You’ve probably heard this already, but Millennials are really, really different from their parents.  Of course, there are those of us who roll our eyes and point out that every generation of young people has been loudly proclaimed to be Very Different from the generation that came before.  But this time, the alarmists kind of have a point: The level of technological advancement over the past 20-30 years far outstrips the pace of advancement between most generations before. 

Millennials are growing up in a very different world.  They’re tech-savvier than any other generation; and more entertainment-saturated.  Consequently, they’ve seen more advertisements in less time than any other generation.  And so, even as they demand more products and services, they’re really tired of being sold to.  Millennials, it seems, are a paradox. 

So how can marketers reach these enigmatic creatures? The Financial Times recently published an interesting piece on Millennials and entertainment.  The article, penned by Emily Steel, cites research suggesting that young people are increasingly willing to pay for entertainment services.  In fact, a study by media consulting group Magid Associates shows that over the past three years, the proportion of adult US Millennials who say that they would be willing to pay for TV shows, movies, music, books and video games has risen to one-third.  This is particularly significant when you consider that this is the generation that grew up with piracy software like Napster, and free entertainment like YouTube. 

According to the Financial Times article, Millennials are willing to pay for access, not just to entertainment, but to a participatory community —  a space where they can share their personalized playlists, recommend their favorite content to friends, and begin conversations in spaces like forums or on microblogging platforms.  Paying for a subscription to nearly unlimited content may be more economical than trying to buy the same amount of content outright — thus making this option even more attractive. Besides, what millennial wants a bunch of one-use digital files sitting on a computer taking up valuable hard-drive space?

The article cites Matt Britton, chief executive of MRY, a youth-focused ad agency owned by Publicis, as saying: “The Napster generation was born in a vacuum with no technology that could prevent piracy. Now there are better technologies and young people are more willing to pay.  Access is more important than ownership for this group. They value experiences versus owning things.” [emphasis mine]

So what does Steel say all this means for marketers?  Simple: If people are beginning to value experiences over things, then marketing must be data-driven to be effective at all.  Why?  Because experiences, unlike things, must be heterogeneous to have value.  Everyone is unique, and that means everyone’s experiences must also be unique.  Our experiences are shaped by our past, our preferences, and our worldview.

That’s why using marketing data to access glimpses of each person’s unique makeup is essential in order for companies to give them an experience that is truly relevant. For example, past purchases might suggest a customer’s likes and dislikes; on platforms where “friend” or “follower” lists are tracked, content can be shared among people who know each other, and friends-of-friends can get connected; and advertising campaigns can be customized toward the young, the elderly, the conservative, the liberal, the moderate, or the apathetic.  Data powers all these interactions, whether it’s Netflix sending up a recommendation for a show a customer’s friends have really enjoyed, or a small company listening to social media feedback to shape a branding campaign for a new product. 

What do you think? Are these insights consistent with your own experience? What are you doing differently to use data to reach Millennials distinctly from other markets?

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