Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Generational Shift: Buying vs. Owning

What if owning didn't require buying?

There have been a series of articles about the generational attitudinal shift among the Millennials toward shopping for cars.  First, the NYT wrote about the "MTVification" of GM where outsiders and upstarts are trying to infuse the culture and product line with insights about what younger people want.  They want the Apple Store not a car lot.   This was followed quickly by an article in The Atlantic that explored the topic further to explain why young people aren't buying cars.  Part of the reason is likely to be the desire to live in an urban setting.   Research into home ownership suggests that that bastion of success is becoming less a part of the dream.  And finally, John Dykstra wrote a piece this month in Fast Company that summarized the needs of the Millennials.

Simply put, this generation "doesn't want to buy stuff."  

Instead, they buy things because...
  • of what they can do with them.  Here, simplicity of lives reigns - particularly when you think  of it in terms of creating a seamless relationship with technology.
  • of what they can tell others about it. Again, technology has facilitated sharing to a level that makes self-expression an art form.
  • of what it says about a person by having it.  As life priorities and needs shift, the role of products changes with them.   Conspicuous consumption and freedom of the road have been replaced by a socially conscious and local focus.  
While it seems silly to state that products and marketing programs should reflect the times, sometimes it is hard to step back and glean the insights of generational shifts.  The challenge of adopting to generational shifts is not only on the product side, e.g. lemonade or denim color palettes, but also in terms of how we market.  The symbiotic relationship between consumer need and our solutions must be embedded in the way we connect with consumers.   Selling via interruption and intervention was used to reinforce the need to actually buy something, just ask the direct response folks.  But since technology allows us to do, share, and express without actually buying anything at all then a whole set of notions need to be reconsidered.

I think the point of these articles is to ask us to rethink the nature and benefits of ownership itself.  And in doing so we may come with insights into how to exchange value.

Time to talk to my son more, he's a millennial.  

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