be unaware of Palermo and Mi’s very existence, they are likely to have directly or indirectly seen or heard about the Piaget brand, and the next time they consider buying a watch or jewellery, for themselves or as a giftt will at least be top of mind. The success stories of many digital-only and digital-first designers can be attributed to the know-how that digital natives have, and that they use to either make a purchase themselves or influence the desires and states of mind of those with spending power. Which leads to one last thought: are we all then millennials?