We’re all Millennials now

Another week, another report on how the demands of the millennial generation are disrupting long-established companies and industries. This week it’s the turn of Oracle, who have produced a report on banks’ urgent need to redesign themselves for the future.

Like the slew of reports that preceded it, Oracle’s Banking is changing… with or without the banks report concludes that established players are facing an existential crisis. Millennials demand more from their service providers, it contends. Banks have been slow to change, but there are a host of FinTech challengers poised to grab their custom.

Study after study shows that banking is the industry most at risk from disruption, but it’s hardly alone – insurance, law, accountancy, real estate, retail and… well pretty much every industry is on the verge of collapse under the weight of millennial demands.

Every day, hundreds of new articles and blog posts about millennials appear. Despite this, no one seems to have a clue what a millennial really is. The mental image it conjures up is of a young person, replete with a printed shirt, reasonable beard and a taste for craft beer. Yet the definitions are much broader than that; even the Wikipedia entry highlights the lack of consensus:

“There are no precise dates for when the generation starts and ends; most researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to around 2000.”

Overall, the earliest proposed birthdate for millennials is 1976 and the latest 2004.

I was born in 1980, which means I’m either a millennial or I’m not, depending what definition you use. This incoherent infographic explains why I am so awesome:

According to this I’m also unproductive and self-obsessed, so I couldn’t help myself procrastinating further by finding out one way or the other. Pew Internet have a helpful diagnostic which told me I’m 86% millennial. That I listen to Radio 4, have a few grey hairs, live in the suburbs and spend my weekends gardening in my allotment suggests something rather different.

All manner of often contradictory behaviours are typically ascribed to this group. They’re simultaneously narcissistic and self aware. Selfish but socialist. Lazy and entitled, but lacking access to secure jobs and housing. Careerless but ambitious. Fat but fit.

All of this is philosophically damaging in the extreme. My own experience of being – or not being – a millennial highlights just how meaningless the term has become. This demographic window includes people who are pushing 40 as well as those who are still at school, yet are portrayed as a single and very different cohort who are about to disrupt everything.

Millennials’ expectations, we’re told, are shaped by the experience of being digital natives and growing up in a consumer society. A study from PwC on how millennials view work found:

  • They place a really high value on flexibility – 66% want to work from home
  • They also value workplace culture – they want a work environment that emphasises and enables teamwork and collaborative working, and a sense of community.
  • They want transparency and two-way communication and expect to be able to input on decision-making
  • They want recognition for their work and the contribution they make

Millennials have high expectations of their consumer experiences, too. Oracle’s banking report recommends that banks invest heavily in delivering the omni-channel experience that the next generation of customers demand, using data to develop and deliver products that suit millennials’ lifestyles.

Those lifestyles aren’t, however, looming on the horizon for corporations and governments to prepare for; they’re already here. The oldest millennials are, like me, in their 30s, married with a mortgage. They’re leading organisations. Making purchasing decisions. Changing the world by designing amazing products.

Millennials already make up the majority of the workforce in much of the world. By 2025 three quarters of working people will come from this generation.

What’s strange, then, is how millennials continue to be portrayed as ‘other’. Their expectations – of flexibility at work, for example, or banking services that better meet the needs of the modern consumer – might be second nature to millennials, but Gen X can and increasingly do demand these too.

Millennials might have grown up in the era of instant communication, one click purchases and 24 hour delivery, but they are far from the only users of these services. Brand loyalty might be a mystery to them, but consumers from Generation X (and older) aren’t averse to voting with their feet either. Millennials are posited as the smartphone generation, but half of all Apple products are sold to baby boomers.

Rebecca Onion wrote last year that “Overly schematized and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities,’ rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life.”

By decoupling consumer and employee demands from age brackets, we could remove the sense of otherness that has come to characterise future-scanning reports into millennial behaviours. These trends aren’t ones for the future, but for now.

The desires and consumer needs of millennials are those of the mainstream, and that trend will only increase. Successful brands are those which establish appeal across generations. Conversely, those organisations which continue to view millennials as different to the mainstream will quickly find they fall behind.

We’re all beginning to expect personalised well-designed services, delivered across devices and channels around our needs as customers. Those trends might be most visible amongst millennials, but they’re almost as commonplace amongst those born in the sixties, who are at least a little bit millennial too.

As notable modern philosopher Kanye West, who is almost 39, said at last year’s VMA awards, “we the millennials, bro”. And he’s right; when it comes to consumer behaviour, we’re all millennials now.

One thought on “We’re all Millennials now

  1. Pingback: What the 2016 Meeker report means for the digital workplace | Sharon O'Dea

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