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In Their Own Words: The Millennial Generation’s Sense of Value

posted by Dudley Blossom, PH.D., Marketing, Management & Finance Department

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 edition of Fashion Mannuscript.

For the past 10 years, brand marketers have been trying to engage Millennials and entice them to their brands. Countless consumer studies and surveys try to tell us what Millennials want and need. Often their messages are contradictory or misleading, yet one thing we have learned is that Millennials have a very short attention span. However, we still struggle to understand the impact of this short attention span on brands.

Dudley_Blossom_2016.pngIn an attempt to gain insights into the implications of the Millennial generation’s attention span, a group of 65 Millennials participated in a journaling project focused on their own sense of what drives value. The following are reflections on a series of excerpts from journals kept over a six-month period in early 2016. They illustrate four key themes motivating Millennial consumption.

  1. Millennials seek “fashion” over function.

“We are looking for a product that can provide personal benefits over functionality. We are concerned with having the next best thing, or the product that everyone else has…benefiting us by fitting in.”

This trend goes to the heart of what value is. Millennials feel that the functional benefits of a product or service do not create value, but are a given. They feel that all alternatives within a certain category perform equally. What differentiates products, then, is more central to the brand, and the customer’s relationship with the brand, than is generated by consuming the product.

  1. Millennials will find the product first and then will seek the lowest price.

“If we think a product is overpriced chances are we are going to look online at the product’s competitors to see if they are cheaper or priced the same.”

This speaks to the Millennial’s sense of price-driven value. While price is on their minds at the beginning of their search for a product, it is not until the end that it becomes a decision criteria. They begin shopping by identifying alternatives within a certain price range. They then select the option they will purchase based on the benefits it delivers to them, and finally they find the best price for the alternative they selected.

  1. Millennials are brand loyal but have a shorter attention span for product function.

“Because we are a generation that likes to have the next best thing as soon as it comes out, the product would need to be something that can be borrowed and then given back to the distribution center, so we can return it for the next new item.”

This is, perhaps, the most significant insight into this generation. Millennials consume faster than other generations. They seek to replace products much more frequently and seek value through novelty and newness. Considering how they make decisions and the criteria they use to define quality — the “personal benefits” over functional attributes — Millennial shoppers are willing to forego durability for novelty. Crossing this finding with price-based decisions, brands can strengthen their appeal by reducing the cost through durability, but need to invest in speed of innovation.

The sense of “use and return” touches on two points made by Millennial shoppers in this study. The first is that products need not last longer than the attention span of the shopper. The second is that marketers can distract Millennial customers, influencing the speed with which they replace their current products. This effect can be seen in the rise and success of subscription services such as Birch Box.

  1. Millennials use mobile to seek information, but not to consummate transactions.

“We may not buy the item online, but if we cannot find the information about the product online, then it would be as if it did not exist to our generation. Even when we are in a store we will be looking on our phones to see if we can get a deal if we buy the product online versus in the store.”

This is not a new finding, yet it further illustrates how the Millennial Generation uses mobile devices as a tool in their shopping process. While in many instances the convenience of mobile shopping may be appealing, the vast majority of Millennial shoppers in this study used mobile as an informational tool, returning to in-store buying or purchasing on their computer. The mobile device was used to gather information at the point of sale or compare prices to make a final selection.

These four points suggest that product development and marketing generally must focus on speeding the innovation cycle. Functional quality of products targeting this generation are simply a ticket to play, but more personal benefits of the brand — along with the best price within the category — will be the elements that drive Millennials’ perception of value.

Topics: Millenials, consumption, consumers, value