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Understanding Millennials: 6 Lessons About The 20-Something Generation

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Millennials. They are twenty-somethings that came of age with less money and fewer opportunities, re-inventing what having the means... really means. They are the new American Dream and they come from all across America.

For marketers, it's clear this is one of the most perplexing generations. And while there has been study after study conducted on this generation, data points gathered and analysis generated, they are still a very elusive group of Americans. To put it simply, the traditional data gathering techniques simply don't tell the full story.

At Y&R, we decided to take a different, relationship-driven approach. Indeed, we knew we had to go far beyond the data and instead take the time to understand what is important to them. We sat with them and ate at their tables, walked in their shoes and became a part of their daily lives to discover what these twenty-somethings expect from the world around them. Here are the six lessons we learned about this dynamic generation:

1) Life Is Better In Disorder

In the past, it was all about the expected progression in life -- get engaged, married and then furnish your home. Not anymore! Erica told us that she "wanted a red KitchenAid for her 26th birthday and her mother said absolutely not, that belongs on a wedding registry." So Erica bought one for herself, with no ring and no boyfriend, and didn't think twice about it.

Then there's Tanya, who didn't wait until she and her fiancé lived in the same state to get married: "We've been married 2 years now, together for 13, and still live in different cities. I'd say we did things in an unusual order."

Bottom Line: As marketers, we need to mix things up. And make it interesting.

2) Better Together

It means that, "we are a group of collaborators because sharing is in our blood," Laura explained. Because being together is sometimes worth more than rising to the top alone: Co-creators are more valuable than a single CEO. It's because we've been told to work as a group since kindergarten, which means we've taken sharing to a whole new level.

"Soon we won't own anything -- it'll be a share-it, borrow-it, rent-it world," because as Eduardo points out, we don't need money to buy all the means you need in life.

Bottom Line: We, as builders and creators of brands, have the opportunity to bring people together and create something bigger. We need to offer collaborative solutions.

3) Success Is Not Measured In Dollars

Grif assumed that "it seemed like a completely rational decision to leave a high-paying job in NY and move to build a school in Kyrgyzstan." Money is only one way to evaluate a job. Being the wheel and not the cog can be worth much more.

Bottom Line: As retailers, marketers and CEO's, we need to realize that emotional challenges and rewards will inspire just as much as the number on a paycheck. We just need to give this generation the opportunities they desire.

4) Real Deals Are Free

They're not entitled, they just expect the price to be right. "I think anyone who pays full retail for anything is dumb," Emma says. Because we pride ourselves to search and not to settle. And furthermore, Emma declares that sometimes price tags just don't belong --"tampons should be government subsidized." There are just certain things at this point that should just be free.

Bottom Line: If we can give a little, we will likely get a whole lot more from this generation.

5) The Life Of Luxury Doesn't Have To Wait

They don't scrape by on ramen and they eat like kings with no regrets. Lindsay told us: "My dad says he doesn't give us money because we'd eat it, but what he doesn't get is that expensive meals aren't just about food; expensive meals are bigger than what you eat, they're priceless." Lindsay says that we've turned simple sustenance into an opportunity for wisely spent indulgence, and yes Dad we do eat our money, but it tastes delicious.

Bottom Line: Just because this generation historically has not been consumers of high-end retail doesn't mean they are not taking the time and sacrificing other elements in their life to enjoy it today.

6) They Have No Intentions Of Waiting For The World To Come To Them

It means Eat Pray Love isn't just a book, it's their standard for how they travel. And they will travel, because Andreina says, "You don't need money to see the world, it's called couchsurfing.com."

Bottom Line: When it comes to this generation they are not going to wait. They are not going to settle. They are not going to do 'the right thing'. They are going to do what works for them.

Their journey is ongoing, and with it comes their stories. From Maui to Memphis to Manhattan, they are on the road chatting with, shopping with, cooking with, occupying Wall Street with, banking with, filing taxes with, celebrating with, crying with, eating with, drinking with, just being with 20-somethings from all over to discover how the American Dream is being reshaped, reinvented, and re-valued -- all in the name of understanding the new meaning of money.

They are today's generation of 20-year-olds. Many of us have labeled them, studied them, written about them and tried to simply figure them out. But at the end of the day, there is one thing every brand needs to recognize when it comes to this generation... money and means don't always go hand in hand.