Bad news for us olds out there: According to the Wall Street Journal, unless you’re a 26-year-old Millennial, retail marketers have ceased to be interested in you. The only problem: Millennials have been so coddled, over-scheduled, and helicopter-parented that they literally don’t know what retail goods they need to purchase to navigate adulthood. To build relationships with these youngs, retailers are turning to experience-based education to help them. Some of these efforts are so basic that they risk condescension – so where do retailers draw the line?
By Rick Ferguson
The Journal article uses the median age of 26 as the stand-in consumer archetype for the Millennial generation, born between 1980 and 2000, 93 million strong, and already the subject of a decade’s worth of intense examination by market researchers. The estimated 4.8 million 26-year-olds are the largest Millennial cohort, and primed to enter the major-decision phase of their lives as they marry, buy homes, and start families.
Focusing on this group, then, makes a crude sort of sense – there’s a lot of them, after all. But the article is typical of most generational-themed business articles in that it paints with an exceedingly large brush an entire generation of consumers, whom the article suggests move and think in lockstep rather than act as autonomous individuals. In this case, the article suggests that Millennials are so babe-in-the-woods clueless about everything that they quite literally need hand-holding when they shop. To give you a taste, consider these few choice money quotes from the article:
“The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has started offering gardening lessons for young homeowners that cover basic tips—really, really basic—like making sure sunlight can reach plants. ‘These are simple things we wouldn’t have really thought to do or needed to do 15 to 20 years ago,’ says Jim King, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Scotts.”
“This generation, with its over-scheduled childhoods, tech-dependent lifestyles and delayed adulthood, is radically different from previous ones. They’re so different, in fact, that companies are developing new products, overhauling marketing and launching educational programs—all with the goal of luring the archetypal 26-year-old.”
“Companies such as Scotts, Home Depot Inc., Procter & Gamble Co., Williams-Sonoma Inc.’s West Elm and the Sherwin-Williams Co. are hosting classes and online tutorials to teach such basic skills as how to mow the lawn, use a tape measure, mop a floor, hammer a nail and pick a paint color… In June [Home Depot] introduced a series of online workshops, including videos on how to use a tape measure and how to hide cords, that were so basic some executives worried they were condescending.”
Hear that, Millennials: You’re all so adorably dumb! Despite the woeful condescension of the Journal piece, there is truth in the idea that content – and specifically instructionally-themed content – is a great relationship-building technique. The trick is to not treat them as lemmings, dutifully marching off a cliff because no one told them how not to, but rather to leverage data, rewards, and content to help them define themselves as individuals.
One way to successfully engage Millennials through educational content without insulting them might be to gamify it: Millennials are the Playstation generation, after all, and they’re used to being rewarded for demonstrating mastery. Home Depot could build loyalty program tiers based on achieving mastery of basic home repair skills, for example, with increasing discounts or cash-back offers based on learning increasingly sophisticated home improvement skills.
Or, they can just stay home and ask Alexa how to do it. That is, if they can figure out how to activate Alexa without someone to tell them how.
Rick Ferguson is Editor in Chief of the Wise Marketer Group and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).