The digital generation - what millennials want

Courtney Johnston, Free Is Better
By Courtney Johnston, Free Is Better | 15 January 2015

With buzzwords like conscious-capitalism being thrown around the industry a lot in the past few years, it is becoming evident that young consumers are increasingly adapting their buying habits to suit their personal values. They are becoming more loyal to the brands they trust, particularly when a company’s ethos align with their own.

The brands that are striking a chord with Australian consumers offer something more than a simple service or a product. From organic produce and fair-trade coffee to the ingenious toilet paper business model of philanthropic Melbourne organisation Who Gives a Crap, consumers are actively making choices they can feel good about. Free Is Better™ loyalists are beginning to refuse to pay for water... ever – realising that the industry was a corporate invention purposed to extract capital from something that should be free.

As audiences continue to connect and contribute across digital mediums, one definitive trait has emerged that should have everyone in the marketing, advertising, and business community talking – young people care. Whether they are buying from a local farmers market, supporting companies with ethical practices, or simply choosing smaller business over corporate giants, Millennials realise they can cast an all powerful vote with their dollar.

Discerning brands have realised that as Gen Y ages, these socially conscious opinion leaders are making no time for old-school advertisements (print media is set to hit it’s ninth year of revenue decline this year) and companies are forced to chase their fragmented audiences across the web and other emerging platforms.

Our audiences are asking a higher price for their engagement. They want something in return for their patronage. A service. A concept. A movement. It is becoming clear that the most sought after culture curators value businesses set on either disrupting inequalities, investing in sustainability, working towards development, or personally offering them something truly valuable.

As an industry we have very little power over the business practices of our clients. But as we begin to identify these trends doesn’t it seem irresponsible for us not to recommend some form of activism? Whether through long-term sustainability goals or short term campaigns, the truth of the matter is that Gen Y are paying attention.

Millennials account for 20% of the population in Australia. With more than half being university educated, they will likely be high spenders but also more likely to make a critical analysis of the brands they support. With that in mind, brands should take a proactive approach when it comes to potential values-based criticism; designers know that opulence is now seen as wastefulness and the best restaurants brag quality, local ingredients over pretentious imports.

With such a curious, critical, and collaborative audience, our role in this is a relatively simple one. Make the reason your brand is better an obvious statement. There is no need to demonise competitors or claim falsities. It can be as simple as highlighting what a big corporation means to employment rates in small towns, or how a head office has decided to go paperless. These narratives stick and make consumers feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves.

These cultural curators are accustomed to being saturated with choices and feel empowered by their ability to see the inherent sales pitches in branded content. Gen Y is more focused on the companies behind the product than any generation before them. Although this may seem like an idealistic take on the ethos and buying practices of an entire generation; it is safe to say that millennials will respond when we appeal to their better selves. 

With many of us trained in the business of selling an image, isn’t the notion of promoting an idea refreshing?

Coutney Johnston is with Free is Better

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