Rapaport Magazine

Millennials Around The World

Millennials differ from shore to shore and understanding each of them can prove to be a tricky task for any company.

By Shuan Sim

The phenomenon of the Millennial mind-set is a globally discussed topic of interest to demographers and marketers alike. Even within the U.S., defining who and what Millennials are can be tricky, and when this discussion takes place on an international stage, the challenge is multiplied. The different sociopolitical, historical and economic circumstances of each country shape the issues Millennials care about, how they consume and what affects their purchase decisions.
   According to a report released in March 2016 from McKinsey & Company’s Global Institute titled “Urban World: The Global Consumers to Watch,” nine identified consumer groups are expected to account for 75 percent of global consumption growth by 2030 — seven of which included the Millennial generation from China, U.S., Latin America, India and Western Europe. While the Boomers comprised the biggest contributor to global consumption growth as they will require more health-care services, the report noted that as more Millennials transition into working adults and start having families, they will be purchasing real estate, cars and items of higher value at unprecedented levels, even more so than Boomers ever did.

   The term “Millennials” isn’t as widely recognized in the U.K. as it might be in the U.S., says Tanya Korobka, founder of Lucky Attitude, a Millennial marketing and workplace consultancy in the U.K. Instead, marketers and companies talk about “youth marketing” and tend to refer to a core group of consumers born between 1992 and 1999, or those currently ages 16 to 24. “The majority of U.K. Millennials do not even really know the term ‘Millennials,’” Korobka says, adding that they are more used to being targeted as “youths.” “You see things like marketers selling festivals as ‘youth marketing events.’ The word ‘Millennial’ just doesn’t sell as many tickets.”
   As in the U.S., defining Millennials in the U.K. goes beyond age metrics. “The thing that really brought this generation together was that this was the first generation in history that grew up with the internet,” Korobka elaborates. The world was made flatter and people more equal as everyone gained a voice through social media platforms. The U.K. ranked fourth in the world for number of Twitter users per capita, even ahead of the U.S., which came in fifth, according to PLOS One research published in April 2013 titled “The Twitter of Babel: Mapping World Languages through Microblogging Platforms.” The internet has empowered U.K. Millennials to look up information for themselves, instead of accepting it wholesale. “Information is power, and now power belongs to the individual,” Korobka points out.
   As consumers, U.K. Millennials are akin to their U.S. counterparts. They want products that resonate with their identity and philosophy — meaning ethically sourced or environmentally friendly products. The previous generations bought things that had prestige and status, Korobka says. “It was more about showing off than doing something for yourself. They bought cars that looked good, and bigger houses than they needed.” Now, she notes, Millennials might just look for comfortable cars they can afford.
   With that, luxury has taken on a negative connotation among U.K. Millennials. “It suggests something is overpriced,” Korobka explains. “To Millennials, it suggests that they are paying for a brand’s reputation rather than the quality or uniqueness of the product.” However, luxury isn’t dead in the U.K. among Millennials — they still purchase and utilize luxury, they just don’t call it as such. “They might call it ‘self-pampering’ or maybe even a necessity. These could include an expensive retreat, spas, massages or a music event. They would say, ‘I just bought myself a festival, I want to treat myself.’” Korobka says this refusing to call a spade a spade might be pretentious, but brands that want to market themselves as luxury shouldn’t use that word.
   U.K. Millennials are moving away from material goods and toward experiences, but there is still a place for jewelry. “Young people still want a unique personalized item that is of high quality,” Korobka says. “They would get jewelry not to impress but because it means something, be it because it is beautiful or of high quality. It’s not about how to impress your bride anymore because Millennials might not want to get married. The ‘Buy a diamond ring for a spouse’ slogan might not have the same reach as it used to,” she observes.
   “The Post-'80s generation grew up with unbounded prosperity, so they were more naive,” says Philana Woo, marketing and communications director at Velvet Group, a digital consulting agency serving premium and luxury brands in Shanghai, China. “While they didn’t always have video games and all the conveniences that the Post-’90s generation in China had, they remembered growing up with an abundance of resources.” A typical Post-’80s person in an urban area, describes Woo, is likely to have a white-collar job that is stable. The Post-’90s generation is savvier and worldlier than the Post-’80s generation, Woo notes. “While they have had more opportunities to study overseas, they’re not as optimistic. They graduated during the 2008 recession and prospects look bleaker for them,” she says.
   One of the biggest difference between Post-’80s and Post-’90s, according to Andrea Fenn, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Fireworks, a digital consulting agency focusing on lifestyle and luxury brands in Shanghai, is that the former is caught between what he calls the “old China” and “new China.” “It’s not just pre- and post-economic prosperity, but the mind-sets that accompanied them. The Post-’80s are still rooted in the ‘Old China’ ideas of making money, being married, buying a car as important things to strive for. The Post-’90s generation is more free from these societal constraints,” Fenn says.
   The Post-’80s generation, being more rooted with traditional perceptions of luxury, still values big brands, the logos and things that visually stand out, Fenn highlights. These could include clothing with visible logos or jewelry that is flashier. The Post-’90s generation, being more aware of global trends of luxury consumption, eschews ostentatious material luxury in favor of the luxury experience, much like their Western counterparts. “These could include a vacation, but also being able to show your friends pictures of you going to work on a sexy new bicycle wearing a sweater from an alternative designer, instead of a Hummer,” he says. Woo agrees, and adds, “There’s a lot of social capital to be gained from showing off living hip, obscure and adventurous experiences. It’s more than just traveling somewhere, but having done your research beforehand and going to the coolest boutique there or the coolest café there.”
   That is not to say that there is no place left for traditional luxury in China. “Luxury is not in decline in China. What is in decline are the companies in China,” Fenn notes. According to a report from MasterCard Advisors, the research arm of MasterCard, China’s Millennials are looking to spend nearly double the Asia-Pacific average spend on luxury goods in 2016. The report, released in September 2015, showed that Chinese Millennials intend to spend an average of $4,362 on luxury goods in 2016, with the top choice being a smart phone or computer tablet, followed by designer clothing and leather goods sharing the second spot with jewelry.
   The Chinese Millennials’ attitudes toward jewelry are shifting, too. “The Post-’80s generation is all about Bulgari and Tiffany,” Woo says. The Post-’90s generation seeks more independent jewelry designers. Fenn notices that the Post-’90s generation tends to favor lighter, affordable jewelry. However, while diamond jewelry is slowly gaining momentum because of an increasingly Western bridal culture, jewelry as a lifestyle purchase has yet to become common. “While people care about expressing themselves through fashion, right now most Chinese consumers care about clothes. Jewelry is at a higher level than clothes when it comes to using fashion as a platform for individuality. People in China accessorize but you have to be pretty trendy to do that,” Woo elaborates.
   “The strongest identity in China for the Post-’80s and Post-’90s generation is the consumer identity,” remarks Woo. Despite the notorious firewall that constitutes China’s internet censorship, nearly everyone is on a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that allows them to circumvent the firewall, says Woo. This has allowed Western trends, news and ideas to enter China, albeit filtered through local English-reading internet users either on the Mainland or living overseas. “Millennials in China are super connected to the outside world. More people get news from WeChat — a social media platform — than from newspapers. Breaking news always filters and someone is always blogging and translating,” she explains.

   Japan faces a severe aging crisis and its Millennials comprise a sliver of the workforce, unlike in the U.S. or China. Despite the country’s potential for growth, Japan’s Millennials do not share the optimism expected of them. Considered to have been brought up in the “lost decade” — often defined as the period from 1991 to 2000 following the Japanese asset price bubble collapse that began in 1990 — Japanese Millennials are thought to be less motivated and more risk averse. Japanese Millennials can be segmented into the “Minimum Life” generation — born roughly between 1980 and 1988 — and the “Yutori” generation — born roughly between 1987 and 1996, says Ken Takai, business director of corporate accounts at Hays, a global specialist recruiting group with offices in Japan. Discussion of Millennials in Japan tends to focus on the Yutori generation.
   According to Takai, the Yutori generation was named for having received a “Yutori” — a concept which means “not to hurry” or “to keep time for oneself” — education that reduced the school week to five days instead of six. This has fostered an “anything-goes” attitude and a lack of strong ambition or desires in life, he notes. A report from Hays Japan titled “Gen Y Japan and the World of Work” released in March 2014 found that 44 percent of Japanese Millennials are not interested in international work opportunities and 58 percent are not interested in having their own business. This is a sharp contrast from the iconic “salaryman” idea of the Japanese worker dedicating an entire career to one company expected of the preceding generation.
   “They have never experienced economic growth growing up until they became adults, and they faced a tough time job hunting when they graduated,” Takai says, explaining Japan’s Millennials’ conservatism. “Millennials in Japan are often the target of criticism by older generations. They know they lack ambition and a proactive attitude, but don’t care for such things,” he points out. According to Takai, many of Japan’s Millennials have no interest in luxury brands just because they were expensive, but would rather have products that possess high visual impact on social media, granting social capital. He describes how their purchasing decisions are based on how different something is. “For example, Japanese car companies have been promoting compact cars to Gen Y by providing a variety of colors to attract and meet the needs of this generation’s sense of uniqueness,” Takai says.
   For Japanese consumers who do desire luxury, their indulgence is tinged with guilt. According to a McKinsey & Company “McKinsey 2015 Japan Luxury Consumer Survey Report” released in October 2015, Japanese Millennials who consume luxury goods were more willing than their seniors to stretch their budget to afford products — including watches and jewelry, a category McKinsey had noted in which consumers were shifting to cheaper items. Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed in their 20s and 22 percent of those in their 30s expressed their willingness to splurge, according to the report, while only 12 percent of those in their 40s and 16 percent of those in their 50s and up felt the same. Japan’s Millennials also felt guiltier than their seniors about spending money for luxury items and were more pessimistic about their ability to afford luxury items in the future. Twenty-two percent of those in their 20s and 10 percent of those in their 30s agreed to feeling guilty about buying luxury, while only 6 percent of those in their 40s and 3 percent of those in their 50s and over felt guilty over luxury purchases.

Avoiding Faux Pas
   International companies have tried to adopt a local strategy to reach Millennials in each country but have experienced mixed results. These could be due to reasons as simple as language barriers or underestimating the local consumers. “You can’t just go into a market and demand people fall for your product,” Fenn notes, emphasizing the need to localize.
   The proper way to localize requires a more human approach. “A lot of companies misunderstand Millennials because not many talk to them as people — there’s too much talk about how to market to them,” says Korobka. Moving forward, this might even change how organizations approach connecting with and selling to a demographic. “Marketing needs to become more consultative and informational and less about the products. If you want to connect with Millennials, no matter where, you’ll need to connect with them through their identities,” she concludes.

Article from the Rapaport Magazine - May 2016. To subscribe click here.

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