This article is part of Tools of the Trade, a weekly series in which a variety of experts share actionable tips for achieving fast and effective results on everything from forming good habits to raising money.
This week Mike Jones, co-founder and CEO of startup studio Science Inc. and former CEO of MySpace, explains why brands need to abandon common millennial myths.
A quick Google search for millennials returns with headlines that read like obituaries: Millennials are killing the golf industry, How millennials (almost) killed the wine cork, and my personal favorite, Millennials are killing off the napkin industry.
Millennials are an unavoidable topic. And for the most part, they have an unfortunate reputation. They’re described as lazy, narcissistic job hoppers. On top of that they expect to be rewarded for minimal accomplishments and have unrealistic work expectations.
The truth is, they’re not bad — they’re just unprecedented. Millennials have the most unique set of values around how they choose to share their lives and how they choose to spend their money. Their preferred experiences are specific to format, environment and devices. They favor brands that are ethical, transparent, digital and fit seamlessly into their lifestyles. While that seems demanding — brands are delivering.
This cohort has influenced the way we spend, the way we socialize and the way brands react to their changing priorities. I should know; I work with them. Or should I say, for them. As the largest consumer market in the U.S., millennials have very specific preferences when it comes to the brands they buy into, but once they’re there, they’re there to stay.
If you want your brand to thrive among them, you need to let go of the following misconceptions.
Myth: Millennials are egotistical
We’ve all heard the argument that millennials are self absorbed. Perhaps they received one too many participation trophies growing up. In reality, TV and magazines don’t resonate like they used to because millennials want interaction and contribution, not isolated self indulgence. Brands like Wishbone are a prime form of new entertainment because the app provides a safe space to share opinion and user-generated content that’s both curated and programmed. Millennials aren’t social media socialites; they crave genuine connections and true friendships. They have a willingness to listen to and investigate different opinions, and peer reviews are taken with great consideration.
Kiva is another great example. The nonprofit app allows people to lend money via the Internet to low-income entrepreneurs and students. Lenders crowdfund an average of $2.5 million in loans each week, which creates a unique, renewable fool of funds to reshape the way less fortunate people have access to financial services.
Myth: Millennials are unambitious
It’s funny because of all the generations, millennials are on their way to being the most educated in U.S. history. Growing up during the recession, the demographic cohort entered a laughably weak job market and is drowning in student loans, yet wields unrivaled trendsetting power and acts as a muse for top brands.
In my experience they’re confident, entrepreneurial and collaborative. This summer I spent a sizeable amount of time with high schoolers at entrepreneurship camps. Throughout my time with them I heard enlivening stories of their desires to start companies, and their ideas were clever and powerful. Notably, they created a team building scavenger hunt around the city that incorporated photos at each stop, a tactic that exemplifies their digital behaviors.
Millennipreneurs as they’re called are starting more companies and managing larger staff than their baby boomer counterparts. While older generations launched companies around the 35-age mark, millennials are hitting the ground running at 27.
Tyler Haney, a 27 year old, started Outdoor Voices in 2014. The company has raised more than $8 million in VC funding including Forerunner Ventures and General Catalyst Partners. Vlad Tenev, 28, and his partner Baiju Bhatt started Robinhood, a stock trading app that has facilitated more than $2 billion in trades, free of commission, and have raised $66 million from top investors. At the age of 26, Matthew Ramirez started WriteLab, a startup that teaches students how to write and is used in schools nationwide. The list goes on, and I’m thrilled to see what ingenious brands emerge from more young minds.
Millennials are entitled
Millennials are poorer and less employed than generations that came before them, facing challenges almost seven years into the recovery from the recession. And their financial skepticism is warranted. They entered a job market at an all-time low and thus lack confidence in American institutions. Because of their specific financial situations, millennials have the most unique set of values around how they choose to spend.
Affirm, the company started by PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, was created to deliver consumers honest financial products via a pay-over-time solution. The company acts as a simple and transparent resource for millennials, two attributes high on the group’s list of requirements. The brand embodies values that are important to millennials, like “people come first,” “no fine print” and “simpler is better”.
HelloSociety, the social influencer network, has mastered this atypical distribution. Even the The New York Times saw its unprecedented connection to millennials – the company acquired HelloSociety earlier this year, stating they believe that those who use HelloSociety today are the types to subscribe to The New York Times tomorrow. They’re curious, eager and want to understand the world around them.
Brands that continue to revolve around identity and embody the style and ethics of millennials will be poised for success. As a trend, we’ll continue to see millennials swapping physical items for richer experiences, and their spending patterns will shape consumer demand for years. Get to know them, and you won’t believe the hype. It’s revitalizing to see a group that knows what they want.
Disclosure: HelloSociety and Wishbone are Science Inc. investments.
Mike Jones is the co-founder and CEO of startup studio Science Inc. and former CEO of MySpace