Is “waithood” the new stop between youth and adulthood?

We all know that Millennials are still living with their parents well past the age when Boomers or Gen X’ers had moved out. Turns out it’s a worldwide phenomenon, as  this report from the BBC illustrates.

The main driver is financial —  thanks to sky-high unemployment or underemployment,  the young people can’t afford to live independently. The results are serious, as public policymakers as well as marketers must re-examine a host of assumptions about how society will be structured, where revenues will come from, what public resources will be required. All the age-based models are essentially up for grabs.

The article includes some interesting observations about the “idealized” youth culture, and the new emphasis on flexibility:

“Economics is important, but culture plays a crucial role too,” says Steven Mintz, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “In the past, people aspired to be older. The dominant culture was an adult culture, which was associated with sophistication, worldliness and experience. Today, that has been inverted. Youth culture is the ideal – most people aspire to be younger, not older, and it is youth culture that is seen as more thrilling than anything that adulthood has to offer.

“No-one says ‘Life begins at 40’ any more, at least not without irony.”

Mintz points out that it is only in the past 100 years or so that people have considered adolescence a distinct stage in a person’s life. Perhaps we are currently seeing the emergence of a new stage in development in which young people choose to scope out their options on the job market rather than start on a career, save up for travel instead of a house, and take a series of sexual partners instead of settling down.

Instead of figuring out how they fit in, they are working out their own identity – and until that process is complete, the emphasis is on keeping one’s options open.

It could be argued that this is simply making a virtue out of necessity, but that doesn’t matter. Given the size of the Millennial demographic (larger than the Boomers now), the prevalence of these attitudes and behaviors makes nonsense out of traditional strategies, whether in the public or private sectors.

It is time for some drastic re-thinking.

 

Do we need a new marketing model? 1 – Why what we have is nonsense

The “generation gap” and the “reinvention of aging” aren’t news any more. We all understand that the “older” generations aren’t acting the way people of the same age acted in the past, and that the “younger” generations — particularly, the Millennials (in their 20s and young 30s) are experiencing extreme delays in hitting the same demographic and lifestyle benchmarks that previous generations hit at that same age.

This has profound implications for marketing. I’ve written a couple of books on this, with some material dealing with the marketing implications, and it’s the focus of what I write about on this blog. But so far, I haven’t seen anyone in the marketing community take the subject and really run with it. I think it yields an entirely new marketing model.

So far, though, most of the discussion and debate has been about why marketers overspend against the younger segments and underspend against the wealthier older cohorts. There are hundreds of articles complaining that Madison Avenue doesn’t “get it,” that they are still over-reliant on the 18-34, or 24-54, age groups and discount the older Boomers and seniors. There are numerous ad agencies and consultancies whose mission is to the prove that the Millennials are a highly valuable market, and that they (th

e ad agency or consultancy) have unique knowledge about that age group and a unique ability to help marketers reach them.

All well and good.

But I think there’s a lot of room to take the topic much further — and that’s what I propose to do in the next series of posts.

My premise is simple:

Everything is shifting older. Therefore, the classical marketing model is obsolete.

The classical model tied lifestyle to age:

  • Brand influence began in the teens (although the spending power was still with the parents)
  • The young to mid-20’s saw the  formation of new families and the all-important determination of initial brand choices
  • Spending rose steadily through the 30’s and 40’s and maybe early 50’s
  • Retirement followed, meaning that spending dropped and, since brand choices were hardened into place anyway, there was little or no reason to spend marketing dollars against that cohort.

Marketing strategies are still largely based on this model. And there’s no question that life stage component of it is still logical: you  go from a being a child with no purchasing power to a first-time and early-stage shopper in the marketplace, to a full-on consumer, to a cut-back stage and, eventually, the end.

What’s different, of course, is the absolute and total uncoupling of age from life-stage — at least, the ages that were previously assigned to the various stages. This uncoupling is so radical that it makes the entire model nonsense.

  • Family formation has increasingly been shifting into the 30’s, instead of the 20’s
  • First home purchase is increasingly in the 30s
  • Retirement is no longer automatic at 65
  • The fastest-growing age group, in percentage terms, is the centenarian segment

For marketers, the urgent issue ought to be: how do we align our strategies and messaging to these new realities? What do we say to 20-somethings, while waiting for them to have money? What do we say to 60- or even 70-somethings, realizing that they might well be still in the workforce and might have 20 or 30 years of spending power ahead of them? In fact, what does a 30-year spending trajectory look like, for a 60-something, and how do we, as marketers, play into it?

I don’t think marketers are spending nearly enough time figuring this out. To too large an extent, they’re still aligning dollars and age brackets based on the old model that no longer exists. In the next two posts, I’ll suggest some new ways of coming at it.

Stay tuned.