Got a problem with millennials? You just don’t understand us, man…
Self-absorbed, social media addicted, disloyal, oversensitive little snowflakes.
It’s open season on millennials at the moment, all over the world. From attempts to blame a Brexit narrative on a nation riven by a generational divide, to Australians in their 20s being told their avocado toast habit is the reason they’re not on the property ladder.
But love them or hate them, to succeed today, your brand needs them.
In China, millennials are around 400 million strong and have become the de facto group every man and his dog wants to market toward. And of course, because this is China, the rules of engagement are different.
Most Chinese millennials are ‘onlys’, due to the country’s one-child policy that ran from 1979 to 2015. They have grown up in a time when the country has experienced unprecedented economic growth – with opportunities their parents and grandparents could only dream of.
This economic growth has gone hand-in-hand with a huge increase in the amount of choices Millennials have. They can choose everything – from which brand of toilet paper to buy to which marque of foreign luxury supercar to sit in while you crawl through a traffic jam.
There is simply so much more stuff for people to spend their money on these days. Why should they spend with you?
Sharing is caring
Not everybody wants to own stuff, especially millennials. The sharing economy is about having the option to use something without necessarily having to go through the expense of buying it. The bike sharing companies like Mobike and Ofo currently taking over China’s cities are a great example of this. Airbnb has also launched in China, and Uber tried until it was devoured by the local competition. There’s even a sharing economy for cellphone charging power packs and basketballs. Tweet me @johnsuttonvidz or comment with your ideas for what the next great sharing sector will be.
There’s also the other side of sharing, which happens on social media. Millennials want to tell their friends about their experiences. Everything from their healthy breakfast to their hip new hangout is shareable.
Brands that encourage their users to share transform those users from customers into a vibrant, evolving and engaging community. Millennials love this, particularly in China’s huge cities. You can be lonely in a crowd – connecting online makes people feel like part of a community. This virtual, interconnected world is an increasingly important part of people’s interactions.
And speaking of experiences
Shanghai and her tier 1 sisters in China might have a Gucci on every corner…but have you ever looked inside? Staff outnumber customers at a ratio of about 3-1. These retail Meccas stand empty, victims of the online shopping economy beloved by Chinese consumers, especially millennials.
Why fight through the crowds in the mall when you can browse from the comfort of your smartphone? The online store experience is amazing – detailing everything you need to know about the product, showing you the product from every angle, and even recommending similar products/accessories. KOLs can post direct links to shopping sites, and you can get that endorphin release associated with a purchase in just a few touches on the screen because your payment on WeChat or Alipay is already set up.
Shopping had 20 years or so in the West to develop as a leisure activity, a way for people to kill Saturday afternoons and fritter away disposable income. The rise in Chinese disposable income has come with the advent of this technical age, and like video killed the radio star, has been overtaken by technology. It’s not stopped the building of malls, but the easy availability of ANYTHING online has become the norm. Millennials drive this. Generation Z, the ones snapping at their heels, will not remember a time when this wasn’t normal in China.
Marketing is tough today. No disrespect to my colleagues who trod this path in the decades before… it had its challenges then as well. But, couple the digital age with a wiser, savvier, and more cynical consumer, and I sometimes wonder how anyone sells anything at all.
Brands can live or die today by their online experience. A complaint badly handled, with the potential to go viral, is a reputational disaster for an organization.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! Good brands today seize the opportunity that comes when people talk about them. Millennials, in particular, will listen to and trust their peers ahead of any carefully crafted advertising copy in a slick commercial.
Leveraging the internet and encouraging customers to talk about and engage with your brand online is the way to get to millennials. Of course, this means that you don’t control everything. But, these are millennials, man…they can’t be tamed. They can, however, be on your team.