I have been reading a lot about Millennials, this new breed stemming from the digital age.
Were these Millennials so much different?
I, as a GenX, could easily relate to what I was reading and did not realise the real gap until I had the opportunity to directly compare the ways of thinking, the value systems, attitudes, and mental models, of Millennials and Baby Boomers.
The opportunity came through some workshops I facilitated to explore how customers felt about brands and their experience as consumer and shopper.
I decided to run the workshop using Lego Serious Play, a facilitation method that asks participants to build metaphorical models with Lego bricks to answer specific challenges and questions.
The method is based on narratives and storytelling, and participants are the only one who hold the interpretative keys to decode the metaphors and stories kept in their model. After building their model to answer the question, participants share their stories and their models with everyone, explaining the meaning of their models and sharing their views and perspectives on the issues I was investigating.
The groups I facilitated were quite polarised: one was heavily dominated by BabyBoomers, the other was composed mostly by Millennials’.
All conditions for the workshops were equal: the script, the wording, the challenges, the questions, the facilitator, and the room, were all the same. Yet, something was extremely different and it did not take long to understand how age and the different value system of these two generation was influencing the narratives.
The very first thing that emerged is that Millennials are unable to relate to commercial brands.
Candidly they said: “Maybe few years ago I could be able to mention brands I admired and appreciated, but today… there no brand I respect or that embodies the values I stand for”.
Millennials were not into naming any particular commercial brand, they were beyond: they looked at values that matter to them, like life, earth, wellbeing, equality, and a collective sense of belonging. They named organisations, but these are organisations that portray the values Millennials stand for, like WWF.
On the other hand, BabyBoomers had no issue in mentioning commercial brands that make their life easier through reducing hassle and offering easy way to carry out tasks they have to.
BabyBoomers have clear ideas: they value convenience and comfort above anything else.
While Babyboomers focused on themselves, Millennials focused on the bigger picture and how they can support the system with their choices.
Things become more evident when I asked participants to build a model of their current experience with a specific service: Babyboomers focused on something I would have never thought about: queues!
We were referring to services that are delivered both digitally and physically, online and in store: Babyboomers neglected all aspects related to digital and focused on the discomfort they have when queueing up before being served in store.
The queue theme, which emerged spontaneously and independently in several models build by different participants, was a constant element that represented a core element that describe their experience with the service.The other element that was key for BabyBoomers was the lack of social aspects and people in the store experience: they were candid in admitting that they expect people.
Millennials had no issue with queues or the physical experience. Their problem was ethics.
Most Millennials build models and used narratives that highlighted ethical and moral issues, like poverty or inequality, that can emerge as a consequence of the service.
Millennials did not question or mention comfort or convenience, they were genuinely concerned about the potential impact of the service on the global collectivity they are part of. They started with very radical positions and moved from a critical to a constructive vision of the future, imagining the service and opportunities opened by a new approach. The conversation turned highly philosophical and intriguing and most of the participants provided great insights on an ethical future.
BabyBoomers’ conversations did not evolve much: they kept being focused on the queues and their need to get more attention and being served better.
BabyBoomers proved to be mostly individualistic and inward looking, focusing mostly on their own comfort and condition. But on the other hand Millennials proved to have overcome the paradigm of individuality to embrace the best of globalisation, in the sense of a global ethical consciousness and the shared consciousness of being responsible for our present and future.
What does this mean for brands?
It means that the current paradigm we are building the whole Customer Experience theories and practices needs to be flexible and fluid to embrace the emerging value based paradigm that Millennials are bringing on the table.
The rules of CX are going to change and will change fast.