Millennials will have a bigger impact on media over the next five years than any other generation, and they are unlike any group we have seen before, according to a comprehensive new study.
During Advertising Week Europe, The Economist launched a global report on millennials, in collaboration with the digital agency Bloom, that draws on qualitative and quantitative research involving 22,500 people.
Millennials – defined as those born between 1980 and 2000 – are "arguably the most sophisticated media generation the world has ever seen", according to Nick Blunden, the global managing director of client strategy at The Economist. But there are huge variations within the group in terms of attitudes, ambitions and media consumption.
The study identified a sub-group, dubbed "the Gen-narrators", who have the potential to influence perceptions of brands and the media both to their peers and the wider public. Driven by individual passions and with their own online networks, Gen-narrators are said to make up 19 per cent of all millennials – a bigger share than influencers in social groups before them. Influencers made up 16 per cent of Generation X and 9 per cent of baby boomers.
Despite growing caution about the media’s focus on millennials from some, who argue that they currently contribute little or no cash to the media business, the Economist report forecasts that this group will have more spending power than any other generation by 2017. How they interact with content, advertising and platforms could decide the future winners and losers across marketing, media and technology.
Gen-narrators, according to the study, embrace the role of curator, remixing content to give it their own twist. They are far more visual than their predecessors – partly explaining the phenomenal rise in online video – and want to be actively involved in changing minds and inspiring action.
Far from wanting fame for fame’s sake, as typified by reality-TV contestants at the start of the noughties, a common trait among Gen-narrators is the ambition to be known for their specialist knowledge and insight.
Brands and the media wanting to harness Gen-narrators’ influence, the report suggests, should help them build authority, give them reasons to recommend you that chime with their desires for recognition and allow them to be curators and distributors in their own right.
The study also supports some of today’s conventional wisdom. Gen-narrators appear to consume more of their media online, with a direct correlation between online media consumption and brand engagement.
However, this group still prefer to use traditional media to validate the credibility of information and instinctively turn to established brands when "something big happens". In fact, 90 per cent of the most trusted online sources named were from traditional brands.
Blunden says: "The stereotypes that they are lazy, narcissistic, entitled, apathetic and only interested in social media clearly do not apply to the majority of millennials.
"The Gen-narrators have a real potential to be the most effective brand advocates."