Posts filed under ‘millennials’

Ungreening a generation?

Ashraf Choudhury writes:

The Futures Company has quite strong views on Millennials, which have been covered in posts here in the past. So when I noticed an academic paper (opens pdf) from San Diego State University, which argued – on the basis of a 30-year tracking study – that Millennials (the generation born in the late ‘80s or so) are much less politically and environmentally engaged than previous generations – it seemed to be fuel for the fire. The data – as analysed by the San Diego State University researcher Jean Twenge – are striking.

So I shared it internally and on our trends site, Trend and Tonic, from where it was picked up by the San Diego paper, U-T San Diego. This was how their reporter called it:

That downbeat assessment raises an important question about the future of green: Will the next wave of leaders care enough about the natural world to maintain momentum that has been won in courtrooms and boardrooms over decades?

One of the good things about American reporters is that they do expect to report, and Mike Lee, who wrote the story, took the trouble to call me and my colleague Lawrence Wykes, who worked on our Millennials segmentation, to canvas our views. The segmentation suggests it’s unhelpful to generalise about a generation, and that there are strong differences in attitudes within it. Two of our segments do rank poorly on political and environmental engagement, but one segment in particular (the ‘Spirits’, who comprise 25% of Millennials in the US) rank very high on this same measure of environmental and political engagement.

It’s also possible that there’s a research effect going on here – that different generations understand the questions differently. And the SDSU study has clearly touched a nerve with Millennials and environmental groups. Either way, this one has some distance yet to run.

The picture at the top of the post is from the environmental campaign site Zoe and is used with thanks.

4 May 2012 at 1:03 pm 1 comment

Doing good and doing well

Vera Kiss writes:

In his controversial 1970 New York Times article, Milton Friedman set the tone for a generation when he argued that the sole responsibility of businesses was to generate profit for their shareholders. But today’s Millennials disagree. Even those in corporate ranks. A recent Deloitte survey of a thousand Millennial employees of the firm reveals that 92% reject the idea that the sole measure of a company’s success is profit.

Importantly, more than 50% believe the primary purpose of business is innovation and societal development. This resonates with the Futures Company’s 2011 Global MONITOR survey, which found that 63% of Millennials believe that companies have a responsibility to support the society in which they operate.

Of course, not all Millennials are engaged with social issues. The Futures Company’s Millennial segmentation reveals significant variation between four global groups of Millennials. Against a global average of 62%, 55% of ‘Striders’ and 43% of ‘Satellites’ consider it important in their lives to make a difference. 76% of ‘Steppers’ and 85% of ‘Spirits’, in contrast, agree with this statement. Spirits, the poster children of the generation, stand out for their interest in global and local issues and are concerned with the ethics of consumption.

Millennial attitudes towards business tell us two stories. One now familiar story is about higher expectations of ethical conduct. The newer story is about the increasing appeal of business-inspired and even business-led solutions for global challenges.

We have seen a proliferation of business-inspired initiatives in the development sphere. Microfinance organizations have mushroomed around the world, pinning the hopes of poverty reduction on micro-entrepreneurs and small scale businesses. Websites such as Kiva provide easy connection between micro-donors and entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Importantly, the corporate sector is increasingly drawn into addressing societal issues through solutions that are designed to do long-term good while also being profitable. The founder of microfinance, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, now tours the world engaging big business in social enterprise initiatives that seek to maximise their social impact rather than shareholder returns. He has already partnered with Danone to address childhood malnutrition in Bangladesh through a business selling fortified yoghurt products. Inclusive business strategies are also gaining visibility, with development agencies partnering with large companies to include bottom of the pyramid consumers as small investors and suppliers.

Business-influenced strategies won’t provide all-encompassing solutions to global issues, or replace public and non-governmental organisations. The point is that businesses can increasingly act as legitimate agents of social change. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as surprise (especially given the sample) that most respondents to the Deloitte survey think that business has the greatest potential of any sector to achieve societal change.

This creates opportunities for businesses and brands to connect with socially conscious Millennials – but they have to understand the differences within the cohort, and be able to demonstrate real impact through their business practices.

The picture of the Danone Grameen logo on the side of its factory at Bogra is from the Danone Communities Flickr photostream, and it is used with thanks.

12 March 2012 at 8:36 am Leave a comment

Copyright wars

Andrew Curry writes:

Watching the SOPA/PIPA saga unfold from the other side of the Atlantic, it was difficult not to see it as a ‘wave war’, in which companies which grew up in different technology waves compete to set the frame of economic and policy discussion. On the one side, the media companies, creatures of the mass production era that dominated much of the 20th century; on the other, the technology companies that have grown up in the digital wave that followed it. (We wrote about these waves in our Futures Perspective report, Technology 2020).

The technology companies seem to be on the right side of the generational wave. As we noted last week in Futures Five, our fortnightly US newsletter for MONITOR clients,

most [Millennials] see far more nuance in pirated content-sharing than other generations: According to the 2011 Yankelovich MONITOR, 70% of Millennials indicate it’s “sometimes forgivable” if a person “views or downloads pirated content online (such as movies, television shows, music or shows),” almost double the 34% of Baby Boomers who feel the same way.

Of course, this is not a uniquely American issue. The proposed international treaty ACTA has the same intent as SOPA, as do sections of the UK’s Digital Economy Act. My view on this was shaped by James Boyle, the Duke University scholar who wrote The Public Domain, and his view was shaped by Thomas Jefferson, the first policy-maker to think seriously about copyright (yes, that Thomas Jefferson).

In a nutshell, we need copyright to reward creators, but in creating this legal privilege, we need to balance it so we don’t kill off the social, cultural, and economic gains from the free flow of knowledge, which let creators and innovators stand on the shoulders of others. The hugely extended copyright periods we now have in the USA and the UK are a grotesque tribute to the lobbying powers of media owners and old rock stars.

There’s another point here, too, about the way in which the mental landscapes of politicians shift only slowly. It’s been said that American politicians were surprised by the strength of opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills, and more surprised to discover that their media industries were small fry, in economic terms, when compared to the tech industries.

The UK had a similar problem, in a very different sector, a decade ago. In response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the government closed off large swathes of the countryside, only to discover that rural tourism and leisure were worth far more to the economy than farming. The policy-makers understood this. The politicians didn’t, because they’d got used to the farmers’ lobby. But, as with SOPA, the noise of the lobbyists had drowned out the quiet shifts of long-term change.

The image at the top is from the Bangstyle blog, where you will also find a perspective from the independent music sector. It is used with thanks.

30 January 2012 at 11:59 am Leave a comment

From cash to commitment

Amy Tomkins writes:

Tackling climate change requires collective action. Yet inspiring consumers to change their behaviour is tough. Lack of engagement, lack of understanding and a sense of powerlessness can all prevent people from taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

So I was interested in the presentation that Hermione Taylor, founder of The DoNation, gave when she came into the London office recently. Her new sponsorship site seeks to replace cash with action and help people inspire their friends to live more sustainably. By harnessing the social and viral nature of sponsorship, The DoNation encourages people to engage with environmental issues and take action to change their behaviour. As her diagrams above show, this changes the traditional sponsorship model and makes the whole transaction more direct and efficient. To sponsor a friend, you have to commit to at least one of a number of Do-Actions, or carbon-saving pledges, instead of giving money. Actions can be small steps, such as reducing the amount of meat you eat each week, or more significant, such as committing to installing solar panels.

By using friends seeking sponsorship as messengers, The DoNation aims to reach people who know they should do more for the environment, but need a nudge to inspire action. Sponsors have to commit to their action for two months, with the hope that it will become an ingrained habit. Early indicators suggest that some longer term behaviour change has been prompted, but time will tell if Hermione’s vision is realised.

Looking to the future, The DoNation raises an interesting challenge – does the key to environmental behaviour change lie in making it personal? Whether it be supporting a friend; saving money through energy efficiency or improving your immediate living environment, providing a personal connection point seems essential if people are going to reappraise their own behaviour and start to live more sustainable.  Governments, companies and third sector organisations need to understand better the personal motivations to being more environmentally aware if they are to help achieve a sustainable global future.

You can visit The DoNation at

19 August 2011 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

My Millennial generation

Lawrence Wykes writes: The idea of the generational cohort as a unit of social research and analysis goes back to the definition of the ‘boomers’ – America’s immediate port-war generation, now clipping to retirement. Since then we’ve had waves of new cohorts, from Gen X, to Gen Y, to the latest addition, Millennials. Millennials (the people, not the label) were born in the late ’80s, or so, approaching adolescence or adulthood by the turn of the century.

But the question of whether the Millennials are a coherent cohort is still open – the data has never quite added up. And our recent analysis, based on our Global Monitor data, suggests that as a group the Millennials are a fragmented cohort, refracted by technology.

In fact, we found four different groups (although more may have been lurking in the data) and these already suggest a more fruitful way of thinking about this generation.

  • Striders have been relatively unscathed by the recent economic downturn; they are marching forth with enthusiasm, and keen for success and all the material frills they perceive will come along with it.
  • Steppers have been hit hard by the downturn, which has left them price conscious and feeling negative about their future. They are cautious, considered, and want to make the most of what they’ve got.
  • Satellites are optimistic about the future and know how to use the resources available to them, especially technology (they are tech-mad), to get what they want.
  • Spirits are poster children for the Millennials generation; they are socially conscious and interested in things happening at a global and local level.

So if Millennials are fragmented and so easily segmented by their differing technology use and attitudes, why do they look like a generation to researchers?

I think Millennials look like a generation because there is a social-technology breakpoint between their cohort and all previous generations. Millennials are the first generation to have grown up with modern technology proper – and this is manifested in the fluid way they use technology to construct their identities and manage their environments.

But, in terms of social analysis, defining a group by technology – rather than their underlying attitudes and values – has problems. Technology evolves and changes, and it seems unlikely that the Millennial generation will grow older while remaining as inventive with technology as they have been in their young adult lives. And the next generation – however they get labelled – may well turn out to be just as creative with technology as we were

More usefully, though, this does open up a promising research question: do the different uses of technology by these different Millennial groups reflect differences in underlying values and attitudes? In other words, will these groups remain distinct as they get older? It seems possible – but so far, we just don’t know.

11 August 2011 at 8:09 am 2 comments

After bling

Alex Oliver writes:

There are some perks in being a consultant, and being invited to speak at a conference in Paris on managing change in consumer credit and debt behaviour, as I was last week, is one of them. The conference was organised by the European Financial Management and Marketing Association, and was hosted at the elegant Paris Concorde Opera hotel.  The two day conference  tackled a number of difficult credit management issues, including the best approach to sustainable and responsible lending in an environment still reeling from the shock of the global economic crisis, where regulation is increasingly restrictive and consumer demand remains sluggish.

Drawing on our Global Monitor international trends data, I explored the implications of the ‘New Normal’ for European consumers whose attitudes in relation to spending appear to have shifted permanently.  Aspirations have changed: the era of ‘bling’ and platinum credit cards is behind us and although consumers may still be willing to spend, they need to be able to justify doing so. They’re searching for reassurance around value and reduced risk.  And regardless of pressure from the regulators, consumers themselves are scrutinising choice in a way they may not have done before and looking for new tools to give them greater levels of control.

Other speakers also explored the attitudes and behaviours of the Millennial generation and whether this target is really attractive to credit providers or too fickle and costly to be of real value.  Our data suggests the challenge for financial services providers is to be authentic and transparent in their dealings with this group, offering regular communication through multiple channels and inviting, sharing and acting on honest feedback.

The potential prize, for those willing to invest in the relationship, could be a loyal base of young customers, who become brand advocates and – as illustrated a fellow speaker from FICO with reference to US trends – are also willing to prioritise repayments for those credit providers with whom they feel affinity above others – thus also reducing the credit risk for providers who get it right.

The photo is from Donald Townsend’s photostream, and is published under a Creative Commons licence. It is used here with thanks.

25 February 2011 at 9:06 am Leave a comment

Millennials and money

Alex Oliver writes:

We’ve been out and about talking about the millennials generation and their financial attitudes and behaviours. At the Financial Services Forum event in the City of London recently I presented some of our proprietary research about the millennial cohort growing up and ‘coming of age’ with lifestyles to match.  Millennials are now fluent consumers and intuitive users of technology, and are clearly adept at navigating the increasingly blended worlds real and virtual, work and play, but their self-stated lack of engagement and frequent misunderstanding of financial matters is stark.  Tough economic times, alongside a general lack of interest in managing their finances means millennials need support to weather the storm.

But although this ought to be an opportunity for financial services providers, there is something of a mismatch between the brand values and service propositions which millennials look for and those which financial services providers tend to have. Millennials want to see  ‘authenticity’ in brands, and they want easier access to services (for example when they’re ‘on the go’ or using dead time to catch up. There are some easier wins for financial services providers – for example, they may be able to nudge them to some good but low engagement behaviours (such as saving more for retirement) by smart service design. But there’s potentially a big win here. The provider which gets this right, at a time when many millennials are financially squeezed, could capture a cohort of customers for life.

The picture is from dcist, and it’s used with thanks.

7 February 2011 at 9:07 am 1 comment

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