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December 10, 2015

Are Millennials That Different? USC PhD Discusses Millennial Motivation – #BIAKNEXT Liveblog

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As digital marketers, we’re always trying to learn more about millennials’ behavior — they are, after all, the largest demographic in existence. But is the super social behavior of millennials really that different from other groups?

Dr. Karen North

Dr. Karen North

“We are all social animals: this has never changed and it never will. People don’t change. The only thing that changes is the technology that mediates our social actions. And everything we used to do in person we now do digitally,” posits Dr. Karen North, director of USC Annenberg’s Digital Social Media Master’s program. “Social media is how we connect and communicate. And it is blind to geographic proximity. We live in both our local communities and our digital online communities.”

In this morning’s keynote address at BIA/Kelsey’s NEXT conference in Los Angeles, North talks about millennial motivation, marketing and media.

Who Are Millennials?

By definition, millennials:

  • Reached adulthood beginning around 2000
  • First born around the time of the Apple Mac computer
  • Last born just after the launch of the Internet
  • Never really knew a time without immediate access to friends, information, goods and services

Millennial Priorities

Their relationship with technology is their defining quality. They expect technology to work and be easy. They are very social online and in real life (sharing, chatting, asking advice, etc. during all activities, including shopping). They are always on: collaborating, cooperating, and communicating all the time, including with brands. Mobile is their technology of choice.

And yet, on the negative side …

Dr. Jean Twenge (Generation Me) has described millennials as characterized by negative traits such as:

  • Narcissistic
  • Entitled
  • Desire for things to be easy rather than needing to work for them

Some studies (UCLA Freshman Survey) observed superficial values:

  • More likely to value wealth
  • Less likely to care about politics
  • Less likely to care about a “meaningful philosophy of life”
  • Detached from institutions

Dr. Karen North speaking at BIA/Kelsey's NEXT conferenceAre Millennials Different?

Millennials use cell phones rather than land lines. They prefer digital newspapers to home delivery. They do not get cable or satellite television. In fact, they’re not even buying televisions. However, their interest in television is bigger than ever.

Your father’s social media included:
Gathering at schools and water coolers to talk about what we all heard or saw last night
Listening to the Top 40 to discover new songs
Having the same information as everyone else, and wanting to discuss it with others
Anticipating with friends what would come next
National dialogues

The previous generation shared these moments despite the fact that events were broadcast just once:

  • Nixon resigned
  • JFK was assassinated
  • Man landed on the moon
  • Little Ricky was born
  • Roots aired
  • Charles and Diana were married
  • JR was shot
  • Johnny Carson took his final bow
  • John Lennon was killed
  • M*A*S*H aired its final episode
  • Fonzie jumped the shark

Shared experiences are not new. It’s just that now we don’t share them at the same time, as people did in years past.

Millennials do not share moments in the same way that past generations did. They consume media on their own terms, according to their own schedules, and in their own way. They share by posting opinions and forwarding information to their audiences and friends. They receive and consume information from each other. They binge watch. They use DVRs, etc.

New technology does meet our needs because everything is now available at a click and that is convenient for us.

But there are unexpected consequences of the digital age. We no longer have the same:

  • Attention span
  • Delay of gratification
  • Tolerance of boredom
  • Experience of failure and disappointment
  • Appreciation of opposing viewpoints
  • Desire for needs to be met immediately
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