A Millennial's Version of "The American Dream"

Gen-Y hasn't bought into the dream of big houses and fancy cars. So how do you sell to their demographic? First things first, forget what you knew.

The next generation of consumers isn't buying what you're selling. We're just not that into cars. And we're just not that into houses, either. We're really not into a lot of new stuff in general.

So what's a 21st century company to do?

For much of the 20th century, B-to-C businesses sold the American Dream piece by piece. Whether it was the house, the appliances in it, or the chemicals to make yours the greenest lawn in your suburban neighborhood, the market was vast for products and services that could show the world that you've "made it."

Now the stuff people buy doesn't matter nearly as much as their ability to produce it, design it, write it, or create it. It’s a whole different kind of “making it.”

Millennial values are turning the consumer market into a creator market. They want to create choice where there was none before, create legacy where there were only retirement parties, and create connection where before there were roadblocks to relationships.

The products and services making this easier will be the killer apps of the future. The businesses that create them will have the easiest time attracting top talent and keeping them on board.

SELL THEM ON THE FLEXIBILITY THEY CRAVE.

In a recent interview, Greg Goldner, millennial expert and freelance TV host and producer, told me, "We want to work from home when we can, creatively collaborate with others, and have random Fridays off."

Any product or service you create that facilitates flexibility is going to have a great chance in the millennial market. Evernote makes it easy for us to create from multiple devices, not to mention it keeps our flexible lives organized across a range of platforms. Uber allows us to call a cab at a moment’s notice when plans change or inspiration strikes.

HELP THEM BUY INTO YOUR COMPANY’S VISION.

"We want to feel like what we're doing is making a difference. Thus companies like Toms, Warby Parker, and Stone & Cloth," said Goldner.

Millenials want to work for companies that have a strong sense of purpose and buy goods that help us belong to communities. Toms and Warby Parker both donate one product for each product purchased. I’ve often joked that it’s my duty to buy more so that they can help more people.

GIVE THEM TOOLS TO DESIGN THEIR OWN LEGACY.

Sapna Mehra, a jewelry designer and former client, says she's looking to create better opportunities for her family and to "have control and determination over how my life will look and the legacy I will leave."

Publishing platforms like Medium allow us to write our way into the future. Services like Square and Stripe give us a leg up on turning our business dreams into reality both offline and online. MakerBot and other 3D printing startups are imagining how we can shift our role from consumer to creator even in our own homes.

For many millennials, American Dream-style consumption feels cookie cutter. Products or services that help us make unique, true-to-us choices will also have a great shot at success.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONNECTION.

Of course, we also value connection to each other and the world around us. From Instagram to Snapchat to WhatsApp, millennials are hungry for new and innovative ways to keep in touch, see things in a new way, and share what's important to them. While this market is crowded, new products can still stand out from the noise when they offer a new take on the need for human connection.

Millennials may be interested less in owning today, but when they do buy, they're looking for meaning. Old product categories get new life when your company infuses them with meaning. A fresh design, a new message, or a better understanding of how people use your product can lead to an innovation of meaning that boosts sales of your product.

Millennials will continue to shape the consumer market for decades to come. If your company isn't staying ahead of their consumer values, you'll be left out in the cold. Instead of trying to make it work alongside the old American Dream, push forward with our generation, redefining a new dream we can all buy into.

Tara Gentile is a customer-obsessed business strategist and the founder of CoCommercial in Astoria, Oregon.

[Image: Flickr user Padraic]

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87 Comments

  • So far Generation X & Y'ers haven't bought into the dream that helped to crash the economy in 2008, and I applaud them. What I hope they do not so next, as this next tech wave of development picks up, and the economy responds, is not SELL their company & technology to big corporate. It is imperative for any sustained wave of innovation, that the technologies remain under the control of those who created it!

    And to think what medicine and CT/MRI imaging would look like today - if it were not for the success & vision of the Beatles/EMI records, and the vision of one engineer named Godfrey Hounsfield - who created the first CT scanner.

    Stephen Dolle Neuroscientist & Inventor 12 Brain shunt surgeries Inventor, DiaCeph Test for hydrocephalus A 1997 mHealth app/PDA

  • Tara, I love your moxie, and your self-confidence. Not so thrilled by your arrogance, but as a Baby Boomer that is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black. And change a few words here and there, and backdate this baby 40 years, and you could run this as "A Baby Boomer's Version of the American Dream." As for marketing to Millennials, that's a challenge, as you all have no money as a cohort. If I want to make money today, I need to market to the group that has all the money in 2014, and that means Baby Boomers. And after they fully retire, move on to Gen X. Frankly, the home run today in B2C is the product or service that makes a Baby Boomer feel 25 again: There's your marketing pot of gold!

  • Wow, the comments show a lot of mixed feelings and beliefs about Millennials. And all the publishing about the Millennials offers contradictory interpretations. Not sure we really "get" what it means to be a Millennial - understanding it from their perspective. Maybe this new project will shed a little light on this generation... http://www.lextant.com/millennials.html

  • Daryl Gidley

    I have been in Health Care for over 39 years as a nurse. I sustained a couple of severe injuries & can no longer work the floor. I returned to school in 2013 to obtain my Medical Administrative Assistant. This way I am able to stay within the healthcare field. Seems I have been put out to pasture by my school and companies that don't want to hire a "Baby boomer". These young grads have learned less than I have forgotten. They will never learn to work the way I did. All I want is an internship to finish my program and go back to work. He'll, I've got at least another 10 good years left in me to work. 508-254-3821 or call Career Services and ask for Aspa (617) 925-1230. Thank you. Daryl Gidley

  • "These young grads have learned less than I have forgotten. They will never learn to work the way I did." Well, nothing like a few sweeping generalizations to get a point across. We've crossed the Rubicon.

  • One day you will realize that life is really about building a family/friends. Nothing else really matters. Not your cell phone, not your xbox, not the latest and greatest whateveritis.

    I say this as a genx that has all the gadgets. They do not define me. Spend less time thinking about yourself and more time investing in your relationships. Far more rewarding than a friday off. I promise.

  • "Spend less time thinking about yourself and more time investing in your relationships. Far more rewarding than a friday off." Uhhh, isn't having another Friday off a far greater opportunity towards "investing in your relationships"? Not sure what the point of your comment is.

  • Diane McCoy Searing

    It Interests me that this person, Tara Gentile, is the founder of a business in Astoria, Oregon, just across the bridge from Longview, Washington, and has such a fascinating view of the economic insights/values of Millennials. Enjoyed reading this article and processing the ideas therein.

  • If you want to:

    A) Rebrand America (domestic + international) B) Create millions of new jobs C) Revitalize the world economy D) Give the entrenched power structure a hell-of-a-shake

    Here is the opportunity -- over the next quarter century, 2,000,000,000 people will join the world's middle class. They will look to America for lifestyle standards which according to this article are changing. Groovy.

    Right now, the USA constitutes 4% of the world's population and accounts for 26% of annual energy consumption. Doesn't take calculus to realize the model doesn't scale.

    The recipe for accomplishing A,B, C, and D (and a few more) is as follows:

    1) Democratize access to NRG (eN-eR-Gy). 2) Develop an "NRG - Sip it, Don't Guzzle it" alternative for every device used in modern life ...

    More details ... thenrgblog.com & hey grandpa.com

  • Fariba Mitchell

    I don't think the qualities that you describe are limited to the millennials. I am a Generation-Xer and I love and have always pursued the same things that you describe. Nothing happens in a vacuum.

  • Linda Williams

    This flag actually exists. It hangs in the Penn Wells Hotel, Wellsboro PA and was designed and built by a local man who then worked at Corning Glass in Wellsboro.

  • I love this article that tells me how special I am. I am nothing like any generation before me. No 20 year old has ever been described as idealistic before the millennial generation. Please write more articles like this.

  • "No 20 year old generation has ever been described as idealistic before" Really? Do you know any history? How about the peace and love, anti-war generation of the 60s? ( As it happens when I was 20 something)

    Does your youth prevent you from considering the possibility that EVERY group of 20 somethings think they are unique, only to find out as they mature that this is less true than they imagine?

  • Stacey Brooks

    Pretty sure you can find some sarcasm in the above if you look for it. (And my guess would be that it wasn't written by a millenial.)

  • I love this article that tells me how special I am. I am nothing like any generation before me. No 20 year old has ever been described as idealistic before the millennial generation. Please write more articles like this.

  • Stacey Brooks

    Fanned. Sarcasm is the best antidote to this cloying brand of specialness. The idealism I see seems to be reserved for coffee snobbery or "totally AMAAAZING" artisanal inanities. Haven't seen a lot of marching on Washington. Who's my senator again?

  • Chuck Hamilton

    I love the comments everyone. My company is in the midst of buying a new HRMS system, and wow is there a generation gap . Where the Gen X guys had to look through the trade journals and newspapers for technology jobs and have resumes and cover letters on bonded pastel paper (with matching envelopes) snail mailed to HR departments, this younger generation wants to create a social media page of themselves, and expect the companies to have HR systems which will scrape their LinkedIn, facebook, Twitter accounts and profiles for valid keywords and job criteria to meet their job hiring needs. It's a whole different mindset out there. I thought Dad and I had a generation gap as he was telling me about the 1950s workplace.... I have to text my daughter to start a conversation! :)

  • We are told by the people and recruiters who run these HR systems that these social media pages are required. I can't fathom LinkedIn having even a tenth of their current userbase if it wasn't said to be a necessity (as the Internet so perfectly put it in .jpg form, "LinkedIn, Connect with People for No Reason At All"), and most who use social media for personal reasons have to neuter them so as not to offend any prying HR eyes.

    Not sure what the point of your post is besides a rumination of "the good ol' days".

  • Scott S. Manhart

    You need to preface every comment bout what millennial's don't want with"YET". Contrary to the assertions in the firs paragraph, you are not the first to desire something different at your current age range. As soon as the occupy-wallstreeters realize they can be running the companies (which is just around the corner) we will see another great yuppie movement that will make the 80's look the amateur hour. Some companies are already on board with this as luxury goods are being repackaged and advertised the 30's crowd.