Norfolk Network stories

Getting to know the Millennial generation

Matt Dobbin
Atticus Research

As qualitative researchers we spend our working lives capturing and using consumer insights to help our clients and their businesses put their customers at the heart of their decision-making.

And we have to be creative and innovative in how we collect this insight, looking for new ways of ‘living with’ people to ensure that we understand the context in which they experience choice and decision-making.

We assumed mobile technology would help with this and enable us to capture far more ‘in the moment’, but we had never found the platform that worked for us or our respondents. These were not sufficiently user friendly, and we all know what happens if we try and use an app or website we don’t like – we give it 30 seconds then walk away, never to return…

Then last year we took a call from an app developer based in Belfast and looking for help to turn his social networking app into a tool for research. The more we talked to him and his team, the more we liked what we heard. It was in our own interests to see this new app come to fruition, so we acted as a sounding board during the development, and with fellow researchers, were able to guide the team at Indeemo about what would work, what we needed, and where the pain-points were with other research apps.

And what we got in return was a new app that is easy, familiar and as engaging as the best social networking apps. So we couldn’t wait to try it out.

It was interesting seeing the change over the period of the research – they quickly grew in confidence and became more relaxed and confessional. They shared photos, text comments, and selfie video vox pops, that really blew us away.

We do a lot of research with people of all ages and backgrounds, but where we sometimes struggle is engaging with younger people – or Millennials – those born around the turn of the century.

They can find traditional research methods more intimidating, or be less inclined to really open up and share their views. And being digital natives, and often experiencing life, brands and services in a different way from previous generations, we felt young people would be the perfect audience to test this new approach and ensure it delivers what we need.

Using social media, we recruited a random selection of 18-20 years olds from across UK, and set the scene by giving them a little background about the project. Rather than giving too much away, we directed them to the app so they could see for themselves how interactive and easy it is to use.

With some good moderating and simple encouragement, our participants let us into their lives via the app, sharing their thoughts and feelings, hopes and aspirations, fears and concerns: how they perceive their world and their future.

It was interesting seeing the change over the period of the research – they quickly grew in confidence and became more relaxed and confessional. They shared photos, text comments, and selfie video vox pops, that really blew us away – we doubt we would have gained the same rich insight had we used a face-to-face approach.

James Davis of Atticus Research outlines their work with millennials at Norfolk Network Packed Lunch.

While we gathered a huge amount of data – over 200 uploads in fact – there were some very consistent themes emerging:

Our millennials appear naturally reflective and considered.
Interested in their emotional well being and actively identifying what they need in order to be happy. Many have thought deeply about what success, happiness and well-being looks and feel like for them, rather than going along with a pre-defined concept of success in material terms.

Aims and ambitions are conventional.
Far from challenging what has gone before, many felt they wanted to follow in their parents footsteps. There were some fantastic comments suggesting that even if their parents didn’t have the best jobs or fancy job titles, their determination and hard work was what really resonated with these young people.

Experiences matter more than things.
Time and time again, the things our participants shared focused on travelling, being happy at work, having good friends, days out with family, and making great memories. As the material world dominates lives and the media increases, they remain grounded and try to ensure it is the experiences that shape who they become.

“Life is all about the memories you create. You can own possessions but when all is said and done, you'll have little to show for it. Where as the memories you share with friends and family can impact upon your lives and the lives of others forever.”

A happy life is not a perfect life.
There is a pressure from all around – friends, family and the media – to be perfect- the best job, car, best grades etc… The narrative of the perfect life can dominate their world, but many recognised that being perfect doesn’t make for a happy life. They stay in touch with what makes them happy personally.  And there is some rejection of brands and media that make them feel that they need to aspire to the perfect life… whether fashion, beauty, food or other brands.

Family are for life, not just for Christmas.
Many admired their parents’ work ethic and were very aware of the sacrifices they had made to give their children good start in life. In so doing, young people had learned that hard work would pay off and felt encouraged to achieve the most they could from every opportunity, be it work, travel or education. Millennials know they will not all leave home in the way young people used to – there’s an understanding they will need to boomerang back and forth during their adult life. It’s less about flying the nest in the traditional sense and more about developing the parent-child relationship to something more mature and layered, based on mutual respect and on-going support.

The pressure is on and this lifestage feels ‘make or break’.
Making the wrong decisions or not getting the right grades could damage the chances of achieving long term goals of a job, home, and family of their own. Pressure coming from parents, friends, family, teachers to achieve in every aspect of life, including grades and employment. Although parents are very supportive, the result can feel like even more pressure to please. One participant decided university wasn’t for him, and was looking at apprenticeship programmes as an alternative. Although he liked the look for these, he worried he would be letting his parents down, as it wouldn’t play as well for his parents when they were sharing news about their kids among their friends.

Herd instinct is a powerful driver when it comes to the next step.
If their 600 friends on Facebook are talking about their plans for higher education, opting out feels like a risk.

A degree is no guarantee. For some, University is seen as a gamble.
Where once a ‘better’ job was guaranteed, now it’s just the first step in getting yourself on a ‘level playing field’.

“I think it’s so much harder to live now than my parents generation. It’s hard to find a job, combined with people becoming over qualified; even if someone goes to university now, they aren’t guaranteed a job. Matching yourself to others is hard. Employers will look and ask if you have a Masters or PHD now, so a normal degree might not stand for anything, which means there aren’t guaranteed jobs.”

Careers advice and input from businesses is the missing link.
Many felt left to make their own decisions, uninformed about other suitable options, and left feeling Uni is the only route.

The future is further away than it used to be.
This journey to ‘success’ feels a lot longer for our millennials. The simple, familiar goals of a job, a home and a family now feel like a big ambition and many are far from certain that they will be able to achieve what their parents did. They have to manage their own expectations at this early age in order to avoid disappointment later on.

The result is a strange juxtaposition of young people developing an adult mindset early on in life, while remaining dependent much longer. They have to plan, study, work hard and save from an early age, while accepting that their adult lives of homeownership and starting a family will have to wait much longer than they did for their parents.

Life can feel like a pre-determined route.
There are few opportunities to be spontaneous or step off the conveyor belt. While they may not have had it easy, many felt their parents had a bit more control of their own fate at this age – that they could set goals or priorities and then set out to achieve them – whether getting a job, starting a family, finding a place to live, or continuing in education. Our millennials, they feel this freedom to choose the next steps has largely vanished, and instead, there is a very set course they need to follow.

The game is getting harder to play, and people are looking for new strategies to cope.
Our participants had a focus on holidays and travel, and this can provide the opportunity to step off the conveyor belt, open themselves to new or spontaneous experiences, and briefly escape from the rigid structure of their lives.

But our young people are bright, determined, focused and optimistic about the future.
They are determined, resilient, hungry to succeed and good at making a plan about how to go about this. They also see good things ahead, with technology offering many advances – global and local – with easy access to the knowledge and information to help them succeed. And more access to travel and higher education than previous generations.  And many felt that all the extra groundwork they are doing now will result in finding a job in future that they will enjoy.

So what does this mean for brands and businesses?

Our research poses a number of questions: Are ethics the new measure? Do young people have more values based goals? Do they want to know what brands and businesses stand for, how they contribute to the world, in order to buy in to them?

To cut through with this group, brands need to consider developing an authentic value-based narrative that engages millennials on their terms, and establishes a clear sense of purpose beyond a purely commercial transaction.

Education providers and employers should take account of the need for young people to step off the conveyor belt. In order to develop, be happy and have a sense of control over their lives. A sabbatical or gap year could be essential therapy for a very uncertain demographic who are finding life harder to nail down and choosing values and experiences as a mechanism for anchoring themselves.

Brands and businesses could also tap into the experience economy by orchestrating memorable events. Many seek—and often expect, additional utility from the brands they buy into. The memory itself becomes the product. Can you fulfil a need they didn’t ask you to, or maybe even one they didn’t know they had, somewhere within their interaction with your brand? Accomplish this, and you’ll have the loyalty of a mobile, social generation of consumers who can’t wait to share their experience.

And what did we learn about the app?

It feels instantly familiar so it breaks down barriers and encourages usage.
In fact, it is self-perpetuating and once our participants uploaded their first bit of content, they got hooked and engaged more and more.

It doesn’t feel like hard work – it feels more like fun for the participant.
And they also go on a journey as they learn about themselves or the experiences we are researching.

It puts the researcher in control.
With the dashboard showing uploads in real time, we can react quickly, and encourage further discussion or exploration. We can build a dialogue and keep our respondents interested and engaged – and feeling listened to! Which only encourages more involvement.

Because mobile is how so many people communicate, so we get an amazing, natural glimpse into their world.
People talking as they are thinking, being natural and intuitive. It captures experiences in the moment and avoids post-rationalising decisions and behaviour, and young people in particular are more open and confessional using a non-confrontational and non-judgemental approach like this.

We think these new tools can help any organisation understand how consumers experience a brand, product or service – they are not limited to a particular age group – we are using Indeemo with all types of consumer – and for all kinds of research. Give it a try or call us and pick our brains if this is something interests you.