Brands have a new dilemma in reaching the valuable 18- to 34-year-old age group, with new research showing they are less materialistic than their predecessors and more concerned with health, wellbeing and achieving career goals. This generation of young adults, often referred to as ‘millennials’, feels a growing affinity for brands that help them to take control of their lives and offer worthwhile experiences rather than more possessions, the study by ZenithOptimedia has found.
Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative surveys in the second half of last year, the research asked over 6,000 millennials in 10 countries about how happy and satisfied they felt with their lives. ZenithOptimedia then used these findings to determine the factors driving happiness in young adults.
Having a sense of control over key aspects of their lives is particularly important to this demographic. For example, the results show that millennials who feel they have a high level of control over their career are 56% happier than those who feel they are not in control. Meanwhile millennials who are in control of their finances are 43% happier, and those in control of their fitness and wellbeing are 41% happier.
The report suggests that while previous generations felt compelled to rebel against controls, millennials are more likely to embrace them. This trend is attributed to the recession and the economic uncertainty it created for young people, as well as to the empowering impact of digital technology.
“The global digital age has given millennials so much freedom that they need to introduce their own controls to help them express themselves better,” says Linda Tan, strategic insights director at ZenithOptimedia.
“This study revealed that having control of their finances, social life, career and work-life balance has a strong connection with their happiness.”
When asked to name the milestones that millennials feel are synonymous with adulthood, the most popular option was financial independence, selected by 60% of 18- to 34-year-olds, followed by the ability to ‘become a decision maker’ (59%) and ‘become a problem solver’ (47%). These options were significantly more popular than personal life goals like getting married (20%), having children (18%) and buying a house (17%).
The survey also reveals certain marked differences according to country. For example a significantly higher proportion of Chinese millennials (20%) consider being ‘well travelled’ to be a core component of adulthood versus a global average of 9%, while more American millennials (56%) feel that moving out of their parents’ home is a key part of being an adult compared to a global average of 39%.
In addition, the study highlights how millennials view different product categories, with average ratings across the demographic showing that gadgets, holidays and eating out are seen as ‘indulgences’. Homewares, cosmetics and music are considered ‘nice-to-haves’, while categories like groceries, clothing and public transport are viewed as ‘necessities’.
Tan at ZenithOptimedia argues that young adults are more concerned with what brands stand for and the experiences they offer, rather than specific products. This contrasts with the parents of millennials, she claims, who were more inclined at this age to equate material wealth with happiness.
“[Today’s young people] value living a life of purpose and direct their attention to discover meaningful experiences that build on their ‘authentic self’,” says Tan.
“Being more global, more tolerant, more diverse, more educated and more connected drives this generation to want to make a positive difference.”
The study also reveals the channels that millennials are most likely to use to share the experiences that inspire them. A third (32%) said they post a photo on social media when they discover ‘something new, interesting, funny or exciting’, while a further 28% said they would post a status update about such an experience.
A quarter (24%) of 18- to 34-year-olds also said that they would record a video of the experience, while a further 13% said they would put the video on social media. Tan suggests that as online communities play an increasingly important role in young people’s lives, brands must improve their ability to engage with millennials through conversations on social media.
“This generation wants to be part of a community where they can be free to express themselves and help them make informed decisions,” she says.
“The rise in social networks provide opportunities for like-minded individuals to come together to provide support and promote collaboration. The platforms are there – brands need to get their act together to bring communities together.”