Thinking | Articles

The Five Millennial Myths

From the entrepreneur to the C-suite, nothing creates fear like the shadow of something we know is important but don’t fully understand.

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Todd Rovak
Managing Partner
Fahrenheit 212

From the entrepreneur to the C-suite, nothing creates fear like the shadow of something we know is important but don’t fully understand.

Millennials, the coming tidal wave of customers born after 1980, tend to spur this type of fear in anyone developing a new product, service, or business. To demystify Millennials and sleep better at night, we’ve scrambled to label and categorize their behaviors.

Yet in our panic to create a Millennial rulebook, we’ve made quite a few mistakes.

The first big miss was assuming that Millennials are fundamentally different. The typical “Millennial strategy” initiative at a Fortune 500 company asks “what will they buy from us?” …forgetting that we are dealing with human beings who, like anyone, want great experiences and solutions.

After a decade of invention, product development and research at Fahrenheit 212, here are five of the top Millennial Myths I see plaguing even the best companies’ thinking today.

The first big miss was assuming that Millennials are fundamentally different.

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Our product must be designed to be “social.”

Millennials live both digitally and publicly, enticing us to focus on features that encourage customer sharing. But Millennials’ social tendencies are the reason great products spread, not the reason these products win. According to a Pew Research study, despite their digital savvy, 90 percent of Millennials report that “people generally share too much information about themselves online.”

If you’re working on a “Tweet” button before nailing the core product, the cart is officially before the horse. To refocus, appeal to Millennials’ trademark peer-to-peer generosity– they share what works for them. A safe rule is to think of your new service or solution like a hammer or wrench. If it gets the job done well, Millennials will lend it to their (digital) neighbor. Said another way: people own great products, but they share great tools.

 
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The best millennial products should minimize effort.

Countless product development hours are spent making an experience “easier.” Yet our pursuit of simplicity does not mean our young customer is lazy. Quite the opposite– more than any recent demographic, Millennials are willing to put in work, as access to information equates to the empowerment and control they crave.

A headline from The New York Times’ Catherine Rampell best captured the reality of Millennial drive: “A Generation of Slackers? Not So Much.” Given the tools, they will gladly accomplish your customer service agents’ tasks in half of the time. Zipcar, for example, makes Millennials self-schedule, self-monitor, and even tidy up their hourly car rentals. Zipcar knows that minimizing customer effort isn’t necessary in their business, instead minimizing a different Millennial pain point: commitment.

 
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Design is everything.

Great design is crucial, but all the beauty in the world isn’t going to save a product that doesn’t solve a real problem. This is why plenty of well-designed offerings from Twitter’s Music app to Google Wave failed to grab hold before fading into obscurity. Twitter Music, which pointed fans to new music via artists’ and other’s tweets, wasn’t a bad idea, it just wasn’t necessary. In the already-crowded music recommendation space, it’s no wonder that a middleman app pointing users to other services to actually play the music ranked 165th last fall.

Best to return to Strategy 101 here: differentiation is everything. Millennials casually expect both elegant and functional design in everything from banking platforms to the program guides on their TVs and design can only win Best Supporting Actor.

 
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Millennials are obsessed with instant gratification.

Please tell this to the nice Millennial who poured my coffee this morning after 22 minutes of “crafting” it in some kind of beaker. This myth stems from observing how smartphones have turned Millennials into convenience-junkies. Yet a focus only on speed ignores their deeper desire: transparency.

Progress-tracking and visibility into what-happens-when allows Millennials to choose the time investment they will make when engaging. Lack of transparency, not speed, is why a phone call to airline customer service is a Millennial nightmare. Imagine if someone asked you to run a race, but wouldn’t tell you if it was a 5k or a Marathon? Would you even start? Keep this in mind when inventing an online pizza-delivery tracker or a next-generation mortgage application.

 
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Informal, conversational messaging creates Millennial-coveted “authenticity.”

Yes, Millennials (like other youth generations throughout history) can quickly spot a corporate-speak phony. But “authenticity” isn’t a standalone idea. Your core values should define your brand and messaging. “Authenticity” is simply a style in which to communicate them. “Authentic” communication of Blue Bottle Coffee’s fair trade buying philosophy may allow for a conversational and familiar tone, while “authenticity” around Starbucks’ fair trade approach would need to acknowledge their massive scale. Both would be “authentic” to the brands and have the potential to resonate with Millennials. The point: authenticity is fostered through transparency, not by simply mimicking Millennial language or pretending to be their friend.