Not so long ago Millennials were leaving education and swimming upstream in the job market. They were mobile, agile, loaded with student debt and not really in the market for home ownership. But we blinked and suddenly they grew up and wanted to buy homes to share with their children – Generations Z and Alpha.
Nothing new there: a story that repeats for every generational cohort, but little did the home-buying Millennials know that they’d spend most of 2020 and beyond living exclusively at home, working and educating their children.
For Millennials, in the circumstances, just bricks and mortar isn’t sufficient. Or efficient. They’ve needed more connectivity, sustainability and flexibility in their homes. The drive is towards an intuitive 2-way relationship between home and owner. In short, ‘Smart Homes’.
That need and desire has only been amplified by the unprecedented series of lockdowns that have been the mainstay of the pandemic recovery effort.
Out with the old, in with the new
The generation that grew up with digital and can legitimately wear the ‘Digital Native’ badge is quite naturally drawn to making life easy and the notion of ‘hearth and home’ was already becoming consigned to history. A ban on house coal and wet wood by 2023 will snuff out the love affair with real flame focal points in the home. Once-fashionable multi-fuel burners will become twinkling shrines to their former selves, aglow only with LED ropes in jars.
The front door of a Millennial can be answered when the Millennial is not there, and it’s predicted that by 2024 there will be 8.4 billion digital voice assistants in use.
Smart will be the new heart of the home.
The Millennial response to the road out of COVID-19
So, as we creep out of the pandemic, cautiously blinking in the weak Spring sunshine, Millennials are looking inwards and asking themselves, are we really craving a return to the Old Normal or do we quite like this Next Normal? Famously able to adopt and adapt, many feel safer with the new and have already moved on from the old.
COVID-19 has completely changed the landscape, forced the hand of every business, large and small, to adapt to new working practices, and Millennials, have found the positives – less time commuting and less paid childcare for example.
Demands on the home to operate as an even more multi-functional space than ever could be addressed with careful planning and increased efficiency – driving the desire for more Smart Home assistance. The winners were those with devices for everyone and the Internet of Things helping save time and money.
Smart Homes were clearly better suited to withstanding the pandemic siege.
The new Millennial sub-section is the home-worker
The pandemic is the second once-in-a lifetime economic crisis that Millennials will have to navigate, only this time they have children to slow down their legendary mobility. Home has been the only safe haven in the pandemic panic and so while Millennials might have been slow to enter the home-buyers’ market, now they’re hunkering down and battening the hatches – via an App, ideally.
For too long, working from home euphemized: hangover; school inset day; or waiting for a delivery. Like the Part-time worker, the Home-worker lacked credibility – not seen as putting in the hours to get a proper job done. It’s taken a global health crisis to get here, but at last the Home-worker can be taken seriously. If the Cabinet can work remotely, anyone can.
Millennials have been the hardest hit by the pandemic with 68% seeing their income fall. So they’re leading the shift in demand for smart technology because they’ll soon be raising children, caring for ageing parents and paying off the colossal debt generated by a global viral disaster. Why wouldn’t they want a responsive home environment that nurtures, protects, saves money and is in their complete control?
So what does this mean for brands?
We know the Millennials are career butterflies – they weren’t offered pension handcuffs like the Baby Boomers were, and ‘job for life’ means as much to a Millennial as a pound note. But they’re brand butterflies too.
Right now they’re ready to settle down and fold their pandemic-weary wings in Smart Homes that do everything they want with maximum seamless efficiency and minimum impact on the environment.
An opportunity is being created for the brands and products that can respond quickly and creatively to the evolving needs of Millennials – just don’t expect loyalty and do expect the goalposts to move.
In 2017 Millennials became the largest workforce in the UK, and there are almost 17 million of them. Now the largest cohort of home buyers, don’t forget they were once labelled ‘Generation Rent’. Saddled with massive student debt after a crippling hike in fees, even if they wanted to buy homes, many disillusioned Millennials felt unable to afford it.
We suggest that the desire for ever smarter Smart Homes is driven in part by the desire for a permanent place of safety for a cohort that once felt that dream was out of reach. But there’s something else.
Millennials lead the Green Revolution
It’s estimated that the impact of COVID-19 may drive as many as 150 million more people worldwide into extreme poverty by the end of 2021 and sustainability is very much on Millennial minds. Much of the new tech available appeals because it cuts costs, energy, carbon emissions and waste.
Millennials want to address Climate Change and they see Smart Homes as an essential part of the toolkit. In short, they’re looking for the brands with genuine Green credentials.
75% of millennials are willing to pay extra for sustainable products which gives brands and businesses a great opportunity to tap into their environmental consciousness. A brand can snatch a competitive edge with strong, sustainable environmental initiatives but authenticity is king and unsubstantiated claims don’t wash with the savvy Millennials – they pride themselves on not falling for old-school marketing and empty promises.
What’s driving Millennials to spend more on green living?
These Digital Natives’ concern for the environment is not purely altruistic. While we are all reliably and regularly informed of an imminent, devastating threat to the environment, only for Millennials is it looming close enough to impact their very own children, the Generation Zs and Alphas.
Therefore Millennials are the first generation to worry not just that their kids might not have jobs, happy lives, financial security or houses; they’re worried they might not have a planet.
The Smart Home they desire knows what’s in the fridge and who’s at the door but it’s not for fun – it’s part of a wider Green solution.
For Gen X, Flash Gordon was Saviour of the Universe; for Millennials, it’s Greta Thunberg. The stars are aligning for this generational cohort of 25-40 year-olds to achieve the real global, cultural changes necessary to bring Climate Change to heel.
Where’s the opportunity for brands and products?
Brands and products have learned not to expect loyalty from the Millennials – after all, they invented the Internet of Things and they’re so at home with tech that they’ll ditch a brand in an instant if they’re not happy. That’s tough on brands that can’t flex but suits the fit ones, on their toes, ready to creatively evolve their strategies in line with customer expectations.
For Millennials, Smart Homes have multiple benefits beyond 21st Century convenience, expedience and ease of living. They facilitate work from home as the new way forward, streamlining and finely tuning the work/life balance. They minimise harm to the environment. The Smart Home trend was happening already but the COVID-19 pandemic, its anticipated economic fall-out and the environmental Sword of Damocles hanging over the Millennial generation is accelerating the desire.
Ultimately the goal is safety – a quite natural desire to feel safe from immediate viral threats and to keep Generations Z and Alpha safe from future climate catastrophe.
Five ways for brands to tap into the capricious Millennial market.
- Boost your brand’s Green credentials in a meaningful way.
- Spend less on predicting their behaviours and more on responding to them.
- Use creativity to increase your response agility and talk to them on multiple platforms.
- Create authentic content that engages with their evolving needs.
- Get to know the new Millennial Home-worker.
How can brands keep getting it right with Millennials?
Understanding the behaviours of the generational cohorts is a process, rather than an exact science. Each generation shifts focus as the cohort ages and each one is defined loosely by the world events that force change and new directions of travel for consumers, industry and brands. If you’d like to understand more about the nuanced responses of your target market to the COVID crisis, get in touch.
We are BBI, a multiple- award-winning integrated agency with over ten years of experience in tracking and unpicking the latest consumer behaviour trends. Our unique business acceleration tool is called CustomerologyTM. It’s proven to optimise the marketing potential of your business in these dramatic times by fusing the latest data and behavioural science, lighting a path for brands to move forwards with confidence.