Are we Abandoning A Whole Generation?
At the beginning of every new year there is no shortage of predictions on what the future will hold, but none could have foreseen what 2020 held for us. Since 31 December 2019 and as of week 2021-2, 94 582 873 cases of COVID-19 (in accordance with the applied case definitions and testing strategies in the affected countries) have been reported, including 2 036 713 deaths as reported by ECDC Europa
It has impacted every aspect of our lives over the past year. While cases in some countries still soar, vaccinations have begun, and with them comes hope that we will be able to return to a some kind of normal life at some point in the future.
But will we?
There are some areas where the Millennials differ significantly from Generation X and Boomers.
The pandemic has caused the biggest financial crisis since the second world war. Lockdowns in many markets have caused labour markets to implode and consumer spending has gone down, reflecting not only shrinking household budgets, but also a general concern about a gloomy economic outlook.
Financial worries are much more prominent amongst younger people: 43% of the younger generations recognise the need to be more proactive about financial planning, compared to only 20% of those aged 55+. As a consequence, nearly half say they pay more attention to prices, compared to 29% of over 55 year olds (Boomers).
What are the consequences? Lowering retail prices is obviously not an option for many reasons, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.
Many companies are faced with the challenge of investing in digital customer journeys, reinventing their operations, and installing new processes. So more of the same from them? Still focusing on the bottom line?
Strictly reduced personal contacts, and a gloomy outlook on the future combined with the worries of falling sick, have impacted young people to a much stronger degree.
The pandemic has shattered the dreams of travelling abroad; those who have started in their first job or at university might not ever have met their fellow students in real life.
27% state of Millennials have stated that the pandemic has a strong impact on their mental health, compared to 15% in the Boomer generation.
Admittedly, there is little opportunity for businesses to solve the psychological impact of the pandemic amongst the younger generations, but there is a big need to connect with consumers on an emotional level.
Our leaders need to be aware of this heightened “emotional state” and the challenges for people who often face huge difficulties (home office, home schooling, social distancing and increased self discipline) themselves. This is a whole new world for many, and one that is not particularly comfortable.
Behaviours have started to change.
Where younger people differ is in their increased uptake of social media apps and usage of online media, as well as personal transformation. 18% of Millennials and Centennials report a stronger focus on their personal development. But its not that straight forward. Today, yet another study emerged that proves Facebook causes depression, and the more someone uses it, the more depressed he or she becomes. This new study comes from the University of Michigan, where researchers observed 82 Facebook users during a two week period. They found that the more time a person spends on Facebook, the more his or her feelings of well-being decrease and feelings of depression increase. The full report is here
For companies there is a new role evolving that includes helping people grow, and not just looking at the bottom line. It is imperative that companies move beyond meeting functional needs and understand value. The myth of the average consumer has long been debunked. Brands need to be clear on what they stand for.
A strong and authentic brand purpose that links to values and lifestyles is both ethical and essential in a post-pandemic environment. Some have already taken the initiative, but have misread the signs. Company after company are seeking to ‘go woke’.
Are companies role models?
From a marketing point of view,young people differ in what they expect from their chosen brands and companies.
Generation X placed “attack the crisis and demonstrate that it can be fought” top of their list, Boomers expected brands to be “practical and realistic and help consumers in their everyday life”. Millennials feel brands should “act as an example and guide change”. This is worrying in a world populated by companies wanting an ever increasing market share and board dividends.
The fact that brands are regarded as role models amongst the younger generations is quite sad. Historically this role fell to the father, then to the wider community. But with our atomised existence, one bed apartments, the ‘gig’ economy and only social media for company, is it any wonder our young, once the lifeblood of society feel abandoned.
The US psychologist Meg Jay describes a person’s twenties as their “defining decade”: “In almost all areas of development, there is what is called a critical period, a time when we are primed for growth and change, when simple exposure can lead to dramatic transformation… The twenties are that critical period of adulthood…And no matter what we do, the twenties are an inflection point—the great reorganization —a time when the experiences we have will disproportionately influence the adult lives we will lead.”.
The vaccine against COVID-19 will at some time this year help regain some semblance of normality. It won’t reset the clock though. What younger generations experienced and will continue to experience during the pandemic will have a lasting impact on their values, attitudes and behaviours.
We need to understand these shifts and meet the needs of the future generation. Otherwise there may not be anything to salvage for Generation Covid.