How millennials are reinventing consumption

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Eric Briones

Eric Briones, aka Darkplanneur, is a strategic planner, associate professor at the Moda Domani Institute, blogger and co-author of a number of books on millennials, luxury and digital technology, including La Génération Y et le Luxe (Generation Y and Luxury) and the recently released Luxe et Digital (Luxury and Digital), both published by Dunod. He explains how millennials are poised to reinvent consumption and why brands need to keep a close eye on them.

The millennial: 21st century hacker

Aged between 19 and 36, millennials represent “the world’s first ‘globalised’ generation”, claims Eric. From the Anonymous group to the “Mister Robot” TV series, “Generation Y” celebrates its contemporary heroes and their hacker status within society and corporations. “They are not interested in the well-worn path taken by their elders. They want to speak for themselves. Generation Yers are often portrayed as egotistical, but their ‘I’ is actually a ‘we’”. Eric calls them “self-absorbed humanists” who are proud to speak out in the name of their generation, as film-maker Xavier Dolan did when he made his heartfelt speech in defence of youth at the last Cannes Film Festival.

“Millennials want to know what is under the bonnet before they buy anything”

Applied to consumption, this attitude is expressed in the way that people turn products to their own purpose. “In my teaching at ISG Moda Domani Institute, I often ask students if they are consumers of the major brands. Almost all of them say no.” Eric believes this shows how young people are shunning the well-established brands, which have lost the link they used to have and which have failed to grasp consumers’ new expectations, especially in terms of personalised experiences. Of the nine vital needs facing companies detailed by Eric in his book La Génération Y et le Luxe 2014, four stand out and apply to virtually every sector. The first is transparency. Young people want to know they are getting value for money. They will educate themselves about a product to see if it is worth buying and will happily take their custom elsewhere. The internet greatly supports this by making it possible to instantly compare products and to be ultra-selective. As Eric puts it: “Millennials want to know what is under the bonnet before they buy anything”. Another crucial issue for any organisation looking to attract Gen Yers is the experiential aspect. “From museums that are doing fabulously well, like London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, which harnesses the latest immersive technologies in its “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” show, to the “Vuitton Series” exhibitions, which offer a journey into the Nicolas Ghesquière fashion collection, taking us into the designer’s mind, the aim now is to enhance the image of the consumer through a buying experience. Gen Yers also expect products and services to have environmental and social dimensions. “Factoring political considerations into purchases is a key change from previous generations”. Finally, there is the digital question. “Millennials are digital natives – they may actually be more at ease in virtual reality than in real life. You had better take this into account when dealing with them.”

Making the move to millennials

“To sell to Gen Yers, you have to understand them. To understand them, you have to work with them.” Eric points to the example of hackathons. A recent trend that started in the US, hackathons – a mash-up of “hack” and “marathon” – are multi-day events where IT developers get together to collaborate on a programming project. “Staging inhouse hackathons with Gen Yers in command is the most effective way for a company to make its Gen Y transformation by embracing millennials’ values and aspirations.” To achieve the shift, Generation Xers need to give their Y counterparts more space and power. “If you want them onside, you have no choice but to be Y-centric within your organisation. Otherwise millennials will soon spot the holes in your marketing. They are masters of algorithms and digital technology and have built marketing into the way they think – they are nobody’s fools.” Eric argues, though, that the real crux lies in sales, which need to be represented in-store by millennials, as they are the only ones who can really speak to their peers. That said, sales staff have to go beyond merely selling products and position themselves more like muses. “They have got to be genuine brand insiders, offering inspiration to clients.”

21st century cosmetics: a service industry

Eric talks about developing a “service industry” when describing the cosmetic sector. “With innovations ranging from home services and connected stores to click & collect programmes, showrooms and service apps such as L’Oréal’s Makeup genius, cosmetics is reinventing itself.” In this new setting, “content is king” in the drive to attract Gen Yers hunting for product details, tutorials, opinions, recommendations and more. Eric points to the success of The Beautyst, a groundbreaking social shopping platform that combines beauty tips for web users with products sold on the website. “This is the future of e-commerce”, he says. Eric also mentions Nyx Professional Makeup, a brand that was recently acquired by L’Oréal and that is counting on digital technology and its relationship with bloggers to get its name out. “Millennials are hungry for services and are waiting for beauty to become ‘uberised’”.

“Gen Yers want cosmetic brands to adapt totally to them and are not prepared to compromise.”

But this service-oriented cosmetics industry also has to cater to the new expectations of young people, particularly where lifestyle is concerned. “Nowadays, the stress factor is far more important than it used to be, and people are paying more attention to their bodies and their well-being. This being so, many are drawn to a slower-paced approach to beauty built around environmentally friendly, ethically sound choices offering an opportunity to disconnect. Smaller brands that enjoy total credibility and in which the founders play a prominent role are often involved in delivering this kind of experience.” The cosmetic industry has to help young people as they grapple with questions of self-presentation and the cult of performance. To understand millennials, you have to understand the fundamental importance placed on lifestyle. “Gen Yers want cosmetic brands to adapt totally to them and are not prepared to compromise. It is up to global leaders such as L’Oréal to keep pace with their ever increasing demands”.

Consumption | April 2016