Millennials & Money

Crowd DNA's business and strategy director, Sarah Brierley, on how the financial services industry can tune up its offering to meet Gen Y and Z demands...

Comprising nearly a quarter of the UK population, millennials are a significant part of the financial services market. Crowd DNA’s expertise comes from a wealth of experience researching this dynamic audience for the likes of Channel 4, Converse, MTV, Sony Music, Red Bull, Twitter and, recently, a huge global study for Facebook.

We get social media, too. Our work has seen us examining the changing way that young people are using social media all around the world. We’ve started to see how these evolving behaviours are affecting attitudes and behaviours around financial services – an impact that will be ignored at a finance brand’s peril.

Millennial disconnect

Financial independence is among the most important future goals of young people today – second only to being happy. In fact, millennials rank financial independence higher than being part of a loving family, having a close circle of friends and discovering their interests & skills.

Hand in hand with financial independence is of course the use of financial services. But it seems that financial services brands are struggling to connect with young people – a recent survey by BNY Mellon and the Saïd Business School found that 58% of UK millennials believe they haven’t seen products targeted at people like them; they’re also more likely to turn to their parents for financial advice (48%) than their bank (24%).

So where does this leave brands?

We’ve examined millennials’ changing social media habits and come up with five implications for financial services brands wishing to engage this young audience:

  1. Utility apps

There’s been a huge rise in simplified single-purpose apps in social media and beyond – in fact, many larger apps are breaking up their functionality into smaller single-purpose apps (think Facebook’s Messenger or Instagram’s Hyperlapse).

What single-purpose apps can your brand provide millennials? The key to success here is offering an incredibly useful function as simply and effectively as possible – so the app becomes a frequently-used ‘must-have’.

  1. Everything is gamified

Being ‘always on’ breeds a culture of instant gratification among millennials, and products like Facebook and Candy Crush go a step further, using a clever system to hook users into habit-forming behaviours. The theme here is reward: millennials have grown to expect rewards – whether implicit or explicit – for everything they do.

How can your brand make millennials feel rewarded? – for engaging with you, for desirable behaviours (eg saving), for loyalty, and so on.

  1. Selective sharing

Millennials have become selective in their sharing, using simple, single-purpose apps to communicate with carefully-curated groups. They will follow/friend/speak to some brands on social media – but not all of them, and financial services brands in particular need to be careful how they engage with millennials on social platforms.

But despite the caution required, social media is a vital platform for financial services brands targeting millennials: it’s where friends share experiences (good and bad), advice and recommendations for anything and everything. Millennials can be powerful advocates but formidable detractors too. Brands need to do their best to ensure they’re being discussed positively online.

How can your brand identify and leverage its millennial advocates online? How can you best communicate directly and indirectly with millennials online?

  1. Meet the parents

Millennials turn to different ‘experts’ for different problems and decisions.

Unlike for many categories, such as fashion, where friends and social media rule, parents are a key influencer for young people making personal finance decisions.

So in addition to communicating to millennials, financial service brands should find ways to help parents advise their children. Ask yourself two questions:

  • What messages do millennials need to hear from your brand?
  • How you can best equip parents of millennials to guide their children to your brand?

Visual vocab

Communication among millennials is shifting to a vocabulary that relies on imagery over text. Using images to communicate is speedier, easier, more impactful and ideal for the mobile phone screen; images cross language barriers, they are more likely to get positive responses on social media and they’re easier than words to ‘get right’. The rise of Instagram, selfies, emojis, Snapchat and Vine all reflect this trend.

So young people now think in terms of showing, not describing. How can your brand adapt to millennials’ communication preferences? How can you tell your brand’s story visually and in a mobile-friendly way?

The baby boomer generation might be getting older but that doesn't mean they're becoming predictable, says Crowd DNA senior consultant Laura Warby. Brands are slowly but surely changing the way they communicate with this cohort, and here's why...

The week before last I bumped into a family friend in the Westfield shopping centre. She was laden down with bags from The North Face and Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports. When I asked her about what’s in them she told me excitedly that she was off to Costa Rica in a few weeks to go white water rafting, a celebratory trip to mark her retirement from 34 years as a teacher.

I shouldn’t really have been surprised. Work we completed for Global Radio showed how alike the older and younger age groups can be. Within families these groups communicate more than ever and it seems that all the facets of ‘starting out’ happen again post-family.

Fewer and fewer people are retiring in the way we used to. A study by UCL last last year showed that many 65 year olds perceive themselves as 10 years younger than their actual age and as life expectancy increases, calls to reassess what is defined as old age are gaining traction. It seems that the innovative world of advertising is lagging behind on this one, dismissing this consumer group far too readily.

Closer inspection suggests an underestimation of this cohort.

65 year olds tend to perceive themselves as 10 years younger than their actual age
65 year olds tend to perceive themselves as 10 years younger than their actual age

ONS figures show that they’re more likely to get divorced than any other age group. Our own data says they’re as eager to seek out new experience as anyone and are much more confident in their ability to do so.

As children fly the nest, mortgages are paid (particularly for those Boomers who’ve ridden the housing wave) and the pressure to work dissipates, the amount of responsibility carried around on their shoulders starts to subside, and with it comes a reassessment of what their life can mean.

More disposable income and improved health compared to 50 years ago has led this group to actively seek more exciting, experience-led lifestyles; more travel, new activities, new adventures… new partners (which may go some way to explain the huge growth in the number of people aged 60 plus going under the cosmetic surgeon’s knife, according to Spire Healthcare), all indicate that this is not a generation stuck in their ways.

That is not to say that all those over 65 are now carefree and hedonistic; on the contrary, many still find themselves with a significant number of years left to work, or still supporting adult children who have been affected in some way by the recession.

But that just goes to reinforce the point – this group isn’t homogenous and is actually starting to create new conventions.

Just as we have identified the tribes that exist within our millennials, so too should we take the time to understand the complexities that exist within older consumers too. When you consider that Euromonitor have predicted a global spending power of £10tn amongst the baby boomer generation, it feels like we’d be missing a trick if we don’t.

Purpose & Cynicism

It's cool to care, for sure, and we like our brands to care as well. But, asks Crowd DNA consultant Milly Derbyshire, could our cynicism be building?

It’s undeniable – activism is having a moment. From Emma Watson’s HeForShe speech to the ‘aesthete activism’ of the Marc by Marc Jacobs AW 2015 collection, and here at Crowd DNA, even a new tribe of activists joining the leading edge of our Tribes UK framework; these days it’s cool to care.

Brands are capitalising on this age of action by pushing their purpose-led credentials. From banks to booze, brands claim to be fighting our corner, in any manner of social, economic and political causes. But with more brands jumping on the band-wagon, it makes us wonder whether the tide will turn from optimism to cynicism.

Take Dove, the beauty brand that has been championing women’s self-esteem and recently released a new advert aiming to show how women all over the world are devaluing their beauty. The advert, and its predecessors, are undoubtedly very shareable, and have proved incredibly successful for the brand.

But how long are consumers going to (literally) buy the idea that a beauty brand can overcome societal ideologies of beauty? Yes consumers are looking for more purpose in brands, but these higher expectations means they need to live by their purpose, not pay lip service to it. It may not be long before people fail to see empowerment in a body cream.

In the words of Douglas Holt’s cultural strategy theory, we wonder whether a cultural orthodoxy is beginning to emerge, as more and more brands take on the charge of social, environmental and political purposes to sell their wares. With consumers more savvy than ever, it’s uncertain how long those brands that fail to back up words with actions will continue to thrive, leaving a space for brands that are frank about the fact that they are in the business of, well, business! Selling things that you need, and not curing social ills.

The Dollar Shave Club, an American subscription service that mails replacement razor heads for a fraction of the cost of leading razor brands, is a great case in point. With the strapline ‘a great shave for a few bucks a month’ it’s clear that the only purpose they’re championing is saving you money. And how do they achieve it? Presumably by avoiding the huge amounts of money spent on marketing to convince you of an ethical purpose behind the brand.

We don’t doubt that purpose-led brands will continue to rise in popularity (in fact, it’s one of our five trends for 2015) but as the bar is being raised even higher, half-hearted attempts to follow suit will appear hollow to ever more savvy consumers.

Photo credit: Kate Owen (Marc by Marc Jacobs’ aesthete activism)

Changing Identities

Crowd DNA exec Cathy Pearson reports on how the rise of interest in feminism also opens up conversation on the shifting role of gender as a defining feature of identity...

International Women’s Day (IWD), which took place on March 8, is a reflection of the growing awareness of – and support for – gender equality. People are no longer willing to sit back and allow gender to be a deciding factor in quality of life. As a cultural issue that is so important to the global population, it is pertinent time for brands and companies to voice their support.

Many of the prevalent global issues discussed during IWD – domestic violence, FGM and equal pay – have never been so highly recognised and debated than in 2015. All this talk of feminist matters has not only served to make significant impact in its own sphere, but also opened up wider discussions about the shifting role of gender as a defining feature of identity.

Gender has long formed social identities (think women as mothers, men as bread winners) and socially constructed gender remains dominant, but it’s no longer the case that just boys play football, while just girls go shopping. Gender expectations and stereotypes are being rejected and personal influences are transcending male/female boundaries. There is an overwhelming cry for acceptance of people based on who they want to be and what they want to do, regardless of the reproductive organs they were born with. Argentina now allows its citizens to choose from a long list of gender options, including transgender, for inclusion on official documents. And Facebook has followed suit by extending its gender options.

Growing acceptance of diversity in gender identity means interests and aspirations are experiencing huge shifts. People no longer want to follow stereotypical paths set by archaic societal views and instead want to be active in areas they’re personally passionate about. Previously male dominated hobbies are now opening up to become more inclusive of female genders, and life goals shaped around the home aren’t just yielding female interest; there’s fluidity in how gender is progressing and it needs recognition.

There’s a long way to go for gender-influenced legislation, but in a complex landscape you have to celebrate the communities forming around these issues. Offline, LGBT groups are advocates for diversity in sexuality and celebrity ambassadors are growing by the day to eradicate sexism. Online, social media has been extremely powerful for campaigns on gender equality. It’s encouraged conversations around uncomfortable topics, such as rape. Campaigns like #HeForShe – the UN initiative that “brings together one half of humanity in support of the other half” – has achieved viral success with the backing of popular celebrities, such as official spokesperson Emma Watson. However, it has also led people to question the other side of the coin making #SheForHe also go viral.

Brands should look to show their openness to shifting expectations and how gender can seriously affect people’s sense of identity. As outlined in the Crowd DNA 2015 trend The Purpose Revolution, modern consumers demand a clearly defined reason for being from every brand they interact with. Gender equality needs to become part of every brand purpose – however, it must only be used in authentic and meaningful ways and always backed up with actions as well as words.

The Alternative Elder

With a generation of left field creatives hitting their 60s, cultural permission is being created for old(er) guys to copycat a new set of style codes. Crowd DNA managing director Andy Crysell advises retailers to get set for different slants on sexagenarian-plus male fashion sense, in yet another example of tribal identity extending far beyond the confines of youth culture...

On recent travels across Europe and the US, we’ve noted a rise in guys aged 60 plus dressing, well, differently. We’ll resist calling it hipster-like, but it’s definitely alternative, and it points to new cultural factors that previously did not exist for older men. A generation of left field creatives are reaching their sexagenarian years but rejecting a switch to more accepted style codes. Think David Lynch (69) and David Byrne (62) – both possessing a look which makes clear that good fashion sense for 60 plus guys extends beyond the sartorial mainstays of the stuffy ‘classic’/’suave’ look.

It’s long been said that men are more likely to copy fashion looks that appeal to them, rather than actively seek advice (ie, men are less likely than women to ask where an item was purchased) and thus this new breed of older style gent provides a fresh set of reference points, granting permission for others to follow suit. It’s a marker of a shift in cultural orthodoxy, of changing societal expectations, and we expect it to evince itself more forcibly as acceptance grows. How will this play out on the high street? We don’t anticipate Marks & Spencer dropping the comfy cardigans just yet, but a gradual adoption within more mainstream environs is bound to happen. 

It tallies with boomer generation work we conducted for a media client last year, in which we identified a wider spectrum of mindsets, interests and viewpoints among older people than previously noted (also a softening of the generation gap). Cultural tribalism, in essence, has now reached the boomers, with the Alternative Elder just one manifestation to bear in mind.

Our innovation knowledge leader, Aurelie Jamard, reports that Gens Y and Z haven't lost their enthusiasm for cars. They're just hungry to see a greater push for innovation and for understanding how needs are changing. Green light, let's go...

In a recent report published by Ford, the brand decided to focus their research on Gen Z (young people born after 1993, according to Ford’s definition). Interesting stuff, but while it’s important to understand the digital lifestyle and aspirations of the youngest among us, the broader Millennials set shouldn’t be left out of the equation as they’ve pioneered the changes and trends that now increasingly characterise their Gen Z peers in Western economies. Most Millennials, when hit by the recession, started to review luxury codes and perceptions of status, but also blur the boundaries between owning and renting or sharing.

However, an important factor is that this generation still seems open to the idea of owning cars. Will it be the same for Gen Z as they reach the legal driving age? Gen Z are the true digital natives – they were born with smartphones in their hands; they know how to navigate the web and use it to their advantage. They’re socially active, defend the environment and their community, and they are at the heart of the sharing economy (think AirBnB, Uber, SupperKing, etc). Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond, many of the key trends listed below were conceived and shaped by Millennials, but it’s Gen Z that will really drive them forwards.


Five Trends For 2015

From tech that's aligned to our feelings, to motivational branding, our trends knowledge leader, Rebecca Coleman, reports on five trends set to impact on our lives, and thus on business, in the 12 months ahead…

Hello 2015! The rapid and consistent economical, technological, political and cultural shifts taking place make it hard to keep up. So, we’ve analysed what’s going on in the world and defined five actionable macro trends that you can apply to your business in 2015. Each one has three cultural drivers explaining the roots of the trend and three impacts that define how they will manifest themselves in the year ahead.