The media has painted millennials as killers of many things — whether it’s napkins, diamonds or bars of soap. And if you pay attention to any of these headlines, you might view the generation as a group of ruthless avocado toast fiends who aren’t interested in any of the traditional products or marketing tactics that have worked for other generations.
But are millennial preferences really killing all of these industries and products? Despite what headlines imply, the answer is no.
Millennials are certainly influential (and as of this year, they have more spending power than any other generation), but this isn’t a generational issue. It’s a brand issue. Retailers only have themselves to blame for their inability to effectively connect with this generation. The danger in making false assumptions about millennials — or any customer segment — is that those assumptions can result in dramatically misguided customer experience (CX) strategies.
InMoment’s 2018 CX Trends report, a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers and 1,000 U.S. brands, discovered several disconnects between what millennials actually think and what brand assume when it comes to retail CX.
Myth No. 1: Millennials Don’t Care About Privacy
Brands often believe that millennials have fewer privacy concerns than other generations. It’s an understandable impulse. Members of the selfie generation are comfortable with technology and use it to communicate, find love interests, and shape the outside worlds of who they are — much more so than their older counterparts. But that doesn’t mean they don’t care about privacy. In fact, they’re even more concerned about online boundaries than their parents.
Millennials are more aware of brands crossing privacy lines, according to InMoment’s research. More than one in five (22 percent) millennials report they’ve had “creepy” experiences with brands over the past year, compared to only 11 percent of the silent generation and 13 percent of baby boomers.
This shows a heightened concern for brands that breach the thin line between “cared for” and “creepy.” While personalization efforts can create stronger connections and more engaging experiences for shoppers, they can easily go awry if shoppers feel violated. Brands must prioritize transparency and ensure they’re making it worth it for millennials to share personal information.
Myth No. 2: Millennials Are All Digital
When strategizing for millennials, brands often misinterpret digital native to mean digital only. Millennials are obviously engaged in digital channels, but they’re not shopping online only. Instead, they prioritize variety and seamless omnichannel experiences.
For example, nearly a third (32 percent) of millennials rank in-store pickup options for items purchased online as very important. Brands estimated that number to be half (16 percent).
Additionally, 29 percent of millennials rank physical locations for e-tailers (like Amazon.com or Bonobos) as very important factors for positive customer experiences, indicating that sometimes they want the in-person experience with products and services, even for those brands that traditionally only played in the online realm.
Myth No. 3: Millennials Are Unique in Wanting Brands to Be Aligned With Their Causes
Millennials get a lot of flak for being militant “social justice warriors” who expect brands to advocate for specific causes. But the data tells a more complex story.
While 58 percent of millennials report that it’s important for brands to invest in social causes (e.g., environmental advocacy groups), this number doesn’t differ much across generations. In fact, 55 percent of Gen Xers and 51 percent of baby boomers reported wanting brands to be aligned with their priorities.
In this case, a good percentage of all consumers — not just millennials — are putting pressure on brands to improve corporate social responsibility efforts. However, the fact that all demographics rate this in the 50 percent range indicates that while it’s important, other factors are as well. By viewing this issue as a niche millennial concern and over-rotating, brands risk alienating millennials who may not be activists, or activists across other generations.
Listen to Your Customers, Not Generational Stereotypes
These myths reveal a broader truth that retailers can’t ignore: MIllennials can’t be shoved in a box, and neither can other generations. It shouldn’t be a surprise that different generations have developed different shopping and brand relationships, but generalizations about age aren’t always universal.
Many brands make too many assumptions that don’t accurately tell the story of what customers want. To better inform CX strategies, brands need to listen to their customers rather than rely on stereotypes.
The voice of the customer (VoC) is far more important than the age of the customer. While much has been said about the preferences of millennials, nothing replaces the opinions of millennials themselves, which are diverse and wide ranging.
Brands that can actively listen to their customers, find the real meaning, and the leverage this intelligence to make real changes to their customer experience will be the ones that thrive — not those relying on outdated misconceptions. Research that illustrates generational and preferential trends can be useful, but only if it's supplemental to an active, effective VoC strategy.
Brennan Wilkie is the senior vice president of CX strategy at InMoment, a customer experience intelligence tool.