Gen X’s super-innovative successors are maligned and misunderstood. They don’t even like being called Millennials, writes Jeremy Balkin
Google the word ‘Millennials’ and you’ll find close to 40 million page references. It seems as though Millennials are everywhere, quietly launching a hostile takeover of the world. The evidence of this takeover? Millennials gave us President Trump and Brexit, simply by not voting. Consider that approximately two-thirds of eligible Millennial voters in the US showed up to the polls in 2008 compared with about one-in-two in 2016, and only one-third of Millennials voted in the UK referendum, against a total national turnout of 72%. Given the closeness of each race, absentee and apathetic Millennials made the difference. If you don’t much like their apathy, before you go out there and excommunicate your Millennial children, co-workers, shareholders, customers, competitors and interns, perhaps ask yourself this: what is the Millennial hype all about?
The big generation
There are approximately 2.5 billion Millennials around the world, and they will soon make up 75% of the global workforce and 40% of eligible voters in the US. Many Gen Xers and Baby Boomers might say Millennials are best seen and not heard. They probably think these self-absorbed youngsters should pipe down, put away their selfie sticks, and toughen up. Guess what? These attitudes are exactly the reason those generations are not connecting with this crucially important demographic.
Tech and trust
Millennials are fundamentally different from every other generation in history in two key ways: technology and trust. Millennials are the first generation to grow up with abundant technology at their fingertips, making virtually all aspects of their life easier, simpler, better and faster. However, Millennials also have major trust issues. This is the consequence of the breakdown of trust brought on by the financial crisis and innumerable scandals across politics, business, media and entertainment that have shaped their scepticism. Unsurprisingly, Millennials are therefore more cynical, politically apathetic and less religious than other age groups.
Don’t call them Millennials
Millennials are also getting tired of all the attention, and don’t even like the name their generation has been given! According to data from the Pew Research Center, Millennials are not fans of their generational moniker, with only 40% choosing to self-identify with the term Millennial with even an iota of pride. Compare this to 79% of the Baby Boom who love being known as Boomers. In fact, the Millennial reputational brand has been so badly tarnished it has almost become a dirty word. Yet, in spite of this identity crisis, Millennials are influencing the world – every aspect of it – right before
Steal their cool
In 2017, Millennial annual purchasing power is estimated to be $200 billion annually of direct spending, and $500 billion of indirect spending, primarily due to their influence on the spending choices of their mostly Boomer parents. Think of it another way: Millennial daughter buys an entry level 16GB iPhone 6, and her Boomer father sees it and decides to buy a more expensive new 64GB iPhone 7 and Apple iWatch just to see what all the fuss is about, and because he has more money. Perhaps he also exhibits such buying behaviour in a bid to be considered cool by his friends and daughter alike – he is much more likely to succeed among his peers than with the latter party!
Watch the money
Millennials’ peak buying power might be decades away, but their spending is forecast to grow at 15% per year for the foreseeable future, according to data from JP Morgan. In fact, Millennials are expected to spend $10 trillion in their lifetimes and will drive the economy for years to come, so building brand loyalty now is a wise move. Deloitte estimates that Millennials stand to inherit close to $30 trillion in wealth over the coming decades, so the issue of understanding Millennials’ spending and investment patterns is vital to consider because they will be shaping consumer demand and broader economic consumption patterns for many decades to come.
No need to be too pushy in telling them what to do with their money because Millennials are increasingly turning to their online networks when making purchasing decisions, in part because 93% of them have access to the internet. Moreover, 75% of Millennials use smartphones and 70% are more inclined to trust what their peers think about a purchasing decision than other forms of hierarchical authority. If leadership is about having influence, then Millennials have it
The millennialization of Earth
In fact, the whole world has now been Millennialized. Consider that a 19-year-old college dropout founded Facebook, a company that not only revolutionized social media but mainstream media too. Fast forward a dozen years and Facebook is now an ecosystem that also houses the largest population on Earth, with 1.71 billion active monthly users as of the second quarter of 2016. That makes Millennial Mark Zuckerberg effectively the president of a borderless country bigger than any other, including the three behemoth nations of China, India and the US.
Millennials also founded Airbnb that revolutionized accommodation; Instagram that transformed photography; Kickstarter that opened up crowd fundraising; and Yelp that democratized customer service. Millennials revolutionized, transformed, opened up and democratized the status quo, for all of us.
Millennials’ healthy scepticism and lack of trust – empowered by incredible technology – explains in part their overwhelming preference for dynamic, innovative thinking and desire to challenge the paradigm that has dominated conventional power structures for decades. Therefore it is incumbent upon everyone to get inside the Millennial mindset and truly understand what makes this group tick. Millennials will be running your country or company one day anyway, so resist their fresh ideas at your peril because they will either switch to your biggest competitor, or simply start their own firm and disrupt your business model.
Whether you realize it or not, we’re all Millennials now. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.
Jeremy K Balkin is author of The Millennial Book: How to Win When Millennials Rule the World (LID Publishing)
In 2017, Balkin won the prestigious ‘Top 35 Millennial Influencer’ award for the outstanding social impact he has had on Millennials