December 2016 | Harish Bhat

Meet the millennials

Understanding the generation that reached adulthood around 2000 is critical for marketers, says Harish Bhat, brand custodian of the Tata brand

She is a 21-year-old and is currently pursuing her undergraduate studies in college. She hugely values her own personal opinion and is always ready for a hearty argument with people, including her parents, who may have a different point of view. She is not keen to own too many new products, except perhaps a lot of new garments. But she is always willing to embark on a fun experience with her friends — be it a movie, or a play followed by dinner, or a trek into the mountains near Rishikesh.

She has westernised taste buds at times of snacking, having developed a liking for a variety of cheeses, chocolates, pizzas and tuna sandwiches that her parents had never seen at her age. Yet at most main mealtimes, her love for traditional home-cooked food — rice, dal and fish curry — continues to hold complete sway. She knows everything digital and she is constantly on her smartphone, yet she can also keep away from her mobile for days at a time. And she researches just about everything online, including what to buy and where to eat.

She is a typical millennial. This is a term used to describe young people born in the 1980s and 1990s, who are typically between 16 and 35 years of age today. They are the consumers of the future; and particularly in large, rapidly growing economies like India and China, their numbers are simply huge. India alone has 440 million millennials, which is a larger group than the total working population of the USA, Western Europe and Japan put together. China has 415 million millennials — all raring to enter a prosperous future that their working class parents could never have imagined.

Many of these millennials have started working and others will soon enter the workforce. Many of them have become parents and others are actively dating their potential life partners. Each of these events will create new demand for products and services that they prefer, for themselves, their partners and their children. And their choices may differ substantially from their parents’ generation.

So, the big question for all marketers today is: Do we really understand what millennials want? Because knowing the consumers of tomorrow is essential to winning the future. Understanding millennials is not just a challenge for marketers, it is also an equally big challenge for parents such as my wife and me, as we navigate, with joy and anxiety, the choices that our millennial daughter makes in her life and career.

So what do millennials really want and what are the key drivers in their lives? Here are a few pointers, gathered from several recent surveys conducted in India.

  • A large segment of Indian millennials are obsessed with self-expression, individual choice and personal opinion. Products and services which help them with this obsession will therefore win. For instance, Facebook helps millennials express their unfettered opinions. Fastrack helps millennials express their individuality through its liberating, unconventional designs in watches and accessories, and also through its equally liberating brand message of ‘Move on’.
  • Nearly 90 percent of all urban millennials in India research about their purchases online. This makes it critical for brands to have a strong online presence, encompassing product information, consumer reviews and e-commerce capability. If a brand is not present online, it will be virtually invisible to these young people. This is also why the online sites and reviews of retailers such as Croma and Titan are so popular with young people.
  • Millennials are active seekers of experience, adventure and fun, much more than earlier generations were. For instance, 18 to 35-year-olds account for 66 percent of total trips made through travel portals such as makemytrip.com. When I speak to young people, I find that travel, exploration, participation in performance sports and eating out are often at the top of the list of things that they would like to spend on. This is why so many young people find it cool to hang out, eat and drink at a Starbucks outlet, or to buy apparel and sports gear from Westside or Sportzone stores.
  • Many millennials prefer to own and use brands with a purpose — brands which do something good for society and the environment. We must remember that they have to live for many more decades on a planet and in a society, which have not been treated too kindly or fairly by their parents’ or grandparents’ generations. No wonder Tata Tea’s ‘Jaago Re’ campaign platform has been such a big success with youth. In addition, many more millennials also choose to work with organisations that share their personal values. Therefore, companies that do the right thing may be less likely to lose their young employees.
  • Millenials appear to value convenience hugely, far more than previous generations. They have so many more interesting things to do in a world that presents them with increasing opportunities, so they do not ever want to lose time. This is one key reason why online shopping, or online ordering from restaurants, is such a big hit with young people, and why pure online retailers such as Amazon or the newly launched Tata CLiQ are drawing so many young shoppers.

This is still an incomplete picture. So, for a moment, pause and think about the millennials in your life. These could be your siblings, your children, or your colleagues; it could also be you. What do you think are the key drivers of their lives? What makes them happy, and what annoys them? What do they like and what do they intensely dislike? Are there any big differences you notice in their attitudes or behaviours, compared to earlier generations? If you come across any interesting trends, please feel free to write to me at bhatharish@hotmail.com. When you think about millennials, you are thinking about the future.

This article was first published in the October - December 2016 issue of Tata Review. Read the ebook here