This morning I came across an intriguing article posted in Fast Company written by Josh Allen Dykstra, founder of the consulting firm Strengths Doctors, and a self-professed Millennial (aka Gen Y). Besides having the eye-catching title “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff,” Dykstra’s article was interesting because it helped me better understand how Millennials think from the perspective of a Gen Y-er. This is important stuff to know, especially given the fact that by 2017 the annual spending power of US Millennials, now at roughly 200 billion, will eclipse that of the Baby Boomers. When this happens, Gen Y-ers currently in their mid-teens to mid-30s, will have more spending power than any generation.¹
Dykstra contends that technology in part has created a paradigm shift in the way all humans, not just Millennials, perceive the world. Essentially, we’re all experiencing what he calls “an evolution in consciousness,” as the Internet and the cloud compel us to redefine what it means to “own” something. Dykstra notes that, because all media is heading into a “digital, de-corporeal space, research shows that people are beginning to actually prefer this disconnected reality to owning a physical product.”²
Given the unending abundance of the Internet, traditional economic laws of scarcity that for many years underpinned the concept of ownership have been thrown out the window. Thanks to the abundance of the Internet, we can now own practically anything we want, anytime. This alters not only the supply and demand cycle, but our perception of value.
To Dykstra, because we can acquire anything, value lies not in the owning but in the doing: “today a product or service is powerful because it connects to something-or someone-else…it has impact because we can do something worthwhile with it, tell others about it, or have it say something about us.”²
He suggests that instead of fighting against the inevitability of the “death of ownership,” we instead go with the flow and try to figure out how we as businesses can leverage this profound sea change in consumer behavior.
Dykstra concludes by outlining three reasons that people operating under this new paradigm really buy things:²
- People buy things because of what they can do with them. It’s important to deliver a product/service that is relevant and empowering to your consumer. He cites Steve Jobs and Apple as an example.
- People buy things because of what they can tell others about it. There is a social aspect to buying things. The joy lies not in the buying, but in the sharing. People share something they like because it creates a mutual bond that has meaning. Help people connect. It’s not about selling anymore, but instead building a community.
- People buy things because of what having it says about them. People, especially Millennials, like to purchase things that reflect their values. It’s important to form connections with people that are bigger than just the product/service you are selling.
Dykstra’s message is instructive to marketers and business owners on two levels. First, he provides useful insight into the future direction of consumer buying behavior. Second, as a Gen Y thought leader, he acts as a sieve, sifting out many of the core perceptions held by his generation.
On a personal level, I think that, though his theory is at times a bit hyperbolic (most good theories and theorists are), his conclusions are essentially spot-on.
From a marketing perspective, Dykstra’s conclusions also reflect the latest thinking in Inbound Marketing.
With the balance of power shifting to the consumer, your business needs to provide quality content that is informative and relevant to your target audience. You must provide superior value, both in your marketing collateral and in your product/service offering.
If it hasn’t already, your business needs to get social, encouraging a collaborative sharing environment via website and social media channels.
Finally, brands need to think about the over-arching narrative. How will your company’s products/services complement or enhance the core values of your customers?
Heady ideas from a generation that is playing a large role in redefining how business is done.
¹ bazaarvoice, “Taking to Strangers: Millennials Trust People over Brands”
² Fast Company, “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff”
Info-graphic courtesy of bazaarvoice